Two Would Be Better: Ranking Golf’s Best With One Career Major Title6 min read
Rory McIlroy had a mischievous grin on his face, and what he was about to say he knew would be a sharp-edged needle meant in good fun.
As he was asked a question about having won his second major championship nine years earlier at the same Kiawah Island venue where last year’s PGA Championship was being played, McIlroy couldn’t help but indirectly poke fun at Justin Thomas, who was waiting in the back to speak with reporters.
“Yeah, it was huge,’’ McIlroy said. “A lot of guys have won one major, but it’s a big hurdle to get to the second. It was good to get that monkey off my back, especially here, playing so well.
“So yeah it was a big deal. I definitely didn’t want to be suck on one for a long time, so happy to get the second.’’
And with that, McIlroy exited the stage to some laughter, as Thomas sheepishly took the abuse, knowing that he was … stuck on one major.
Sure, it’s great to have one. But getting a second is another level in the game. Only 84 players have won two or more in the history of the game. And getting there, as McIlroy said, is not always so easy.
And as it turns out, Thomas leads our list of players with a single major championship.
1. Justin Thomas
Now 29, Thomas heads into this week’s PGA Championship ranked seventh in the world, having spent the better part of five years among the top 10 with a stint at No. 1. But his lone major title came five years ago at the PGA Championship played at Quail Hollow as part of a five-victory season that saw him capture the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour player of the year honors. He’s won eight times on the PGA Tour since that victory, including the 2021 Players Championship, to establish himself as one of the elite players in the game. But he has barely contended in the majors since, playing in 15 with three top 10s and his best a fourth at the 2020 Masters.
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2. Jon Rahm
The reigning U.S. Open appears poised to win more major championships. Rahm, 27, captured his first at Torrey Pines last year, birdieing the last two holes to win and moving to No. 1 in the world. After a tie for third at the British Open, he remained No. 1 through the Players Championship this year, losing the top spot to Scottie Scheffler and then winning for the first time since his major triumph at the Mexico Open. The seven-time PGA Tour winner (with six more wins on the DP World Tour) already has nine top-10 finishes in 22 major starts, including six top 5s.
3. Louis Oosthuizen
The South African’s record would be far more appreciated if he added a second major title to his only one in 2010 at The Old Course in St. Andrews. Since that victory Oosthuizen, 39, has had 10 top 10s at majors, including at least one runner-up in all four. He lost the 2012 Masters in a playoff to Bubba Watson and lost in a three-man playoff at St. Andrews in 2015 to Zach Johnson. Last year, he was tied for second at the PGA, finished second at the U.S. Open and was tied for third at The Open. He’s had an amazing run in the majors without getting a second victory.
4. Bryson DeChambeau
DeChambeau’s recent injury woes have stalled his career for the time being, but his eight-shot victory at the 2020 U.S. Open points to his abilities. And he was right in the mix last year at the U.S. Open before imploding on the back nine. DeChambeau caught a lot of grief for describing Augusta National as a “par-67’’ for him prior to the 2020 Masters, but the truth is he needs to learn how to figure that place out. And in 22 major starts, he has just two top-10s.
5. Scottie Scheffler
The reigning Masters champion goes lower on the list because he’s coming off his first major and has yet to play any with that distinction. It’s nice to have one, and should make playing the rest easier. He likes Southern Hills, so this is an excellent opportunity for him. His four victories this year and rise to No. 1 in the world portend major success. Last year, he was no worse than 18th with three other top 10s in the majors, and he already has five top 10s in just 10 major starts.
6. Hideki Matsuyama
The Japanese star who became the first male golfer from Japan to win a major championship at the 2021 Masters has an interesting record in the majors, with eight top-10 finishes but only his win last year at Augusta National coming in the last five years. After a disappointing tie for fifth at the 2017 PGA where he let an early lead slip, Matsuyama didn’t contend in a major again until winning the Masters last year. He is coming off a tie for 14th at this year’s Masters despite injury issues that continue to plague him.
7. Patrick Reed
Once mocked for saying he was a top-5 player in the world when he really wasn’t close, Reed nonetheless has knocked at the door of such heights, only to fall back. He seems to play in streaks, the latest downturn lasting longer than expected. The 2018 Masters champion, Reed, 31, has not won since his controversial (rules issue) victory at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open. His only top-20 finish in 2022 is a tie for 15th at the limited-field Sentry Tournament of Champions and he has missed four cuts in his last eight starts. Aside from his Masters win, he’s only been a true Sunday competitor at the 2017 PGA and the 2018 U.S. Open.
8. Shane Lowry
As great as his British Open victory was in 2019 north of the border at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, the Irishman remains a bit of a mystery. He has five worldwide victories, one as an amateur, but none since that win at The Open. Currently ranked 27th in the world, he has three top-3 finishes this year, including a runner-up at the Honda Classic, a tie for third at the Masters and a tie for third in his last (official) start at the RBC Heritage.
9. Adam Scott
The window on major opportunities is closing for the first Australian golfer to win the Masters. Amazingly, that was nine years ago, and came nine months after his meltdown at Royal Lytham, where he bogeyed the last four holes to lose the British Open by a stroke to Ernie Els. Scott, 41, contended at several majors after his Masters victory, including a tie for third behind Phil Mickelson at Muirfield in 2013 but has not had much success in recent times, despite a pledge to try and mold his schedule around behind prepared for the biggest tournaments. Scott has not had a top-20 finish in his last nine major starts.
10. Sergio Garcia
Garcia went some 18 years into his pro career before winning a major, capturing the 2017 Masters in a playoff over Justin Rose. It was a long time coming for the Spaniard, who showed such great promise as a 19-year-old phenom in 1999, taking Tiger Woods to the final hole before finishing second at Medinah. Garcia, 42, is an accomplished player with 23 top-10s in majors and 36 worldwide wins, including 11 on the PGA Tour. But since his Masters victory he has not contended in any majors, missing the cut in all four in 2018. He’s also missed the cut in 11 of the 18 majors he’s played since that win, with his best finish a tie for 19th.
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