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Champions that failed to master Augusta

ESPN staff
April 6, 2012
Greg Norman is distraught after missing a chance © Getty Images
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ESPN is providing live commentary and updates during all four days of The Masters from Augusta National - along with comprehensive news views and opinions.

The coveted Green Jacket is the prize. But as many major champions have found out, winning the Masters is easier said than done.

We take a look at 10 of the best players never to have won at Augusta…

Greg Norman
Two-time major champion Norman knows all too well the feeling of seeing the Masters slip through the fingers. In 1981, Norman - playing Augusta as a rookie - had his chances down the back nine but could not take them, with Tom Watson winning by two to claim his second Green Jacket. Five years later Norman had his second good chance. With five holes to play the Australian was out of the running but he hauled himself into contention with three birdies in a row. However, going up 18, Norman took the wrong club and skewed his approach into the crowd - one moment of poor judgment seeing him finish second behind the great Jack Nicklaus. In 1987, Norman had one putt across the final green for a second successive birdie and the Masters title. It didn't drop. A three-way play-off ensued and, after Seve Ballesteros bowed out with a three-putt bogey at 10, Larry Mize chipped in at the second play-off hole for a stunning triumph. Nine years passed before the Great White Shark had another chance to end his Masters hoodoo. Leading by six with a round to go, Sunday's finale should have been a formality, but an infamous meltdown handed Nick Faldo the title.

Lee Trevino
The Masters is the only major that Trevino missed out on. A stellar career garnered two US Opens, two British Opens and two PGA Championships, but his best finish at Augusta was a tie for 10th, which he achieved in 1975 and 1985. With his own unique swing, Trevino wasn't your archetypal golfer - he taught himself the arts of the game because he said he'd never met a coach he couldn't beat on the course. His self-taught style was as unorthodox as it was effective and, having joined the PGA Tour in 1967, he quickly established himself as a force, winning all but one of his six majors from 1968 to 1974. Heroics on the golf course were soon overshadowed, however, when Trevino was nearly killed when struck by lightning during a tournament in 1975 and he suffered subsequent back problems. Although hampered by his injuries, he returned to prominence when winning the 1984 PGA Championship - his last major victory. His peers maintain he psyched himself out of winning the Masters - Trevino thought his game wasn't suited to the course and, as a result, even passed up the chance to play at Augusta on a couple of occasions in the early 1970s.

Hale Irwin
One of the world's leading players for much of the 1970s and 1980s, Irwin enjoyed great success, particularly at the US Open where he won three times - the last of which came at the age of 45 in 1990. A great matchplay exponent, Irwin thrived in the Ryder Cup, compiling a tremendous 13-5-2 record in five appearances. A fabulous iron player, Irwin also possessed a steely edge that made him rock solid when the pressure was really on. Sole major winner Ken Venturi said of Irwin: "Aesthetically and technically, Hale stands at the ball as well as any player I've ever seen." And yet, for all his talent and mental toughness, Irwin fell short in his quest to conquer Augusta, despite finishing in the top 10 seven times. From 1974-77, he didn't finish lower than fifth, but his best showing at Augusta National was two ties for fourth (1974, 1975).

Ernie Els
Twice a runner-up at Augusta, Els - a three-time major winner - may yet don a Green Jacket, but he'll have to wait at least another year after failing to make it to the first hole for the first time since 1993 when he didn't win the Houston Open last week. At his best, Els was a match for anyone during the mid-1990s and early-2000s, the Big Easy possessing the perfect blend of power and touch. With a game tailor-made to tame Augusta, it's strange naming the South African on this list - although it's not as though he didn't have any chances to win in Georgia. In 2000, Vijay Singh showed more consistency, winning by three from Els, but in 2004 it was simply a case of being pipped to the post by a genius in the form of Phil Mickelson. Els, back in the clubhouse after posting a five-under 67, could only watch as Mickelson tore up the course before birdying the last to win by a single shot.

Ernie Els fell agonisingly short in 2004 © Getty Images
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Peter Thomson
Best known for scooping five Open Championships, Thomson was the only man to win the event three times in a row in the 20th century (1954, 1955, 1956). A brilliant links golfer, Thomson wasn't a fan of American courses, preferring to play in Europe and the Far East. In eight Masters appearances, he finished in the top 10 only once, placing fifth in 1957.

Tom Weiskopf
These days the silky swinged American crops up in Masters conversation when attention turns to the par-three 12th, as observers and commentators regularly refer back to the 13 he ran up on the shortest hole on the course in 1980. After spinning his tee-shot back into Rae's Creek, Weiskopf proceeded to flail a further four approaches from the drop zone into the drink before finally finding the back of the green and two-putting. With that disaster coming in the first round, it is perhaps unsurprising that he went on to miss the cut, though.

However, his Masters legacy is much stronger than that - indeed, alongside the esteemed company of Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus, he is the player with the most runner-up finishes (four) in tournament history. In 1969 George Archer muscled him out to capitalise on Billy Casper's final round stumble, while in 1972 he was unable to overhaul a final round deficit on Nicklaus. Two years later he was kept at arm's length by Gary Player, but it was 1975 that he came closest to success - losing a final round lead to a resurgent Nicklaus in a three-way shootout with Johnny Miller (who came up one-shot shy despite a final round 66). Weiskopf only claimed a single major in his entire career (the 1973 Open Championship); a great player, he just did not have that winning edge and that was underlined around Augusta.

Johnny Miller
Now an outspoken commentator on American networks, Miller looked at one point like he was about to establish himself as the game's foremost player before he lost both his swing and putting edge in quick succession. Prior to that he won two major championships (the 1973 US Open and 1976 Open Championship) but the Masters eluded him by the narrowest of margins on three occasions, ten years apart. In 1971 he left himself too much work to do to overcome Charles Coody, a situation that was replicated almost exactly in 1981 with Coody substituted for Tom Watson. 1975 was a similar scenario, with Miller inserting himself into a shootout with Nicklaus and Weiskopf but again finding the deficit simply too much to overcome.

Ken Venturi
Just a one-time major champion - at the 1964 US Open - Venturi was edged out of two Masters titles as a professional by the legendary Arnold Palmer, who was perhaps the first player to really dominate the tournament for an extended period of time. But Venturi's biggest moment at the tournament came while still an amateur - at the 1956 Masters he stunned the field over the opening three rounds to take a four-shot lead into the final round of the tournament. Alas, a landmark victory was not to be, as the pressure of the occasion and high winds on the final day conspired to see Venturi shoot a final round 80 as he lost by one shot to Jack Burke Jnr. An amateur has still never won the tournament - but few will come closer.

Scott Hoch couldn't believe he missed from two feet © PA Photos
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Scott Hoch
If it wasn't for Greg Norman, 'Hoch the Choke' would perhaps be the most famous player to throw away a Green Jacket. Having secured a playoff with Nick Faldo (a man who seemed to inspire meltdowns) at the 1989 iteration of the tournament, Hoch had a two-foot putt at the first playoff hole to win the tournament and secure his place in history. Instead he pushed it wide and, shellshocked, would see Faldo wrap things up in near darkness at the very next hole. A similar fate had befallen him at the 1987 US PGA Championship - the American was destined never to win a major.

Payne Stewart
You couldn't miss Payne Stewart; he was the one sporting outlandish plus-fours about 50 years after everyone else. He was unmistakeable on the course, and it was just as well that his golf game was equally as stylish. A player known over the world, Stewart was a household name in America and he played his best stuff stateside. He won the US Open twice, in 1991 and 1999, and motored past a fading Mike Reid to come from five strokes off the pace with nine holes to play to win the 1989 PGA Championship. He couldn't reproduce the goods at August although - in 14 Masters appearances his best finish was a tie for eighth in 1986. 1999 proved to be the last time Stewart teed it up at Augusta as, tragically, his life was cut short later that year in a private plane crash.

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