A collection of favorite major championships

By Rex HoggardOctober 23, 2012, 9:36 pm

Like Forrest Gump's mother always told him, major championships are like a box of chocolates ... you never know what you are going to get. So in honor of this week's playing of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, our writers offer up their personal favorite major championships.


Filing back through the 46 major championships I’ve been fortunate to cover, and the countless majors I’ve watched on television, here are my picks:

Masters: It would be nice to be able to say Jack Nicklaus winning in ‘86, but I sheepishly confess I may be the only golf follower alive my age who didn’t actually see a single shot of the Golden Bear’s win live, or at least on live TV. I have to go with Tiger Woods’ record 12-shot romp in ‘97. It was the first Masters I ever covered.

U.S. Open: Standing behind the 18th green at Pinehurst on that drizzly Sunday in '99, I marveled watching Payne Stewart make a final 15-foot putt for par to win. You could feel his elation but admired the tenderness he showed Phil Mickelson with Lefty losing practically on the eve of becoming a father for the first time. Stewart’s unexpected death four months later adds to the weight of the memory.

British Open: It wasn’t the best played, for sure, but Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in '99 was as compelling theater as you’ve ever seen in golf. Theater of the absurd, perhaps, but a most unforgettable finish with Paul Lawrie prevailing in a playoff.

PGA Championship: Sitting behind the 18th green on late Sunday afternoon in 2000, I had a look right down the line as Woods putted from 6 nerve-racking feet to try to force a playoff with Bob May at Valhalla. It's still stupefying remembering how many spike marks Woods’ putt bounced over and yet somehow found the hole. It felt like he willed that tricky downhill putt into the hole to set up his playoff victory.


Well, I’m not quite as – how shall I put this? – “experienced” as some of my more veteran colleagues, so please excuse the relative newness of my favorite major championships that I’ve attended, as I’ve only been covering ‘em since the turn of the century.

For the Masters, I’m going with super-newness in last year’s edition of the event. I know Phil Mickelson’s first was one to remember, and I can still feel the goosebumps from Tiger Woods’ ball trickling in on 16 back in 2005. But I defy you to pop in a DVD of last year’s tournament – from Rory McIlroy pulling one into the cabins on No. 10 through a roller-coaster back-nine that included a myriad of leaders – and be able to walk away even for a few seconds to grab a bag of Doritos. Charl Schwartzel’s name isn’t the sexiest on the winner’s list, but that final round was as dramatic as you’ll ever see.

I never thought I’d witness a cooler U.S. Open than my first one in 2000, when Tiger obliterated the field. Then I went to the 2002 version at Bethpage – near where I spent my childhood – and had a blast covering the event through the eyes of the raucous fans. Each of those was surpassed, though, in 2008, when a perfect storm swirled around Torrey Pines, with the game’s biggest superstar (Woods) with a variety of injuries (torn ACL, fractured leg) defeating a lovable challenger (Rocco Mediate) in a sudden-death playoff (18 holes weren’t enough) at a beautiful locale (it doesn’t get much more scenic than Torrey, Pebble Beach notwithstanding).

My pick for the Open Championship is more for what almost happened than what did, but it was still amongst the most memorable majors we’ll ever witness. Had 59-year-old Tom Watson been able to get up and down from behind the 18th green at Turnberry, this one would have gone down in history as the most improbable of all tournaments. Instead, Watson missed his par attempt, then saw his effort thwarted by Stewart Cink in a playoff. I’ll always remember him walking into the interview room afterward, looking out at the forlorn faces of the awaiting media throng and saying, “This ain’t a funeral, you know.”

Call me obtuse, but my favorite PGA Championship occurred just one month later. Even casual fans could recite Tiger’s major record with a 54-hole lead by heart: 14-for-14. As in, 100 percent. He’d never lost one on a Sunday afternoon, and it didn’t seem likely that would happen at Hazeltine, either, especially with relatively little-known journeyman Y.E. Yang in hot pursuit. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Woods played conservative golf, while his opponent aimed for the flagsticks with nothing to lose. The result was a scene that no one before had witnessed – Woods turning a Sunday morning lead into a loss at a major.


In particular order, the 1986 Masters is the runaway “Best in Show” when grading the Grand Slams. At 46-years-young, two seasons removed from his last PGA Tour title and six years adrift of his last major, the Golden Bear played his last four holes in 4 under to win his 18th major and sixth green jacket.

Tiger Woods, fittingly, wins the second leg with his one-legged victory at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Playing on a broken leg and with a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament, Woods finished his third round birdie-eagle and forced an 18-hole playoff, which he won over Rocco Mediate with a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole.

John Daly’s Cinderella ride at the 1991 PGA Championship easily qualifies as the best story from “Glory’s Last Shot.” A last-minute alternate who had to drive all night just to make his first-round tee time emerges as an unlikely champion. He may not have been the most memorable major champion, but there are few stories in golf that are more inspiring.

Finally, it is Jean Van de Velde . . . eh, Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open. Sure, the Scot won the claret jug, but it was the Frenchman knee deep in the burn that will always define that bizarre week at Carnoustie.


2012 Masters: Freddie Couples in contention at the midway point. King Louie Oosthuizen’s albatross in the final round. Then Bubba Watson’s miraculous shot from the pine straw – and then the waterworks on the 10th green. Gee, this wasn’t a bad first Masters to cover.

2008 U.S. Open: This major, perhaps more than any of his other 13, will define Woods’ legacy. At Torrey Pines he was playing on a broken leg, writhing in pain after every shot . . . and he still won the most demanding test in golf! I called in sick at work that Monday, too, for the unlikely playoff with Rocco. My boss knew the reason.

2002 British Open: Ernie Els won the tournament, of course, but this Open, at least for me, kick-started my fascination with golf’s oldest tournament. The weather was the big winner, remember. Tiger was blown away during a Saturday 81. It was a battle of attrition. I enjoy watching that type of golf . . . well, once a year.

2011 PGA Championship: The playoff may not go down in tournament lore, but it was a compelling final hour in regulation. It was a stark juxtaposition: Jason Dufner free-falling, major-rookie Keegan Bradley surging. It ended with Bradley in the parking lot, packing up his courtesy car, alone, and marveling, “Can you believe that?'

Getty Images

Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

Getty Images

One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.