Major Winners Democratically Dispersed

By George WhiteAugust 12, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipMaybe weve run into a Championships Challenge. Maybe its a real challenge nowadays to decipher who is going to win these majors.
 
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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    Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

    Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

    Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

    Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

    Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


    FALLING

    Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

    Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

    Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

    Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

    Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.