Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

Luke Donald’s breathtaking birdie burst on the back nine of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Sunday cemented his standing as the greatest golfer in the world.

Since the self-inflicted dethroning of Lord Tiger, there’s been something of an unwanted stigma attached to the world number one crown in golf; those who have occupied it deemed unworthy. Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and now Donald have all taken a pew at the head of the golfing table but none have been able to dine peacefully on account that their rise to the top came without a number of major titles (only Kaymer has the 2010 US PGA to his name).

Whilst this debate will no doubt continue to rumble in the undercurrents of the sport for some time (I touch upon it here – http://bencroucher.co.uk/sports-personality-of-the-year-the-contenders/), this led me to think about some of the greats of sporting past and sporting present who didn’t quite achieve the success that their unprecedented talents perhaps warranted…

8. Jimmy White:
The Whirlwind, the cheeky chappy from Essex, the people’s champion. White’s measured, fun loving approach to snooker in the late 80s to early 90s earned him a huge cult following but six defeats at the Crucible Theatre in the World Championship Final meant that he never quite fulfilled his brilliance on the baize.

7. LeBron James:
When he’s not busy checking out his investment in Liverpool FC (I’m as baffled as you on that one), rumour has it that this James fella is pretty handy at Basketball. At 26 years old, time is on his side but for all his all star appearances, individual gongs and an Olympic Gold (that doesn’t really count), James has yet to win the NBA Championship, despite leading Cleveland to the 2007 finals. Keep on dunkin’.

6. Alan Shearer:
313 goals, 63 England caps, captaining club and country and remaining the top goalscorer in Premier League history. OK – so he didn’t have a bad innings so to speak but Shearer never won a major trophy at senior level with his beloved Newcastle or England (and no Le Tournoi doesn’t count). A bad luck charm maybe?! His managerial track record doesn’t exactly help matters either.

5. Dan Marino:
Alongside the constantly retiring Brett Favre, Marino is widely regarded as the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen. 420 touchdown passes in a 17 year career put Miami Dolphins on the American sporting map. He’ll forever live with an asterisk next to his name because he never won that there SuperBowl.

4. Andy Murray:
Whilst I could easily insert Tim Henman or that big grinning Canadian bloke here, neither hold a candle to the current world number three in terms of raw talent. Unless he can produce a noticeable upturn in quality in the next two-three years, or have a quiet word with Tonya Harding, Murray is unlikely to finally supplant Fred Perry as a Great British major winner. Three grand slam finals, three straight set defeats and three players who will be always be better than Murray as long as he plays. I mean, even Henman has an Olympic silver medal Andy?! See also Marcelo Rios, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva and Mark Philipoussis.

3. Steve Backley:
Another contentious choice perhaps because old Steve actually won a lot in his career. 4 European and 3 Commonwealth titles to be exact. But the Sidcup thrower will be remembered for being Britain’s best ever field athlete to have never won an Olympic title. Come to think of it, take away Jonathan Edwards and he’s probably our best ever field athlete. Two Olympic silvers, two world championship silvers – when it came to pitting himself against the best in the world, Backley sadly came up short. Remember in Sydney in 2000, breaking the world record, only for arch rival Jan Zelezny to go one better? I’m sparing Paula Radcliffe here as she is a current world record holder (if the IAAF haven’t conjured up another excuse to rid her of that one) and has won a World Championship gold medal.

2. Colin Montgomerie:
Put him in a European jumper and he’ll pummel the yanks into Ryder Cup submission. On the European Tour, he was exemplary, leading the Order of Merit on 8 occasions, including 7 consecutive triumphs between 1993 and 1999. A highest world ranking of second, runner up in major championships on five separate occasions, most famously at the 2006 US Open when he choked in Jean van der Velde fashion coming down the 18th at Winged Foot., Monty always stumbled on the biggest stage.

1. Sir Stirling Moss:
In 2010, Moss fell down an elevator shaft an broke both ankles. Unperturbed at the age of 81, he was walking again within four months. The gritty resolve of arguably England’s greatest ever driver (I’ll give Britain’s to Jackie Stewart and ward off Graham Hill, James Hunt and Nigel Mansell groupies) could never be questions, throwing his body into corners lined with straw bales at breakneck speeds with fatal consequences for the tiniest of errors. In an era one of the all time greats, Juan Manuel Fangio, dominated Formula One, Moss was never too far behind, pushing the Argentine to the edge of perfection and having to narrowly settle for second best on no fewer than three occasions. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

So have I missed anybody off the list or have I unfairly placed a champion amongst the also rans? Let me know your views by emailing ben@bencroucher.co.uk.

I am a freelance broadcast journalist for BBC Radio Kent. Please note that all views in this article are my own and are in no way representative of my employers and/or their associative partners.