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Best player without a major now unclear

Golf is now accepting applications to take over Phil Mickelson's role as the best player to have never won a major championship.

The requirements should include at least 10 victories on the PGA Tour. International players are eligible, but only if they have won at least once in the United States, a World Golf Championship or seven European Tour money titles. Applicants should be entering their prime, or at least be at the tail end of it.

Don't expect the position to be filled quickly.

No one really paid any attention to the "best without a major" until Tom Kite languished with the label for nearly 15 years, piling up 16 victories until he finally won the '92 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach when he was 42.

Since then, the torch has been passed to a steady succession of worthy candidates:

--Paul Azinger had 10 victories when he won the '93 PGA Championship at 33.

--Corey Pavin had 12 victories when he won the '95 U.S. Open at 36.

--Davis Love III had 10 victories when he won the '97 PGA Championship at 33.

--Mark O'Meara had 14 victories when he won the '98 Masters at 41.

--David Duval had 12 victories when he won the '01 Open Championship at 29.

--Mickelson had 22 victories when he won the Masters at 33.

Under those guidelines, there aren't any players that stand out as the best without a major. None will be hounded about the burden at every major, or reminded of it every time he wins on the PGA Tour.

The only players worthy of consideration are John Cook, 47, and Scott Hoch, 49, each with 11 victories and close calls in the majors, and Jay Haas, whose ninth and the most recent PGA Tour victory was in 1993.

Kenny Perry is 44, but he has only six victories, three of them during a three-month stretch last year.

The most likely candidates are overseas.

--Padraig Harrington of Ireland is No. 6 in the final 2004 world rankings, but he still hasn't won on the PGA Tour and his almost two dozen career runner-up finishes leaves him with more to prove.

--No. 14-ranked Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland has captured two World Golf Championships -- he beat Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play and won last year at the NEC Invitational. Still, he has contended on the back nine at a major only twice in the last seven years.

The focus tends to shift to youth -- No. 7-ranked Sergio Garcia of Spain and No. 11-ranked Adam Scott of Australia, both age 24.

Scott won The Players Championship, then missed the cut in his next two events and shot 80 in the first round of the Masters before rebounding with a victory in the Booz Allen Classic and finishing the 2004 season a career-high seventh on the money list. Garcia won only three times in the first five years he has been playing the PGA Tour, but chalked up two victories in 2004 and played his usual crucial role in the European victory in the Ryder Cup.

They have not been around long enough to warrant the tag, and it would be unfair to ask them why they haven't won a major for at least another four years.

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