PGA CHAMPIONSHIP FIVE: Best players to make 1st major the PGA Championship

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON , AP Golf Writer
  • Updated: August 7, 2013 - 1:26 PM

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — The list of best players to have never won a major seems to get longer every year. And it becomes more meaningful at the PGA Championship, the final chance of the year for these players to stop answering questions about when they will win a Grand Slam event.

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald share the distinction of being the only players to be No. 1 in the world without ever having won a major. Sergio Garcia has been a candidate for the last five years, even though he's only 31. Steve Stricker joined the conversation with his resurgence.

The focus becomes even more intense considering that Adam Scott (Masters) and Justin Rose (U.S. Open) became first-time major champions this year. Go back even further to find that 14 of the last 18 majors went to players who had never won the big one.

The PGA Championship is as good a place to start as any major. It comes with a lifetime exemption into the tournament, not to mention the heaviest trophy among the majors, and an invitation to a champions-only dinner that is similar to the one at the Masters, but far more inclusive (wives are invited, for example).

Here are five examples of great players who won their first major at the PGA Championship:

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5. PAUL AZINGER

A late bloomer in golf, Paul Azinger won his first PGA Tour event in 1987 and quickly became an American force. He won every year since then, and had 10 wins on tour when he came to the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness.

He already had lost the 54-hole lead in a major twice — in 1987 at the British Open, when he bogeyed the last two holes at Muirfield and finished one behind Nick Faldo; and in 1988 at the PGA Championship at Oak Tree, when Jeff Sluman closed with a 65 and won by three.

Azinger was one shot behind Greg Norman going into the final round at Inverness, which produced one of the great leaderboards in a major. Among those with a chance that day were Faldo, Vijay Singh, Tom Watson, John Cook, Lanny Wadkins, and even a young Californian in his second year on tour, Phil Mickelson.

Azinger closed with a 68 to force a sudden-death playoff with Norman. On the second extra hole, Azinger missed a good birdie chance. He was preparing to go to the next hole when Norman's 4-foot par putt spun out of the hole.

The high of his career came crashing down a few months later when Azinger was diagnosed with cancer in his left shoulder. He recovered to win again on the PGA Tour seven years later. He never seriously contended in another major.

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4. PAYNE STEWART

Payne Stewart stumbled into the first of his three major championships.

He had four wins, including the Bay Hill Invitational in 1987 and a five-shot win at Hilton Head in 1989. He was No. 13 in the world ranking when he came to the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes just outside Chicago. Stewart, dressed in Chicago Bears colors through an NFL apparel deal, was six shots behind going into the final round and closed with a 67. Still, it looked like he would be runner-up at best, as he was at Royal St. George's in 1985 when he finished one behind Sandy Lyle in the British Open.

The man in charge was Mike "Radar" Reid, known for his accurate driving. Reid instead produced one of the great collapses in PGA Championship history. He made bogey on the 16th, double bogey on the 17th and missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force a playoff.

Stewart went on to win the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, and another U.S. Open in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 before his death that fall in a freak plane accident.

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