A bat­tle among the best with only 1 ma­jor cham­pi­onship


SOUTHAMP­TON, N.Y. — Jor­dan Spi­eth con­sid­ers him­self lucky. As hard as he made it look, win­ning the U.S. Open three years ago felt easy. He was two months re­moved from his vic­tory at Au­gusta Na­tional. No mat­ter what hap­pened at Cham­bers Bay, he was the Mas­ters cham­pion for the rest of the year, and a ma­jor cham­pion for life. “House money,” he de­scribed that week. And then he won an­other ma­jor with a birdie-dou­ble bo­gey-birdie fin­ish, helped by Dustin John­son three-putting from 12 feet to lose by one. Spi­eth was 22 when he be­came the first player in 74 years — Craig Wood in 1941 — to win his first ma­jor and then add a sec­ond ma­jor in his next try.

It didn’t come that quickly for Tiger Woods, even af­ter a 12-shot vic­tory at the 1997 Mas­ters in his first ma­jor as a pro. Woods played 10 more ma­jors, half of them while over­haul­ing his swing, be­fore he won his next one.

Win­ning one ma­jor is great. Win­ning mul­ti­ple ma­jors com­mands a new level of re­spect.

“You could make an ar­gu­ment that it could be harder to get the sec­ond one than it is the first,” PGA cham­pion Justin Thomas said Tues­day. “You could make an ar­gu­ment that ev­ery ma­jor is the hard­est. But I just think that to be known as a mul­ti­ple ma­jor cham­pion as op­posed to, ‘He won the PGA,’ it has a lit­tle bet­ter ring to it. So I hope to have that to my name, sooner rather than later.”

Iden­ti­fy­ing the best player with­out a ma­jor has been a topic for the bet­ter part of 30 years. Given the depth of tal­ent, it might be time for a dif­fer­ent ques­tion. The best with only one ma­jor. It’s a long list, from as young as Thomas (24) to Hen­rik Sten­son (42).

All it takes is one week, one more ma­jor — per­haps this week at Shin­necock Hills — for such a player to en­ter a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion. Dustin John­son might lead that list. He fi­nally broke through for his first ma­jor at Oak­mont in the 2016 U.S. Open, and given his 18 vic­to­ries on the PGA Tour, he prob­a­bly should have more. If not for get­ting in his own way, he might have more by now.

There was the 82 at Peb­ble Beach when he had a three-shot lead in the 2010 U.S. Open. He hit an er­rant drive into a patch of sand that he didn’t know was a bunker at Whistling Straits that same year in the PGA Cham­pi­onship. The bo­gey dropped him into a three-man play­off. Ground­ing his club in the sand for a two-shot penalty dropped him out of it. And then at Cham­bers Bay, he was 12 feet away for ea­gle and the U.S. Open un­til it took three putts and a par for a run­ner-up fin­ish.

He is No. 1 in the world, and wants to get ma­jor No. 2.

“It’s hard to get No. 2 right now, but it was hard to get No. 1,” John­son said with a smile. “I think it’s hard to get any of them. It’s just a tough task. There’s only four ma­jors, and to win a ma­jor you have to have ev­ery­thing work­ing very well. You’ve got to play re­ally good all four rounds . ... I’d love to get that sec­ond one. But it’s one of those things where, like I said, ev­ery­thing has got to work well for four days.”

Ja­son Day has 12 vic­to­ries on the PGA Tour, and only the 2015 PGA Cham­pi­onship among ma­jors. He spent 47 con­sec­u­tive weeks at No. 1 the year af­ter win­ning his ma­jor, and had only one good chance. Justin Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open at Me­rion for his first ma­jor. Rose has won at least some­where in the world ev­ery year since 2010, and he has won on pres­ti­gious cour­ses — Muir­field Vil­lage, Con­gres­sional, Aron­imink, Do­ral — and he was one putt away from adding Au­gusta Na­tional to that list. But he’s still stuck on one. So is Adam Scott and Ser­gio Garcia, Brooks Koepka and Webb Simp­son.

Add to that list Louis Oosthuizen, who has been run­ner-up in all four ma­jors since his 2010 vic­tory in the Bri­tish Open at St. Andrews.

“I mean ab­so­lutely zero, no dis­re­spect to guys that have won one — ob­vi­ously, my­self in­cluded,” Thomas said. “But it’s a lot eas­ier to get hot one week than it is to do it again and win an­other ma­jor. Be­cause when you’re a ma­jor cham­pion, you have more asked of you. You have more ex­pec­ta­tions on yourself, more ex­pec­ta­tions from other peo­ple to where if you do get in the hunt, then you’re asked, ‘How is it go­ing to feel to get your sec­ond ma­jor?’ You’re con­stantly re­minded of that.”

The top play­ers when Woods was in his prime years were Phil Mick­el­son, Ernie Els and Vi­jay Singh. Woods rarely fails to men­tion Retief Goosen on that list, mainly be­cause when Woods was at his best, Goosen was the only other player with mul­ti­ple ma­jors. He won his sec­ond U.S. Open at Shin­necock Hills in 2004.

Seven­teen play­ers at Shin­necock Hills this week have only one ma­jor and would love to add an­other.

If they don’t? It’s still bet­ter than be­ing on that other list oc­cu­pied by the likes of Rickie Fowler, Hideki Mat­suyama and Jon Rahm.

They’re young. But they would set­tle for one.


DUSTIN JOHN­SON hits off the fourth tee as Tiger Woods looks on dur­ing a prac­tice round for the U.S. Open Golf Cham­pi­onship on Tues­day in Southamp­ton, N.Y.

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