Big Five All Major Contenders

By Associated PressApril 1, 2006, 5:00 pm
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.'
 
Related Links:
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    V-i-n-d-i-c-a-t-i-o-n: Repeat gives Koepka credit he deserves

    By Ryan LavnerJune 18, 2018, 2:08 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In an ironic twist Sunday, the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens was tasked with chronicling Brooks Koepka’s final round at Shinnecock Hills.

    Carrying a microphone for Fox Sports, Curtis Strange kept his composure as the on-course reporter. He didn’t cough in Koepka’s downswing. Didn’t step on his ball in the fescue. Didn’t talk too loudly while Koepka lined up a putt.

    Instead, Strange stood off to the side, clipboard covering his mouth, and watched in awe as Koepka stamped himself as the best U.S. Open player of this next generation.

    And so after Koepka became the first player in 29 years to take consecutive Opens, Strange found himself fourth in the greeting line near the 18th green. He was behind Koepka’s playing competitor, Dustin Johnson. And he was behind Koepka’s father, Bob. And he was behind Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott.

    But there Strange was, standing on a sandy path leading to the clubhouse, ready to formally welcome Koepka into one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.

    “Hell of a job, bud,” Strange barked in his ear, above the din. “Incredible.”

    That Koepka prevailed on two wildly different layouts, and in totally different conditions, was even more satisfying.

    Erin Hills, in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., was unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory. The wide-open fairways were lined with thick, deep fescue, but heavy rain early in the week and the absence of any significant wind turned golf’s toughest test into the Greater Milwaukee Open. Koepka bashed his way to a record-tying score (16 under par) and over the past year has never felt fully appreciated, in large part because of the weirdness of the USGA setup.   


    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    Koepka doesn’t concern himself with that type of noise, of course, but when he arrived at Shinnecock earlier this week he felt a sense of familiarity. The generous fairways. The punishing venue. The premium on iron play.

    “It’s a similar feel,” Elliott said. “We said it all week.”

    A new, quirky venue like Erin Hills might not have been held in high regard, but the rich history of Shinnecock? It demanded respect.

    “He’s some player,” Strange said, “and I’m proud of him because there was some talk last year of Erin Hills not being the Open that is supposed to be an Open. But he won on a classic, so he’s an Open player.”

    “This one is a lot sweeter,” Koepka said.

    Those around the 28-year-old were shocked that he even had a chance to defend his title.

    Last fall Koepka began feeling discomfort in his left wrist. He finished last in consecutive tournaments around the holidays, then underwent an MRI that showed he had a torn ligament in his left wrist.

    Koepka takes immense pride in having a life outside of golf – he never watches Tour coverage on off-weeks – but he was downright miserable during his indefinite stint on the sidelines. He said it was the lowest point of his career, as he sat in a soft cast up to his elbow, binge-watching TV shows and gaining 15 pounds. The only players he heard from during his hiatus: Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.

    “You just feel like you get forgotten,” Koepka said.

    During the spring, Elliott would occasionally drive from Orlando to Jupiter, Fla., to check on his boss. “He was down in the dumps,” he said. “That sort of injury he had, it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end. There was no timeframe on it, and that was the most frustrating thing.”

    After the Masters, Koepka told Elliott that his wrist was feeling better and that he was going to start hitting balls. Elliott brought his clubs to South Florida, and they played a few holes at The Floridian.

    “He was hitting it right on the button,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He hadn’t missed a beat. I have no idea how he does it. He’s just a tremendously talented guy.”

    In limited action before the Open, Koepka fired a trio of 63s, at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. He’s never been short on confidence – as a 12-year-old he once told his dad that he was going to drop out of school in four years and turn pro – and he recently woofed to swing coach Claude Harmon III that he was primed to win sometime in May or June.

    “I said to him on the range this morning, ‘You were on your couch in January and February, not really knowing if you were going to be able to play here,’” Harmon said. “I think that’s why it means so much to him. That’s one of the reasons that he kept saying no one was more confident than him, because to get this opportunity to come back and play and have a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, he was going to take advantage of it as best he could.”

    Koepka carded a second-round 66 to put himself in the mix, then survived a hellacious third-round setup to join a four-way tie for the lead, along with Johnson, the world No. 1 and his fellow Bash Brother.

    As much as Johnson is praised for his resilience, Koepka has proven to be equally tough in crunch time, especially in this major. There’s no better stage for Koepka to showcase his immense gifts than the Open, an examination that tests players physically, mentally and even spiritually. But Koepka, like Johnson, never joined the growing chorus of complainers at Shinnecock. The closest he came to criticizing the setup was this: “I think the course is very close.”

    Rather than whine, he said that he relished the challenge of firing away from flags. He accepted bad shots. He tried to eliminate double bogeys. Even after his wrist injury, Koepka showed no hesitation gouging out of the deep fescue, his ferocious clubhead speed allowing him to escape the rough and chase approach shots near the green, where he could rely on his sneaky-good short game.

    “He has the perfect game to play in majors,” Harmon said. “He probably plays more conservatively in majors. We’re always joking that we wish he would play the way he does in majors every week. I just think he knows how important pars and bogeys are. It says a lot about him as a player.”

    Johnson has many of the same physical and mental attributes, and they’ve each benefited from the other’s intense focus and discipline. They both adhere to a strict diet and are frequent workout partners, which even included a gym session on Sunday morning, before their penultimate pairing. They made small talk, chatting about lifting and how many of the Sunday pins were located in the middle of the green, but after they arrived at the course they barely said two words to each other.

    “They’re good friends on and off the course,” Harmon said, “but they definitely want to kick the s--- out of each other.”

    “That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Strange said. “If they’re best buddies, well, you’re standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for him for 4 1/2 hours.”

    There was much at stake Sunday, but none more significant than Koepka’s march on history. Squaring off head-to-head against the game’s best player, Koepka outplayed Johnson from the outset, going 3 under for the first 10 holes to open up a two-shot lead. And unlike at Erin Hills, where he pulled away late with birdies, it was his par (and bogey) saves that kept Koepka afloat on Nos. 11, 12 and 14.  

    In the end, he clipped Fleetwood (who shot a record-tying 63) by one and Johnson by two.

    “You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Strange said, shaking his head. “He’s got a lot of guts.”

    As Koepka marched away to sign his card, Strange was asked if it was bittersweet to know that he’s no longer the answer to the trivia question, the last guy to go back-to-back at the Open.

    “Heck no!” he said. “What are they going to do, take one away? I’m a part of a group. And it’s a good group. I hope it means as much to him as it has to me.”

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    This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win

    By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2018, 1:39 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.

    His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.

    “This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”

    The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.


    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.

    There was also one other similarity.

    “Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.

    “It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”

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    Sunday drama won't overshadow USGA's issues

    By Randall MellJune 18, 2018, 1:30 am

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – It looked like a British Open.

    It was playing like a U.S. Open.

    Through two rounds, Shinnecock Hills was double trouble in the best kind of way.

    It was a hybrid in the most appealing sense of golf course architecture’s ancient allure and its modern defenses.

    Halfway through, the USGA was nailing the setup, with Dustin Johnson the only player under par in one of the toughest but fairest tests in recent U.S. Open memory.

    This looked like it was going to be remembered as USGA CEO Mike Davis’ masterpiece, but even a Sunday to remember couldn’t trump a Saturday to forget.

    Sunday’s drama - with the history Brooks Koepka made becoming the first player in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, with Tommy Fleetwood’s 63 equaling Johnny Miller’s final round record - could not restore faith being lost in the USGA’s ability to set up and manage this championship.

    This U.S. Open ended with footnotes the size of headlines.

    The issues arising Saturday with the USGA losing control of the course raised even more troubling questions about why this organization’s heavy hand can’t seem to avoid becoming as much a part of the story as the competition.


    U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


    The controversy that was ignited Saturday when Phil Mickelson intentionally incurred a two-shot penalty by making a putting stroke on a moving ball also raised questions about the organization’s ability to fairly administer its own rules.

    It’s a shame, because Davis has some good ideas.

    His reimagined vision of this championship as the “ultimate test” makes sense as a better and more complete event. His ideas are designed to identify the game’s most complete player on America’s best courses better than any other major.

    It’s just not working.

    This year’s failure in the wake of the ’04 debacle at Shinnecock Hills is especially worrisome. Davis vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Somehow, some way, he let it happen again.

    Maybe the old standards we’ve come to judge the U.S. Open upon are too high, impossible to meet with today’s more athletic player, high-tech coaching and space-age drivers, shafts and balls.

    Nobody ever protected par better than the USGA, but maybe par can’t be properly protected anymore, without tricking up a course.

    Because if USGA officials can’t make its exacting formula work at an architectural treasure like Shinnecock Hills, where they had it absolutely perfect for two days, you wonder if they can make it work at all.

    The testament to how the USGA was nailing its formula wasn’t in what we heard the first two days. It was in what we weren’t hearing. Only one player was under par through Friday, but there wasn’t a complaint to be heard in the locker room or on the range.

    They were wiping the smiles off players’ faces without infuriating them.

    In that regard, the USGA was delivering a miracle.

    The wonderful appeal Shinnecock Hills held as a U.S. Open/British Open hybrid at week’s start ended up being twisted into something else by week’s end. It stood as a symbol of the championship’s confusion over its proper identity.

    Even with Sunday’s compelling storylines unfolding, players were still frustrated over setup.

    Saturday was over the edge, with Davis admitting “there were parts of this, simply put, that were too tough.” He said winds were stronger than expected, but the winds weren’t that much different than were forecast.

    So USGA officials softened the course for Sunday, with more overnight watering and more friendly hole locations.

    That turned Shinnecock Hills into Jekyl and Hyde on the weekend.

    Scoring told the story.

    Rickie Fowler shot 84 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Fleetwood shot 78 and 63.

    They weren’t alone, even though the weather wasn’t as dramatically different as the scores would indicate.

    This wasn’t about the weather. It was about the course being manipulated in ways that frustrated players.

    “They soaked the hell out of it,” Pat Perez said after tying for 36th. “They’ve got all the pins in the middle.

    “It is supposed to gradually get to where it was Saturday afternoon. You don’t lose it on Saturday and then try to make up for it, soak the course and make it totally different.”

    Brandt Snedeker was equally befuddled playing drastically different conditions in weather that wasn’t so drastically different.

    “The thing that is unfortunate is that the guys that were playing the best golf this week took the brunt of it yesterday, when it should have been vice versa,” Snedeker said. “Some guys got robbed of a really good chance to win a golf tournament yesterday afternoon, which is not fair.”

    There were other issues that continued to challenge faith in the USGA.

    Despite later acknowledging it set up the course too tough in spots on Saturday, the USGA put players on the clock for slow play.

    The Mickelson penalty also raised issues.

    He got a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5 (playing moving ball) when there was some outcry over whether he should have been penalized under Rule 1-2 (exerting influence), which would have opened the door to disqualification for a serious breach. The USGA rigorously defended 14-5 (playing moving ball) as the proper call.

    John Daly wasn’t disqualified for striking a moving ball in a similar instance at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 1999. He also got a two-shot penalty, but there was a difference in the situations that might have justified Mickelson’s disqualification.

    Daly said he intentionally hit a moving ball out of frustration, as protest over the USGA’s unfair hole locations.

    Mickelson said he intentionally hit a moving ball on the 13th green Saturday at Shinnecock Hills to try prevent his ball from rolling off the green. He said he knew the rules and was intentionally breaking them to gain an advantage. He compared it to using the rules to get a better lie with a drop, but there’s a difference between using the rules to your advantage and breaking them to gain an advantage.

    The difference in those motivations, as Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee pointed out, opened the interpretation of the violation as a serious breach worthy of disqualification.

    The question of whether Mickelson’s manipulation of the rules was serious enough to invoke disqualification as a breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 was dismissed by the USGA as inappropriate.

    It should be noted that the USGA and R&A should be applauded for its monumental overhaul of the Rules of Golf, a rules modernization going into effect next year. It’s a welcomed simplification of the rules that required an exhaustive review.

    This week’s complications show the unrelenting challenges they continue to tackle.

    We leave this U.S. Open with history being made, with Koepka joining Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange as just the third players since World War II to win the title in back-to-back years.

    We also leave hoping the USGA can deliver four days of next year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as free of controversy as it delivered the first two days at Shinnecock Hills, because this year’s championship felt half baked.

    Will Gray contributed to this report.

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    Brandel rips USGA: 'There's no obvious leadership'

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2018, 1:29 am

    The 2018 U.S. Open will certainly be remembered for Brooks Koepka's successful title defense.

    But there's no doubt that it will also be remembered for Phil Mickelson's decision to hit a moving golf ball on Saturday, for the USGA's decision not to disqualify him, and for the governing body once again losing control of Shinnecock Hills over the weekend.

    Speaking on "Live From the U.S. Open" on Sunday night, analyst Brandel Chamblee took the USGA and its leadership to task for more than just the inconsistent playing conditions this week.

    His comments - edited and condensed for clarity - appear below:

    "Something was amiss in a big, big way [at Shinnecock Hills]. I think the USGA has lost a lot of the trust of the golf world. They've done it for numerous reasons.

    "On their watch, they missed COR – the rebound effect in drivers. They missed the rebound effect and the combination of the rebound effect [with] the ball. They missed it, on their watch. And now, the feeling is that they’re crying foul, even though it was on their watch. And so, essentially, the equipment companies got it done, by [the USGA’s] standards, legally.

    "On their watch, there have been huge mistakes in major championships. … We well know this one (Shinnecock in 2018) – a colossal mistake all the way across the board. The golf course was bumpy the first day; they didn’t quite get that right. It was awful the third day. And today, in a different kind of way, it was far too easy.

    "And then there’s penalties that they levy that make absolutely no sense, penalties that they don’t levy – not disqualifying Phil Mickelson yesterday. …

    "There seems to be no obvious leadership, you know, to me. No obvious leadership heading in the right direction."