JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last four major champions are noteworthy in part because of their passports. It’s the first time since the Masters began in 1934 that four non-American players have won golf’s four biggest events.
It’s also worth paying attention to their birth certificates.
The old man in the group is Graeme McDowell, who was 30 when he won the U.S. Open last summer at Pebble Beach. The last three major champions were all in their 20s – Louis Oosthuizen (27), Martin Kaymer (25) and Charl Schwartzel (26).
It’s the first time since 1997 that three straight major champions were in their 20s, when Tiger Woods won the Masters at 21, Ernie Els won his second U.S. Open at 27 and Justin Leonard won the British Open at 25.
“It’s a bright future, obviously,” said Jason Day, the 23-year-old Australian who tied for second at Augusta. “There’s a lot of good, solid young players coming up now, and it seems every year, they are getting younger.”
Whether the last four majors represent a changing of the guard remains to be seen. Woods showed signs that his game was improving with his tie for fourth at the Masters, while Phil Mickelson won a week earlier at the Houston Open.
The fact the last four major champions captured a Grand Slam event for the first time – the longest streak of first-time major winners in seven years – shows how tough it is to win.
“When Tiger came along, he pretty much changed the game,” Day said. “Everyone turned into athletes. We’re not flag slobs anymore. He has pretty much changed the game for the good.”
NELSON HONORED: Three-time major champion Larry Nelson, who didn’t take up golf until he returned from the Vietnam War, will receive the PGA Distinguished Service Award.
Nelson, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, will be honored Aug. 10 during the PGA Championship. It’s being played at Atlanta Athletic Club, where 30 years ago Nelson won his first major at the PGA. He also won the 1987 PGA Championship at PGA National, and the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
He also played on three Ryder Cup teams, and went 5-0 as a rookie in 1979 at The Greenbrier.
“It’s quite an honor, and I’m very humbled by it,” Nelson said. “I have been very blessed in my career, and have been fortunate that golf has allowed me to meet many around the world, develop special friendship and serve others.”
What made Nelson such an inspiration was his late start in the game. He spent two years in Vietnam with the Army, and didn’t start playing golf until he was out of the service. He read Ben Hogan’s book, “The Five Fundamentals of Golf,” broke 100 the first time he played and broke 70 for the first time within nine months.
“Larry Nelson is one of golf’s consummate champions, who performed at the highest level on many of the game’s grandest stages and has carried himself with dignity and grace to become one of the sport’s most respected ambassadors,” PGA of America president Allen Wronowski said.
The PGA Distinguished Service Award, which began in 1988, honors outstanding individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.
ASIAN TOUR ON TV: The Asian Tour has reached broadcasting agreements with Golf Channel that will shows its tournaments in North America, Latin America and Japan.
The addition of those territories will bring the Asian Tour’s dedicated TV programming to 130 countries and more than 420 million households around the world.
“The standard of the Asian Tour has increasingly grown over the years, and we look forward to giving golf fans in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Japan the opportunity to watch Asia’s elite golfers,” Asian Tour chairman Kyi Hla Han said.
ON A ROLL: Camilo Villegas isn’t off a very good start this year. His best finish in nine tournaments is a tie for 35th in the Cadillac Championship. He has missed three cuts, been disqualified from one tournament and withdrew from another.
After starting the year at No. 37 in the world, he already has fallen to No. 50.
Put him in a major championship, though, and the Colombian seems to manage.
Even though he finished last at the Masters, Villegas made the cut for the 12th consecutive major, the longest current streak of those who have played them all. Phil Mickelson has a streak of 13 successive cuts made, although he skipped the 2009 British Open after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
U.S. OPEN ODDS: A breathtaking Masters was not even a day old when bookies began compiling odds for the next major.
One website, www.Bodog.com, has Tiger Woods listed as a 6-to-1 favorite for the U.S. Open, which is still 10 weeks away at Congressional. Woods tied for 19th in the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional, although he won the AT&T National there two years ago.
Phil Mickelson is the second choice at 10-to-1. Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy were listed at 16-to-1, followed by world No. 1 Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald at 20-to-1.
Winning the Masters has only made Charl Schwartzel a 33-to-1 favorite. Those are the same odds for defending champion Graeme McDowell, who missed the cut at the Masters.
DIVOTS: Tiger Woods has finished no worse than sixth in his last seven trips to the Masters. … Lee Westwood (No. 2) and Ernie Els (No. 14) are the only players in the top 20 in the world who have yet to record a top-10 finish this year. … Rory McIlroy was praised for the gracious manner in which he handled his final-round 80. The 21-year-old continued to show class when he posed for a photo with Charl Schwartzel in the green jacket on their flight to Malaysia. He posted it on Twitter and said, “Glad one of us has a green jacket on!!!” … The top five players who have earned the most world ranking points through the Masters are Schwartzel, Luke Donald, Nick Watney, Martin Kaymer and Mark Wilson. … With his tie for fourth in the Masters, Tiger Woods is leading the U.S. Ryder Cup points list for 2012.
STAT OF THE WEEK: In the last three majors, Rory McIlroy has shot par or better in all but two rounds. The exceptions were an 80 at St. Andrews and the same at Augusta National.
FINAL WORD: “I didn’t think I was going to put on a green jacket before him.” – Masters champion Charl Schwartzel on Ernie Els. Schwartzel was a toddler when his father and Els won a club competition in South Africa.