Trend of first- time major winners isn’t going away
ERIN, WIS. It’s hard to win a major. Getting a second, third or fourth hasn’t exactly been easy of late, either.
The last six golf major championships have been won by firsttimers, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue at the U. S. Open. Justin Thomas, Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler — they’re all making a case to be the next newbie.
Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia are the only players in the top 25 after the third round with majors on their résumés — and, at 4 under, eight shots behind Harman, they’re not exactly breathing down the leaders’ necks.
“There’s a lot of very good young players that are coming up,” said Dustin Johnson, who won’t be winning his second major after missing the cut at Erin Hills. “There’s a lot of talented golfers out here on the PGA Tour and throughout the world, and so that’s why.”
It’s been almost two years — Zach Johnson in the 2015 British Open — since someone with a major won another one. During that span, Jason Day ( PGA Championship), Danny Willett ( Masters), Johnson ( U. S. Open), Henrik Stenson ( British Open), Jimmy Walker ( PGA) and Garcia ( Masters) added their names to the list of major champs.
Not exactly one- hit wonders, that list. Johnson is No. 1 in the world and had several spectacular near- misses in the majors. Day already had four wins on the PGA Tour and nine top- 10 finishes in the majors. Stenson won the FedExCup series and the European Tour’s “Race to Dubai” in 2013, the first player to accomplish such a double. He also won The Tour Championship that year.
Garcia contended at his first major when he was 19 and was saddled with that dreaded “Best Player Never to Win” title for the better part of two decades. Walker has finished in the top 10 of the money list the last three years — and counting. Even Willett had established himself as one of the top players on the European Tour.
“We’re not seeing unknown names break through and just walk away with a major championship,” said Justin Rose, who had his breakthrough at the U. S. Open in 2013. “These are guys that have worked hard. They’re at the top end of their game. They’ve probably all been top five in the world when they’ve won their major.”
While that’s true, it also speaks to the talent that’s not there. Yes, I’m talking about Tiger Woods.
Beginning with the U. S. Open in 2000, Woods won 12 of the next 35 majors. But since his last major title, at the U. S. Open in 2008, no one has dominated like Woods did.
Oh sure, Rory McIlroy has four in the last six years, including the British Open and PGA in 2014. Jordan Spieth won the Masters and the U. S. Open in 2015.
But as each was on the verge of becoming golf’s next 600- pound gorilla, he tailed off. Blame injuries for McIlroy’s slowdown. Blame the 12th hole at Augusta National for Spieth’s.
“It’s just happened to be the case,” said Spieth, whose 4 over Saturday likely means he’ll finish outside the top 10 for a fifth consecutive major. “There’s a lot of fantastic players who have been playing well this entire year that are up on the first page of the leaderboard and guys that have been playing well recently.
“If you’re in good form, that’s going to stay here.”
Only once in the history of golf has there been a longer stretch of egalitarianism. Beginning with Graeme McDowell’s win in the 2010 U. S. Open, first- time champions were crowned at nine consecutive majors until Ernie Els brought the upward mobility to a halt with his second Claret Jug, and fourth major title, in the 2012 British Open.
Like everything in life, golf goes in cycles. Whether it was Arnie, Jack or Tiger, watching someone dominate golf is fun. But the current free- for- all is pretty good entertainment, too. As the revolving door at the majors continues to spin, you never know who’s going to emerge.
Brooks Koepka, who has one top- 10 finish in 2017, had five birdies and one bogey in Saturday’s third round in the U. S. Open. He shot 68 and was one stroke out of the lead.