The new Best Players Without A Major? They’re in the U.S. Open mix

Patrick Cantlay and Ludvig Aberg watch shots during the first round of the 2024 U.S. Open on Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2.

Patrick Cantlay and Ludvig Aberg set the pace on Thursday morning at the U.S. Open.

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PINEHURST, N.C. — When Xander Schauffele won the PGA Championship last month, he shed one title (Best Player Without A Major) for another (Major Champion). That means the former needs a new owner.

There are plenty of contenders, but the criteria is subjective. Does it belong to the majorless player with the best current form, regardless of longevity? Or a majorless player who has built the strongest resume over years of success? Good question.

Let’s go to the candidates.

Viktor Hovland, 26: World No. 5, 6 PGA Tour wins
Ludvig Aberg, 24: World No. 6, 1 PGA Tour win
Patrick Cantlay, 32: World No. 9, 8 PGA Tour wins
Max Homa, 33: World No. 10, 6 PGA Tour wins
Rickie Fowler, 35: World No. 43, 6 PGA Tour wins

This is one fantastic grill-room debate, and since everyone is entitled to their own opinion — including golf writers (like me) — let’s hand out some hardware.

Runner-up for Best Player Without A Major: Viktor Hovland
Best Player Without a Major (Body of Work Division): Patrick Cantlay
Best Player Without a Major (Current Form Division): Ludvig Aberg

And here’s the kicker: the above co-winners are right in the thick of this 124th U.S. Open.

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Cantlay opened with a five-under 65 on Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2, and in the group behind him Aberg shot a four-under 66. That duo was alone atop the leaderboard after the morning wave finished and stayed there most of the day, although Rory McIlroy shot 65 late to share the co-lead with Cantlay.

Cantlay made just one bogey and closed with birdies on three of his last five holes in a round that was a stark contrast to Aberg’s. Players who hit a lot of greens, have strong short games and putt well were thought of as favorites coming in. If you miss greens here, that’s where the trouble starts. Cantlay hit just 10 greens but got up and down 7 of 8 times, including both instances he was in a greenside bunker (one of which, on the 11th, he holed for birdie). He leads the field in SG: Around the green.

Aberg, on the other hand, was so consistently good he was boring. He didn’t miss a fairway and hit 16 of 18 greens — the final one a dagger to 6 feet on the par-3 9th, his final hole, that led to a closing birdie. Both times he missed the green he made his only bogeys.

“I think staying very disciplined is important,” Aberg said. “There’s a lot of pins where you don’t really think about going for. So me and Joe [Skovron], my caddie, we have a lot of good conversations about certain areas that you try to hit it on. It’s difficult to be very, very precise with the numbers and those things. But try to get a gauge on where to hit it, where to miss it, make sure that we stay disciplined toward things.”

In a follow up, Aberg was asked if it was difficult to be disciplined.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “It’s the U.S. Open, it’s supposed to be hard.”

This is Cantlay’s 30th major start, but he’s only had four top 10s. None of them have been in a U.S. Open, although he’s tied for 15th (once) and tied for 14th (twice) in his last three appearances here.

As for Aberg, this is still just the third major start of his career. In fact, the highly decorated collegiate golfer made an immediate impact on the European Ryder Cup last fall before he even played in a major. Then, when he did play in one of the four big ones, he didn’t disappoint. He was in the penultimate pairing alongside Max Homa on Masters Sunday, shot 69 and finished solo second, four shots behind winner Scottie Scheffler but three strokes ahead of the next closest competitors.

He’s been racking up strong finishes all season: T9 at the Farmers, 2nd at Pebble Beach, 8th at the Players, T10 at the RBC Heritage and T5 at the Memorial last week. He was a surprising missed cut at the PGA Championship last month, but at this point that week seems like an outlier.

Cantlay and Aberg are in the hunt, but it’s still so, so early.

On Tuesday, Tiger Woods predicted that the low on Thursday might be the winning score come Sunday. Cantlay didn’t agree or disagree with that, but he did offer one prediction.

“I imagine they can get the golf course as difficult as they want,” Cantlay said. “With the Bermuda greens and no rain in the forecast, I expect the golf course to play very difficult in the next few days.”

Josh Berhow Editor

As’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at

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