Established players finally claiming maiden majors


ARDMORE, Pa. – The 2013 major season actually began in the Bahamas, of all places.

In early April, Adam Scott and Justin Rose tuned up for the Masters together in the warm sun. In two well-played matches there, Rose took money off his buddy, which didn’t seem quite fair a week later when Scott claimed a far bigger prize in Augusta.

Scott was (and remains) an immensely popular winner, and not just among women. For years he failed to live up to the outsized expectations heaped upon him as an uber-talented prospect. But now, finally, he was realizing his potential, and on the grandest stage in golf, no less.

Late that Masters Sunday, Rose tapped out a message to Scott, whom the Englishman describes as a close friend and a contemporary. And what Scott typed back that night was illuminating:

This is your time. This is OUR time to win these tournaments.

By the numbers: The ties that bind Rose and Scott

Make way for the new wave in golf, a generation of players who no longer feel suppressed by Tiger Woods’ dominance or Phil Mickelson’s brilliance.

The last 19 majors have been won by 18 different players. Meanwhile, Tiger hasn’t won a Big One since 2008, and Phil is an arthritic 43-year-old in the latter stages of his Hall of Fame career, and Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh are searching, stretching and suing, respectively. The Big 5 in golf? They’ve disbanded.

Last week in Philly – after Tiger drifted away on the weekend, after Phil was dealt Open heartbreak – the last man standing after 72 grueling holes was Rose. The breakthroughs continue.

Like Scott before him, Rose’s journey should serve as an inspiration to many players and a cautionary tale for the chosen few.

Admittedly, the Englishman suffered a “pretty traumatic” start to his career. At the 1998 Open Championship, Rose, then a 17-year-old amateur, pitched in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale to finish T-4, a moment, he said, that either feels like 25 years ago or yesterday, depending on which memory he recalls. The day after that Open, he turned pro and “announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it.” He missed the cut in his first 21 pro starts.

“I was just trying to not fade away, really,” he says now. “I didn’t want to be known as a one-hit wonder, a flash in the pan.”

It wasn’t until 2010, during his two-win season on the PGA Tour, that Rose fully trusted himself to come through when it mattered, when the tournament was on the line, when legacies were forged.

He captured a FedEx Cup playoff title.

He added a World Golf Championship win.

And this season, he ascended as high as No. 3 in the world rankings.

More significant, legacy-wise: He finally became a consistent factor in the majors, finishing in the top 25 in five of the last six.  

“He’s got loads of talent, a great game, a great work ethic,” said Hunter Mahan, who like Rose is a pupil of swing coach Sean Foley.

“He’s just one of those guys that had to keep plugging along, and keep trusting himself, more than anything else – just trust his abilities, because his abilities are really second to none.”

Even before arriving on-site last week, Rose figured Merion might be the site of his major breakthrough. Last year he was first in greens hit on Tour, and he entered last week’s event No. 1 in total driving.

“I thought this one actually might have been my best chance,” said Rose, and he proved prescient, finishing T-2 in fairways hit (42 of 56), T-7 in greens in regulation (50 of 72) and T-16 in putting for the week. “For me to come into a U.S. Open and feel like this is one of my legitimate chances to win a major is a testament to my ball-striking.”

Scott won the Masters, for a major-deprived sporting nation and for himself, justifying all the hype and the expectations thrust upon him as a teen.

Rose won the U.S. Open, coming full circle from a disastrous start to his pro career to become the first Englishman in 43 years to win the year’s second major.

So if this is indeed the Year of the Breakthrough, then it’s only fitting to look ahead to who might be next.

Both Scott and Rose are 32, and so, too, is Brandt Snedeker, a proven winner, a FedEx Cup champion, a player whose resume lacks only a major.

At 34, Matt Kuchar is only a few years older, and he’s the world No. 5, the smiling assassin who has reinvented himself with that flat swing and mind-numbing consistency.

Or maybe it’s Luke Donald, 35, the former No. 1 in the world; or Dustin Johnson, 28, who could very well have had three majors on his resume by now; or maybe, just maybe, the stars will align for Sergio Garcia, 33, a ball-striking wizard who remains a tortured soul in majors. For guys like Jason Day, 25, Hunter Mahan, 31, and Jason Dufner, 36 – all of whom were in the mix at Merion – their time could be coming, too.

Moving forward, of course, they all will inevitably deal with Woods, who is back to winning consistently but for the past five years (and counting) has yet to bring that kind of game to the tournaments that matter most. And, of course,h they will deal with Rory McIlroy, who will regain his championship form at some point, though when, exactly, remains a mystery.

But another obstacle now is that players such as Scott and Rose – golf’s two newest major winners, this year’s late-blooming but nonetheless breakthrough stars – now view themselves differently when they stride to the first tee. Scott arrived at Merion knowing that he had won a major, that the burden was gone, that he could just swing freely and see how he stacked up. And now, his major victory not even an hour old, Rose already found himself looking ahead, too.

“Winning makes you hungry to do it again,” he said, “because it just feels so darn good.”

This is their time to win these tournaments, Scott had said.  

So who is ready to break through next?