I would be surprised if one of the guys that you didn't look at and expect to do well, if one of those guys didn't win, Phil Mickelson said in a convoluted way before the PGA Championship began. Translation ' it would be a real stunner if this tournament serves up an unknown as the winner. Mickelson believes the Whistling Straits course makes it most unlikely that a Ben Curtis can win.
Winning a major championship, regardless of the circumstances, is a difficult thing to do. But lately the unknown entity has been prevailing more than ever before. There's nothing wrong with this, mind you. But it just proves that you have to look at the entire field when you're trying to predict a winner, and not just the five or six you've traditionally thought of.
Now its incumbent upon the PGA Championship to serve up an internationally known name if the situation is going to change. This may or may not be a positive in your book, but winning a major championship has lost a little of its cachet.
Todd Hamilton was the most recent winner. By no means was his British Open victory expected. Thats neither good nor bad ' just very unexpected. But its the general trend since Tiger Woods cooled down from his 7-of-11 major victory streak. Weve entered a different era, an era when truly any professional on the PGA Tour is a genuine threat.
Heres the roll call of winners since Woods exited at the U.S. Open in 2002: Ernie Els, Rich Beem, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Hamilton.
Els certainly was not a surprise ' he had won two U.S. Opens by the time he won the British in 2002. But the remainder of this list was an eye-popper when it happened. Yes, Goosen had a U.S. Open also back in 2001, and Mickelson had that cumbersome label ' you know the one. But each major winner has caused us to sit back and blink in surprise. Oftentimes it had remained a puzzle.
Lets see, theres the 2002 PGA winner - Beem. A genuinely nice guy who won once in his rookie year of 1999, again last year at The International. But between? Hes been mostly quiet.
Mike Weir won the Masters in 2003 ' hes won seven times and has gotten the reputation as a somewhat streaky player. He was followed Jim Furyk in the 2003 U.S. Open, a solid pro who has won nine times. No real surprises there.
But then we had Ben Curtis at the British Open, ranked 396th in the world. Hes had a fitful time trying to recapture the magic, missing the cut in seven of 14 events this year. Shaun Micheel won the PGA, a 35-year-old whose first tour victory was the major. He had never before finished in the top 100 in a season.
This year? Mickelson started it off at the Masters, and he certainly deserves three or four green jackets, what with his 23 career wins. Goosen won the U.S. Open - hes won nine times in Europe, eight times in South Africa, and now has won two Opens and a third PGA Tour event.
And of course, Hamilton. Twice this year he missed three cuts in a row. But he won the Honda before breaking through in Scotland. Hes 38 years old and, we assume, trying to get settled in on this tour after playing so many years in the Far East.
Meanwhile, though, many of the better players cant sniff a major. Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie? Zilch. Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia? Nope. It just proves that youre got to be lucky as well as good to win a major.
Actually, though, there have been several winners in recent times whove pulled major surprises. The only Masters winner who was a real surprise was Larry Mize in 87. But the U.S. Open? How about Steve Jones in 1996? The British Open had John Daly in 1995 and Paul Lawrie in 1999. And the PGA had Jeff Sluman in 88, Wayne Grady in 89, Daly as a rookie in 91 and Mark Brooks in 96. A lot of these gents have had very worthwhile professional careers, but a major victory seems a bit out of the ordinary.
There are several different reasons advanced for this little quirk. Of course, the one that we would like to believe is that every professional is a good player ' on any given day any given player blah blah blah. Parity and all, you know.
Reason No. 2 would be that equipment has brought everyone up to the same level. Everyone hits it long now and the shots all stay reasonably straight. This had brought the good players and the so-so players all to much the same level, with the only separation being who has the hot putting hand that particular week.
Reason No. 3? The course set-up has gotten quirky with the wild attempts to preserve the sanctity of par. Anyone ' repeat, anyone ' can win at any time when skill is taken out of the equation and luck is added in.
Lets hope the reason is No. 1. Parity has taken over, in our ideal scenario, and Ben Curtis has as much a chance to win as Ernie Els in this PGA, Mickelson notwithstanding. Otherwise, the game of professional golf is headed where no man has gone before.
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