- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 3, 2012

AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - The list of contenders has rarely been this strong. The credentials are as impeccable as ever. Indeed, the competition is more wide open than ever at the Masters.

Only it’s not just about the green jacket.

It’s a label _ best to have never won a major championship.

And it’s a long list these days.

Much of the attention is divided between Luke Donald, currently No. 1 in the world, and Lee Westwood, a former No. 1 who has finished among the top three in six of his last 14 majors, including being the runner-up at Augusta National two years ago.

But the list is deeper than that.

Going into this year’s Masters, six of the top 10 players in the world _ and 18 of the top 25 _ have yet to win a major.

Phil Mickelson remembers what it was like to be tagged the “best to have never won a major.” He carried that burden _ and with his talent, it was an enormous burden _ for some seven years before he drained that 18-foot birdie putt in 2004 to win the Masters. From that point on, he drove down Magnolia Lane with more joy than trepidation.

“After winning in 2004, the pressure has not been the same,” he said. “Because there was this burden of having never won a major. There was this burden of wanting to win the Masters so bad and being a part of the history of the tournament. When I won in 2004, it was no longer pressure I felt. It was excitement.”

That might explain why he came close to winning the next three majors, why he won the PGA Championship the following season, another green jacket in 2006, and why he likes his chances of joining Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer as a four-time Masters champion.

Mickelson was easy to identify on that dreaded list. Ditto for a half-dozen others before him _ David Duval, Mark O’Meara, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, Paul Azinger and Tom Kite. The missing major was more obvious because of their world ranking, money titles, close calls in the majors, number of wins, or a combination of those measures.

That’s what makes this list as strong as it has been in years.

Donald was asked Tuesday how he would define the best player to have not won a major, and once he settled on a definition, whom he would rate at the top of the list.

“That’s a tricky question,” he said. “Obviously, my name would be in the hat. Lee has been around quite a bit, and he’s obviously had probably more opportunities that I have to win majors.”

Who else?

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