This award, while it is nice to be recognized with an award, is not one you want to win. Ms. Congeniality is another way of putting it. Today's candidates, if I was to pick one, would have to be a very close tie between Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. I think we don't hear so much about this title anymore because it is not such a clear cut winner as it was a few years ago. Phil Mickelson held this title for the longest time and he could really go nowhere and discuss golf without this topic rearing its ugly head. David Duval held it for a while, but in his case winning a major seemed worse than not winning one. His career has gone down the tubes since kissing the Claret Jug. Don't get me wrong, I like David and root for him each week that he plays, but one has to be honest at some point.
But the point of this article is to debate who deserves the title for their entire career. For me there is a clear winner. When I was asked this question this guy came to the top of my list without much thought. Colin Montgomerie.
Monty has struggled mightily in really any event in the U.S., but his biggest failings seemed to occur in the majors. He had numerous chances to rid himself of this title, the most recent being the one where Phil Mickelson decided to hit his driver into a tent and then off a tree, and then…well I won't go any further… a few years ago at Winged Foot. He was arguably the best player ever on the European Tour. He won the Order of Merit a record eight times. Yes you read that right eight times, seven of them in a row, from 1993 to 1999. He at one time was the second ranked player in the world.
Monty was always an excellent driver of the golf ball, he was also a very good with the longer irons. He was not known for being very long, but deadly accurate. What I will remember him most for was his outstanding play and leadership in the Ryder Cup. He was very typically beating us Americans like a drum and pissing me off to no end with his steady play. He also has seemed to transfer that leadership into a great captaincy bid by beating us this last Ryder Cup. Monty's record truly stands alone.
The only other guy in recent times who could possibly rival Monty was fellow European Sam Torrance. Sam won 21 European Tour events but never a major. The thing is he hardly even competed in the majors. He of course played in the Open Championship but only had two top-ten finishes. He only played in the Masters, U.S. Open and the PGA a handful of times and never in the top ten. Interestingly, Sam and Westwood are tied atop the list of career wins on the European Tour.
Now, the names I have mentioned here are the traditional names, ones you can find mentioned on the great forum here on The Sand Trap, but when I thought about this more, a name came to my mind that is rarely ever mentioned when this award comes up for discussion. He came into my mind because he seemed to be present every so often on leaderboards on Thursday or Friday, but rarely was a factor on the weekend. Masashi Ozaki, better known as Jumbo Ozaki, this guy was huge in Japan. I see all the hoopla surrounding Ryo Ishikawa, but his record is no match against Jumbo's. Jumbo accumulated 94 victories on the Japan Tour and 113 official tournament victories. Compare that to a measly 10 by Ryo and you can see that this guy was ever so dominant on the Japan PGA Tour. I remember reading somewhere that Tom Watson said to "win over 100 tournaments you have to have some game." I would agree, and the thing is he was hardly ever a factor at the majors. Only three top-tens. You cannot accuse him of lack of effort or ingenuity though at his peak he would hire a chef to come to the city that the tournament was being hosted and have him prepare meals similar to the ones he had in Japan.
Jumbo was not without controversy in his career on two separate occasions Greg Norman accused him of cheating, or as Norman put it a liberal interpretation of the rules. Both were accusations of improving his lie by putting the club behind the ball. Neither case drew any disciplinary action. To be fair to Jumbo, Norman seems to very acute to rules violations as he would later accuse O'Meara of cheating as well. None of these cases ever amounted to anything, however.
If forced to rank them I would probably put Monty ahead of Jumbo but only slightly. Monty had many more close calls in the majors than Jumbo had. Still it makes for a stirring debate.
Photo credits: © David Cannon.