The Meaning of a Major

By Mercer BaggsApril 6, 2004, 4:00 pm
A few years back the question was posed to 1991 PGA champion and 95 British Open winner John Daly: Whose career would you rather have - yours or Phil Mickelsons?
 
He answered without hesitation. And he suspects that Mickelson would answer the same.
 
Personally, I'd rather have my two majors than his 20 wins,' Daly said at the time. And I think he feels the same way.
 
Exactly. Why? Why are they so major? Can we over-emphasize their importance when evaluating a players career?
 
I dont think ENOUGH emphasis is put on the majors, frankly, said Jack Nicklaus, who holds the record with 18 professional majors won. Majors are the hardest things to win, they are the most lasting things to win, they are the most important things to win.
 
I heard (Tiger Woods) on television the other night where he said he is playing every tournament now preparing for Augusta. I mean, whats he thinking about? Same thing I did when I was his age ' I was thinking about Augusta. Thats all I thought about all year long, preparing for that first major. No, I dont think you put too much emphasis on it.
 
Ever hear Tiger say that he was trying to peak his game for Bay Hill? For that matter, how about even The Players Championship or a WGC event?
 
Seventy-three or 18? Which number pops into your mind when you hear Jack Nicklaus? Most golf fans couldnt tell you that Nicklaus won 73 PGA Tour events. Bet your bottom dollar most of those could tell you he won 18 professional majors.
 
Sam Snead won 83 tour titles ' more than anyone else in the history of the PGA Tour. But thats not as revered a number as Jacks 18. And Snead is more famous for not winning the U.S. Open than for all the other regular tournaments he won.
 
Not winning a major can be as defining as winning one ' just ask Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer, both of who never won the PGA Championship.
 
And Phil Mickelson.
 
Whereas the name Nicklaus is synonymous with major success, the name Mickelson is the Merriam-Webster contrast.
 
Only two men (Harry Cooper with 31; Macdonald Smith, 24) have won more PGA Tour events without a major than Unfulfilled Phil.
 
Hes won 22 times on tour, could be the greatest left-handed player ever ' certainly one of the greatest amateurs of all time.
 
But when you hear his name, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
 
Is it all of his success? Or is it his 46 major failures?
 
And more importantly: If its the latter, is that fair? Is it fair to a player of such obvious talent and accomplishment to be thought of in such a negative connotation?
 
Youve got to have a balance between the two, Mickelson said when asked the proper way to evaluate a players career.
 
(Majors) are of great importance, and consistency week in and week out is important, too. There are guys that have won two majors that havent followed it up in their career. And theres guys that havent won any majors and have won a lot of tournaments [points to himself]. That doesnt look great either. So there has to be a balance.
 
But even Mickelson knows that the scales will never be tipped in his favor until he can complement all of those Bob Hope and Greater Hartford Open titles with at least one Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship.
 
I think that you need to win a major to show credibility that you can play in the toughest conditions, he said.
 
Of course, different players have different levels of expectation.
 
'If you're at the level of winning majors, you judge everything by winning majors. Or if you're at a level where you're a good pro, you win a couple of tour events, that's excellent, as well,' said Padraig Harrington, who has four top-5 finishes in major championships without a win.
 
'Everybody has different standards. And once you get in the standard of majors, yes, everything is judged by it.'
 
Gary Player once said that a player can never be considered great unless he wins a major.
 
It might be difficult to classify players of Mickelsons or Colin Montgomeries ilk as anything less than great, but even their peers have a hard time pulling the trigger on that word in describing them.
 
I think a very good player, Ernie Els said with an uncomfortable smile when asked if such a player should be considered great. Its hard to answer that.
 
The word great gets thrown around pretty loosely, said 1998 Masters and British Open champion Mark OMeara, who readily admits he wouldnt even classify himself as great, and certainly agrees that winning a major doesnt automatically exempt you into the realm of Greatness.
 
To win one or two major championships, thats very, very nice. Thats a wonderful career, he said. But so, is that great and then the guy who wins 15 (tour events and no majors) isnt great? You cant really compare the two.
 
Lets say a guy wins 20 tournaments on the PGA Tour but doesnt win a major ' wouldnt you classify him as having a wonderful career? Thats pretty impressive.
 
But not great.
 
So maybe its as Jack said. Maybe we cant emphasize ENOUGH the importance of winning major championships.
 
From Ben Hogan to Ben Curtis, weve all ' all of us ' always been told that the majors matter the most.
 
The reasons?
 
They only come around ever-so-often: The hardest thing about them is theres only four a year, said 1997 PGA champion Davis Love III.
 
They are contested under the most emotional duress: You have to overcome a lot of mental gremlins, if you want to put it that way, to win a major championship, said two-time PGA champion and British Open winner Nick Price.
 
They each have a history only comparable to one another: The players grow up knowing that those are the tournaments that are most watched ' the ones that people look up to the most, the guys who play the best in them, said two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen.
 
Woods centers each season ' not to mention his entire legacy ' on these four events. He is almost singularly driven by the prospect of winning majors.
 
There are a lot of tour events, but there are only four majors, Woods has said. Those are the type of tournaments that will define your career.
 
Ernie Els and Vijay Singh place their priority on completing the final two legs of the Grand Slam (winning all four majors in a career).
 
Annika Sorenstam wants only to win all four in the same season.
 
Majors (are) where the history is, and a lot of people look at somebody's career, depending on how they do in the majors, said Sorenstam, a six-time major winner on the LPGA Tour.
 
These are the modern day Great Ones. Why? Because they have won, not just one, but multiple major titles.
 
You go ask the guys, Els said, what is most important. I think they all will tell you: winning a major championship. Thats what we all want at the end of the day.
 
In talking with his peers, he couldnt be more right.
 
When a writer or reporter wants an honest answer, he or she can always ask Price the question. Hes affable, objective, rarely reserved, and tells you exactly what he believes. And when he says something, you also tend to believe it to be true.
 
And believe it when he says this: Major championships are everything.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs at mbaggs@golfchannel.com
 
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    The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

    By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

    Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

    Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

    The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

    It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

    It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

    He is just four shots off the lead.

    “I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

    Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

    “He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

    Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


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    How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

    “It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

    This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

    “I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

    Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

    When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

    “It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

    Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

    “I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

    Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

    It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

    “It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

    Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

    Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

    “He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

    Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

    “We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

    Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

    “I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

    Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

    “I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

    So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

    Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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    List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

    By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

    He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

    Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

    So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

    ''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

    And he has plenty of company.


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    Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

    Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

    Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

    ''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

    The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

    Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

    ''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

    It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

    ''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

    List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

    ''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

    He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

    And there was another guy four shots behind.

    Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

    Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

    Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

    The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

    He went with the 5-iron.

    ''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

    It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

    Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

    ''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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    Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

    Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.


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    Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

    Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.

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    Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.

    And why should he?

    When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

    The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.

    There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.


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    Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.

    “As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”

    After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.

    “There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”

    The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.