By DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — One of the most popular labels in golf is the best to have never won a major.
Here's another one – best to never win a U.S. Open.
Sam Snead might have won his national open if he had only known the score. Greg Norman is the only player to lose all four stroke-play majors in a playoff, and it started with the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Phil Mickelson has more silver medals than he wants.
All of them are major champions. All of them are in the Hall of Fame. None is on the roll call of champions for the U.S. Open.
Here are the five best players to never have won golf's second-oldest championship:
(All captions via AP)
Phil Mickelson has been playing the U.S. Open for 20 years, and all he has to show for it is a silver medal. But only because the U.S. Open doesn't award the purple heart. Mickelson might have won at Shinnecock Hills in 1995 if not for playing the par-5 16th in 6 over for the week. He nearly got into a playoff at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999 until Payne Stewart made a 15-footer for par on the last hole. Five shots behind going into the last day at Bethpage Black, he made Tiger Woods sweat until Woods delivered a key birdie. Mickelson also was runner-up at Bethpage Black in 2009, missing a 3-foot putt on the 15th hole to kill his momentum. Nothing was more memorable than Winged Foot in 2006, when he had a one-shot lead playing the 18th. After a tee shot into the merchandise tents left him a decent lie, he tried to carve a 3-iron around the tree, didn't pull it off and made double bogey to finish one shot behind. "What an idiot I am," he famously said when it was over. He is the modern day version of the "People's Champion." But he is not a U.S. Open champion.
Phil Mickelson has more heartache at his national open than Snead, but when it comes to the best without a U.S. Open, none was better than the Slammer. Snead owns the PGA Tour record with 82 wins. He won a British Open at St. Andrews. He won the Masters and PGA Championship three times each. All that keeps him from joining the other greats to win the Grand Slam was the U.S. Open. Snead was runner-up four times, but the one U.S. Open that lives in infamy was in 1939 at Philadelphia Country Club. Snead only needed a par on the 18th hole to win, but not knowing the score (there were no scoreboards posted on the 18th back then) and under the impression he needed birdie, he played aggressively off the tee and went into the rough. By the time he chopped his way through the hole, he made a triple bogey and tied for fifth. Byron Nelson wound up winning a three-man playoff.
Greg Norman was lucky to get into a playoff at Winged Foot in 1984 when he holed a 40-foot par putt. Back in the fairway, Fuzzy Zoeller assumed it was for birdie and twirled a white towel. Norman's putt allowed him to get into an 18-hole playoff Monday, and while the Shark was favored, Zoeller put on a clinic. This time, it was Norman waving the white flag in mock surrender. He was runner-up that day, though surely there would be more chances in his bright future. There were. But he never won a U.S. Open. Norman was atop the leaderboard going into the final round at Shinnecock Hills in 1986 and in 2005, both times watching someone else (Raymond Floyd, Corey Pavin) hit the shots and hole the putts required of a U.S. Open champion. Norman only won two majors in his Hall of Fame career, both in the British Open. He won more than 70 tournaments around the world, was No. 1 longer than any other player until Tiger Woods came along and was a dominant figure in golf for a decade.
Always a thinker, Nick Faldo was looking for the secret to winning when he met with Ben Hogan and asked him what it takes to win the U.S. Open. "Shoot the lowest score," Hogan replied. Faldo, a three-time Masters and British Open champion, never quite figured that out. Even during his 10-year run in the majors, and despite having U.S. Open qualities of accuracy off the tee and grinding away at pars, his best chance came in 1988 at The Country Club. Faldo fell into a tie with Curtis Strange with three holes to play when he took bogey from a bunker. Still tied after Strange three-putted the 17th, Faldo had a 25-foot putt from the fringe to win and settled for par. Strange made a superb bunker save on the 18th for par to force a playoff. Strange wound up winning the playoff by four shots for the first of his consecutive U.S. Open titles.
No player won more PGA Tour titles without capturing a major than Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper, who won 29 times. The U.S. Open is the major that haunted him more than the others. Cooper was a two-time runner-up in the U.S. Open, and both times he had the lead going into the final round. In 1927 at Oakmont, he was one shot ahead of Tommy Armour, closed with a 77 and lost to Armour by three shots in an 18-hole playoff. Nine years later at Baltusrol, Cooper had a two-shot lead over Vic Ghezzi. Tony Manero came out of nowhere with a 67 on the final day to win by one shot over Cooper, who shot 73. What made the 1936 U.S. Open particularly painful for Cooper was that only two months later, Horton Smith rallied on the last day to beat him in the Masters.