Big Five All Major Contenders

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Tiger Woods doesn't have it as easy as it might appear.
 
He already has won 10 majors as he enters the second decade of his career, more than halfway home to Jack Nicklaus' record, equal to the majors won by Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen -- combined.
 
Woods has a revolving door of rivals, but nobody who consistently goes head-to-head against him at the majors.
 
Nicklaus won the U.S. Open in a playoff over Arnold Palmer and lost the U.S. Open in a playoff against Lee Trevino. Woods' two playoff victims were Bob May and Chris DiMarco.
 
Ernie Els
Ernie Els has six runner-up finishes in the majors, including two at Augusta National.
Nicklaus lost that amazing duel at Turnberry with Tom Watson. Woods won by 15 shots at Pebble Beach, by 12 shots at Augusta National, by eight shots at St. Andrews.
 
That raises two questions.

Is Woods that good?
 
Or is everyone else so spooked that they rarely beat him?
 
'Majors are the toughest to win, but they're also the easiest to win,' Nicklaus said in a recent interview at his Bear's Club. 'If a guy can get his act together, he mentally can have a leg up. That's why Tiger has got a leg up on the guys every time he plays, because he's now got the background and the history that he nows
how to win them. And that's the leg I had up.
 
'But I also had Palmer and (Gary) Player and Trevino and Watson. Those guys all knew how to win them also.'
 
Those guys combined to win 30 majors.
 
Starting with his playoff victory at the Masters last year, Woods emerged from his longest drought in the majors by winning two of them last year, seemingly turning the Big Five into the Big One.
 
But that's only a snapshot.
 
A broader view shows the Big Five -- Woods, Singh, Mickelson, Goosen and Els -- clearly separating themselves from the pack, especially in the majors. Dating to the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, the Big Five have won 16 of the last 25 majors. Woods skews the number by winning nine of those, a testament to his
skill.
 
At least one member of the Big Five has finished first or second in 21 of the last 25 majors.
 
'Am I surprised? Not really,' Els said at Bay Hill. 'The mainstream media forgets quickly from the previous week to the next week. That's how the whole world has gone. They keep saying, 'There's nobody challenging Tiger.' This group of players has been there for 25 straight majors.'
 
Els has only one major during that span, but he was five times a runner-up, including to Mickelson and to Singh at the Masters, and to Woods at the U.S. Open and British Open.
 
He refers to Woods as the 'rock' in the group.
 
'He's there all the time,' Els said. 'The rest of us, we're in and out the rest of the time. So yes, he's winning. But there is competition.'
 
Colin Montgomerie paid tribute to the Big Five in his own way.
 
Montgomerie, the best player to never have won a major, got another sniff at one when he challenged Woods briefly on the weekend at St. Andrews, eventually finishing five shots behind.
 
'This winning majors business is difficult today, because Tiger takes two of them, so that leaves two for everyone else,' Montgomerie said. 'If you give one to Phil, Ernie, Vijay and Retief, that only leaves one, doesn't it? So there's only one left every year. Well, it's difficult now, isn't it?'
 
The Big Five were in full force at the 2002 Masters, the first year Augusta National was vastly renovated to add length and strength to the par 4s. Woods powered his way to victory, building a lead on the back nine and forcing everyone to take risks in a fruitless attempt to catch him.
 
Goosen finished second that year, followed by Mickelson in third. Els tied for fifth, and Singh was in seventh.
 
Woods again is the favorite for this Masters, where he will try to become the first player to twice win back-to-back at Augusta National. He recognized the competition last month when someone said he was lacking a rival.
 
'You've seen the top guys up there,' he said. 'Maybe not myself, Mickelson, Goose, Ernie or Vijay, but generally one of us five in just about every major championship down the stretch.'
 
In the last 25 majors, Woods has 15 finishes in the top 10. Els, Mickelson and Singh each has 14, while Goosen -- the late-bloomer in the bunch -- has nine top 10s.
 
Aside from the majors, Singh has 28 victories on the PGA Tour, while Mickelson has 27. Els has 15 tour victories, a number that likely would be higher if he played the U.S. tour as often as the others. Goosen often is left out of the group because of only six PGA Tour victories, even though they include two U.S. Opens and the Tour Championship, where he became one of only three players to rally against Woods in the final round.
 
Woods already has 48 victories on the PGA Tour.
 
'It wasn't the Big Five when I was No. 5. As soon as I'm No. 4, they make it the Big Three,' Goosen said with a laugh. 'But those are the guys you've got to beat. They're going to be up there on the weekend.'
 
Woods and Nicklaus talked about rivals at the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa, and Nicklaus went through his list of rivals, stretched over decades instead of years.
 
'He said, 'Just make sure you're always part of the conversation,'' Woods said.
 
Any talk about dominance these days, especially in the majors, starts with Woods. But he bristles when anyone suggests that he lacks competition.
 
'It's a discredit to those guys,' Woods said. 'As talented as they are? As many times as they have won? As well as they have played? It's a total slap in their face.'
 
Even so, Nicklaus wonders whether the competition is equipped with the same experience.
 
Woods was 21 when he won his first major. Els was 24 when he captured his first. The other members of the Big Five were in their 30s when they finally broke through.
 
'Look at the guys now under 30, the Americans particularly,' Nicklaus said. 'Has anyone won more than one tournament? There's no experience. And it's difficult to get experience because the competition is difficult, and the competition is broad. For guys to win very often, it's very difficult.
 
'Although,' he added, 'Tiger finds a way.'
 
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