Colin Montgomerie

As is often the case with sportsmen, or sportswomen, who reach almost, but not quite, the pinnacle of their profession, labelling Colin Montgomerie a ‘nearly man’ may seem a little harsh. After all, in his heyday, in the Nineties, the Scotsman was a force majeure in European golf. He won total of 31 European Tour events, more than any other British golfer, and the season-long Order of Merit a record eight times, including seven years running between 1993 and 1999. Indeed, Montgomerie is still active on PGA Tour Champions, which he joined in June, 2013, where he is a three-time senior major champion.

However, the ‘nearly man’ tag stems from the fact that, despite several near-misses, Montgomerie never won a tournament, of any description, on the regular PGA Tour and never won a major championship. At the peak of his powers, ‘Monty’ was eliminated in an 18-hole playoff for the 1994 US Open, eventually won by Ernie Els, and again lost in a playoff, this time sudden-death, to Steve Elkington at the 1995 PGA Championship. At the 1997 US Open, he again lost out to Els, by a single stroke, having bogeyed the penultimate hole. At the 2005 Open Championship, Montgomerie finished second in a major championship again, albeit five shots behind wire-to-wire winner Tiger Woods.

Sadly, one more dramatic capitulation was to follow. At the 2006 US Open, Montgomery stood in the middle of the fairway on the final 450-yard par-4 requiring a par to win his maiden major. However, his poorly struck 7-iron approach shot finished short and right of the putting surface and, a pitch and three putts later, he carded a double-bogey six. Montgomery eventually finished co-second of three, alongside Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson – both of whom also failed to par the seventy-second hole – a shot adrift of Australian Geoff Ogilvy.


Doug Sanders

The late George Douglas ‘Doug’ Sanders was known as the ‘Peacock of the Fairways’ because of his colourful, flamboyant dress sense. All told, he won 20 events on the PGA Tour and was runner-up in four major championships. He finished tied second in the PGA Championship in 1959, tied second in the US Open in 1961 and tied second in the Open Championship in 1966, but owes his ‘nearly man’ tag primarily to that putt on the seventy-second green of the Open Championship, on the Old Course at St. Andrews, in 1970.

On Saturday, July 11, in blustery conditions, Sanders saved par by getting up-and-down from the infamous Road Hole Bunker, off the left front of the green on the penultimate hole. He hit the final green in regulation, thus leaving himself with two putts from thirty feet, downhill, to beat Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke and win the Open Championship.

After an indeterminable wait for Sanders to strike his first putt, during which he stepped away from his ball after being disturbed by crowd noise, BBC commentator Henry Longhurst said, ‘ You can see yourself going into the history books as the man who had only to get down in two putts to win the Open, and took three, and lost in a playoff.’ Sanders’ initial effort pulled up three feet short of the hole, leading Longhurst to exclaim, ‘Oh Lord! That’s not one I’d like to have.’

By this stage, Sanders was clearly a bag of nerves and, having examined the line of his putt from both sides, finally settled over his ball. However, having looked ready to ‘pull the trigger’, he hesitated again, bending down to remove a loose impediment, real or imagined, from his line. His subsquent stroke was weak and, as his ball missed on the right side of the hole, he motioned towards it, involuntarily, as if to try again. The following day, Sanders lost the resulting playoff to Nicklaus by a single shot.

Mary Decker

Mary Slaney (née Decker) was a celebrated US middle-distance runner who, at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1983, completed the so-called ‘Double Decker’ by winning gold medals in both the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres. At various points in her career, Slaney also held world records in the women’s mile, 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres. However, in a career dogged by injury and good old-fashioned bad luck, Slaney never won an Olympic medal of any description.

Originally nicknamed ‘Little Mary Decker’ because of her short, petite stature, Slaney rose to prominence, as a 14-year-old, in 1973. Too young to complete at the US Olympic Trials in 1972, Slaney won on her first attempt in international competition, in the USA-USSR Dual Track Meet Series at the Republic Stadium in Minsk, Belarus in July, 1973, while still a week or two shy of her fifteenth birthday. Indeed, in winning the women’s 800 metres she beat the silver medallist at the Munich Olympics, Nijolė Sabaitė.

A painful muscular condition, known as ‘compartment syndrome’, followed by a series of stress induced fractures, ruled Slaney out of the Montreal Olympics in 1976, while a US boycott, in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in December, 1979, did likewise at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. When Slaney did finally make it to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, she started hot favourite for the women’s 3,000 metres final, but failed to finish after colliding with South African born teenager Zola Budd, representing Great Britain. With less than four laps to go, Slaney fell to the track, injuring her hip and leaving unable to continue. Slaney also contested the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the women’s 5,000 metres at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, but never recaptured her previous form.

Lee Westwood

Like Colin Montgomerie, who is 10 years his senior, Lee Westwood is one of the best golfers of his generation. He has the distinction of having won tournaments in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia and his 44 victories worldwide include 25 on the European Tour and, unlike Montgomerie, two on the PGA Tour.

Worksop-born Westwood, 48, arguably reached the peak of his profession when, in November, 2010, he replaced Tiger Woods as the number one golfer in the world, according to Official Golf World Rankings. Of course, he did so without winning a major championship and, over a decade later, remains one of the best players never to win a major. In fact, Westwood now holds the record, outright, for playing in the most major championships without winning one. Frustratingly, he remains the only golfer in history to have finished second or third in the Masters, US Open, Open Champion and PGA Championship without ever lifting one of the prestigious trophies.

In chronological order, Westwood finished third in the Masters in 2008 and tied third in the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2009. The Open Championship result, on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, was notable for the fact that Westwood missed out on a playoff by a single stroke after bogeying three of the last four holes. In 2010, Westwood finished runner-up in the Masters and the Open Championship, in 2011, he finished tied third in the US Open, in 2012, he finished tied third in the Masters and, in 2013, tied third, again, in the Open Championship. His most recent top-three finish in a major championship came when he tied second in the Masters in 2016. All told, Westwood has played in 88 major championships, finishing second three times, third six times and in the top five on twelve occasions.