Major Match Play Championship: Week 1

By Randall MellMarch 11, 2014, 10:30 am

What is the greatest major championship in golf history? That's for you to determine. Over the next four weeks, is allowing readers a chance to vote in our Major Match Play Championship. Here is everything you need to know:

Process for determining our 16 majors

Breaking down the 16 contenders

Major championship photo gallery

Week 1 voting: Vote now!

Without further ado, here are the eight first-round matches (with seeding and tournament winners in parenthesis).

Match 1

(1) 1986 Masters (Jack Nicklaus) vs. (16) 1953 British Open ( Ben Hogan)

No Nicklaus victory was more emotional; his unexpected 18th and final major championship triumph coming when so many had written him off at age 46. His magical back-nine charge in ’86 captured imaginations beyond the game.

Hogan won his first and only British Open title in ’53 at Carnoustie. It was his third major championship conquest of that year. He also won the Masters and the U.S. Open, but he wouldn’t get a chance to win the PGA Championship. The dates conflicted with the British Open. It was the greatest major championship run in a single year since Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930.

Match 2

(8) 1960 U.S. Open (Arnold Palmer) vs. (9) 1962 U.S. Open (Nicklaus)

Palmer didn’t just win the '60 U.S. Open in dramatic fashion. He won with paths of greatness dramatically crossing. Palmer came from seven shots behind in the final round at Cherry Hills to win his first and only U.S. Open title. He did so after famously driving the par-4 first green in the final round. Palmer prevailed on a day when a 20-year-old amateur named Nicklaus and a 47-year-old legend named Hogan also held leads. How good is that?

Nicklaus made his first professional victory the ’62 U.S. Open at Oakmont memorable by beating Palmer, the reigning king of golf. He did so in a playoff in Palmer’s backyard. They loved Arnie there in Pennsylvania, and they hated Jack. It marked the beginning of their rivalry.

Match 3

(4) 1950 U.S. Open (Hogan) vs. (13) 1923 PGA Championship ( Gene Sarazen)

Sixteen months after a head-on collision with a bus nearly killed him, Hogan won the U.S. Open in what is remembered as the “Miracle at Merion.” He hit that famous 1-iron to the last hole in regulation in ’50  to earn his way into a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.

In a battle of the professional titans of the time, Gene Sarazen defeated Walter Hagen, in 38 holes, in the finals of the ’23 PGA Championship. They dominated that major in that era, with one or the other winning it over seven consecutive years in the ‘20s.

Match 4

(5) 1977 British Open (Tom Watson) vs. (12) 2001 Masters (Tiger Woods)

Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in what is remembered as the “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry in ’77. In a classic, Watson and Nicklaus separated themselves from the field playing together Saturday and Sunday. Watson won by a shot shooting 65-65 with Nicklaus shooting 65-66.

Woods’ win at Augusta National in ’01 was historic, completing what was billed as the "Tiger Slam.” The victory made Woods the first man in the modern era to win four consecutive majors.

Match 5

(2) 1997 Masters (Woods) vs. (15) 1954 Masters (Sam Snead)

The world seemed to stop in awe in ’97 when Woods won his first major as a professional by a Masters’ record 12 shots. It was more spectacle than competition, a precursor of the domination to come. Woods was only 21, and the victory is remembered as his coronation, the crowning of a supreme new power in professional golf.

Snead’s victory was especially dramatic, a one-shot triumph over rival Hogan in an 18-hole Monday playoff. Snead once said, “The three things I fear most in golf are lightning, Ben Hogan and a downhill putt.” This was also the Masters amateur Billy Joe Patton looked like he was going to win after making a hole-in-one at the sixth in the final round but then squandering his chance by rinsing a shot on his way to a double bogey at the 13th hole.

Match 6

(7) 1913 U.S. Open (Francis Ouimet) vs. (10) 1930 U.S. Amateur (Bobby Jones)

Ouimet, a little known 20-year-old former caddie, walked across the street from his family’s home onto the Country Club at Brookline and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sport. He beat British titans Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff in ’13 to become the first amateur to win the U.S. Open. He put American golf on the map with a victory that made the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Jones lifted a nation’s spirit, winning the U.S. Amateur in ’30 to become the first player to win the Grand Slam, or the “Impregnable Quadrilateral,” as it was also called. His victory at Merion was a tonic in the aftermath of the stock market crash, with the Great Depression dawning. He remains the only player to sweep four major championships in a single season. The New York Times then called it “the most triumphant journey that any man ever traveled in sport.”

Match 7

(3) 2008 U.S. Open (Woods) vs. (14) 2000 PGA Championship (Woods)

Woods winced, grimaced and limped on his way to victory in ’08 with a torn ligament in his left knee and a fractured left tibia. While he has amazed us more than once with his feats over the years, this win was different in that for the first time he seemed to amaze himself. Despite all the pain, he won this U.S. Open at Torrey Pines over 91 holes, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

For all his domination in majors, Woods’ most thrilling win might have come in the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, where a 31-year-old journeyman pro named Bob May pushed him to the brink. Woods claimed his third major of that year in a dramatic Sunday finish that didn’t end until Woods prevailed in a three-hole playoff.

Match 8

(6) 2000 U.S. Open (Woods) vs. (11) 1975 Masters (Nicklaus)

Winning the U.S. Open in an astonishing 15-shot rout, Woods seemed to break the spirit of the field. He won at Pebble Beach in ’00 with the most dominant performance in the history of major championship golf. He finished at 12 under par, becoming the first player in U.S. Open history to finish double digits under par, in a week where nobody else broke par.

Nicklaus won his fifth Masters’ title and 13th major in a thrilling finish that shook all those pine trees on the back nine at Augusta National. In ’75, he outplayed Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller in a gut-wrenching finish that saw Weiskopf and Miller both miss birdie chances at the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff. 

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”