Humble Major Champs Grouped Together at PGA


PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- Zach Johnson is the everyday guy from Iowa. Angel Cabrera is the burly underdog from Argentina. Padraig Harrington is the self-proclaimed journeyman from Ireland.
They will be together this week at the PGA Championship because of something else they are: golf's three most recent major champions.
A year ago, the three players wouldn't have turned a head had they been grouped together for the first two rounds of the last major of the year.
But so much changes once a player finally puts on a green jacket, or holds the claret jug or endures and wins a U.S. Open.
'A complete honor is what it comes down to,' Johnson said Tuesday. 'I know people back home, especially when they hear me announced -- from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2007 Masters champion -- they take it to heart. They take pride in it.
Johnson says he takes pride in it, too, just not too much.
'I don't want to get too proud,' he said.
The aw-shucks modesty is something that runs through all three of golf's newest major champions. These victories, they insist, might have changed their circumstances, but not who they are.
'I'm not changing,' Johnson said. 'I'm still in jeans and T-shirts and shorts, whatever.'
Cabrera's victory was considered a huge thing for Argentina, a country that hadn't celebrated a major golf champion in 40 years previous to his win at Oakmont.
Could the win have helped golf surpass rugby or basketball in popularity in the near future?
'No. No chance,' Cabrera said, answering before his translator even had a chance to give him the question.
Cabrera, known as 'El Pato' or 'The Duck' because of his trademark waddles down the fairway, often with a cigarette in hand, knows his win emphasized the importance of giving back in the golf community in his country.
Not glamorous, but necessary, said the one-time caddie, who turned to golf because he thought it was the best way to help support his family.
'It's very difficult for Argentinean golfers to achieve good things, to get to the PGA TOUR or the European tour without the help of another professional golfer,' Cabrera said. 'There's not much help other than what another golfer can provide.'
For Harrington, the magnitude of the victory three weeks ago is still settling in.
Last week at the first teebox at Firestone, they didn't introduce him as 'Padraig Harrington, British Open champion.'
'I looked at my caddie and started laughing,' he said. 'You win the Open Championship, you can't wait to be announced as the Open champion. I wasn't disappointed. It's just strange. It's a hard one to describe.'
At 35 and ranked sixth in the world, he was among those considered the Best Player Never to Have Won A Major. He no longer has to deal with that. Also avoided is the heartache he would have felt had he lost the British Open with that ugly double-bogey on No. 18.
'There's no question that when you win, you've got to enjoy it but always taper it with a bit of `what if' and the alternative,' Harrington said. That way, 'You'll always be able to handle the bad days well.'
None of the three will be overlooked this week, though all would have to be considered underdogs to the guy who won this event last year.
Tiger Woods.
'We're all improving. We're all getting better,' Woods said when asked if he was surprised to see three first-time winners in majors this year, the second time it's happened in the last five years. 'The fields are getting deeper on top of that. So it makes it even more challenging to try to win major championships.
'We're seeing new faces that are springing up and this year is an example of that.'
The newest champions are not stars or household names. It figures they still won't draw near the crowd Woods will when he tees off Thursday, playing alongside Bob Tway and Rich Beem.
But Johnson, Cabrera and Harrington will be together for a reason.
'Just to be in that fraternity and have that title, more or less at least for this year, is very, very special,' Johnson said.
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