Inbee Park will create a buzz when she heads to St. Andrews next month in an attempt to become the first man or woman to win four professional majors in a single season, but the men will also be looking to keep a slam of sorts going when the British Open is played at Muirfield next week.
Call it the Breakthrough Slam.
Golf likes to roll out storylines in themes, and breaking through major-championship funks is definitely the theme in the men’s game going to Muirfield.
In Adam Scott winning his first major at the Masters in April and Justin Rose winning his first at the U.S. Open last month, we saw fulfillment of promise for a pair of 32-year-old former prodigies whose careers had veered through frustrating turns.
Scott ended an 0-for-47 run in the majors with his breakthrough, Rose an 0-for-36 run.
So who best fits the mold to keep this breaking-through major frustration going as a storyline at Muirfield?
Our top candidates:
At 33, Garcia has probably endured more major-championship frustration than Scott and Rose combined. In that respect, nobody fits the breakthrough theme better.
Garcia is 0 for 59 trying to win a major.
Like Scott and Rose, Garcia was a prodigy, the boy who would be king coming out of the amateur ranks. The colorful Spaniard looked certain to rack up more than one major-championship triumph after his terrific challenge of Tiger Woods fell short in the '99 PGA Championship at Medinah. As a 19-year-old, Garcia finished second to Woods there, the first of Garcia’s three runner-up finishes in majors. His other seconds came in the ’07 British Open at Carnoustie, when he led through the first three rounds before losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff, and in the ’08 PGA Championship, when Harrington beat him down the stretch at Oakland Hills. Overall, Garcia has finished T-5 or better in nine majors.
With his confounding history, Garcia has all but shaken his fist at the golf gods, who he seems to suspect have conspired against him. With his more recent controversy over remarks he made about Woods, Garcia faced heckling at Merion in this last U.S. Open. In an odd sort of way, it might have been good for Garcia, who showed admirable restraint enduring the negative vibes.
At Merion, Garcia showed toughness and patience playing a difficult course, and, for him, a difficult venue. Though he knocked a small handful of shots out of bounds, Garcia endured showing the kind of toughness that could lead to a breakthrough at Muirfield, where he tied for eighth in ’02. He needs that kind of resolve to break through.
At 40, Westwood’s time is beginning to run out.
Only seven players in the history of golf have broken through to win their first major championship after turning 40. Old Tom Morris did it in the second British Open ever played back in 1861. Darren Clarke was the last to do it, winning the British Open at 42 in 2011. Also accomplishing the feat were Mark O'Meara (41) at the '98 Masters, Tom Kite (42) at the ’92 U.S. Open, Roberto De Vicenzo (44) at the ’67 British Open and Tommy Bolt (42) at the ’58 U.S. Open.
Westwood is 0 for 61 in majors with seven T-3 or better finishes in the last five years. Overall, he has finished T-5 or better nine times in majors. He was second to Louis Oosthuizen in the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews.
At 35, Donald needs no extra motivation trying to break through and win his first major, but watching Scott and Rose must have emboldened him to believe his time will come, too.
He’s looking to end his 0-for-40 run in majors.
Though Donald has never really given himself a chance to win in the closing scenes of a major, he has finished T-5 or better in five of them, including last year’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
His putting stroke, one of the best in golf, is wanting only in that it hasn’t given him a chance to make a putt that wins a major.
At 37, Poulter knows how to deliver under pressure on large stages.
He just hasn’t done it in a major.
His performances helping win Ryder Cups, especially his performance at Medinah in 2011, leave no doubt he has the backbone for the big moments. He just hasn’t had the total game to give himself enough chances to win majors. He is 0 for 42 in majors with his best chance coming at the British Open in ’08, when he finished second to Harrington. His only other top-five finish in a major was at last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where he tied for third.
At 35, Kuchar’s ability to consistently put himself in position to win bodes well heading to Muirfield. So does his upward trend in majors. He is 0 for 31 in majors but has finished T-9 or better in three of the last six majors. He has two PGA Tour victories already this season with six finishes of T-10 or better.
At 32, Snedeker is the perfect age to follow suit behind Scott and Rose.
With some close calls in majors, Snedeker has given himself a taste of what it’s like to contend in the biggest events. He’s just 0 for 23 in majors but has experienced the pain that is sometimes necessary before a breakthrough. He started the final round of the ’08 Masters two shots off the lead before tying for third when Trevor Immelman won. He also tied for third at last year’s British Open, finishing four shots behind champion Ernie Els.
With a victory earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and an injury setback (ribs), Snedeker’s season has been a mixed bag looking for another upturn at Muirfield.