With Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson the only multiple winners in the last 20 Major Championships – in which 14 first-time victors have prevailed – what is the story behind this unpredictable streak in golf’s big four? Ahead of the US PGA Championship, europeantour.com finds out…
Of the three Major Championships held in 2013, two have already been won by first-time winners in Adam Scott at the Masters Tournament and Justin Rose at June’s US Open Championship, while in 2012 it was Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson who toasted maiden Major triumphs in the same events.
Three of the last four US PGA Championships, meanwhile, have been claimed by first-timers in Keegan Bradley (2011), Martin Kaymer (2010) and YE Yang (2009) so will the 95th edition of the season’s final Major yield yet another?
History suggests perhaps not.
Shaun Micheel aside, Oak Hill Country Club has long been a venue which produces big-name winners in its previous stagings of the US Open (1956, 1968 and 1989) and US PGA (1980, 2003), namely Cary Middlecoff, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Curtis Strange, a quartet which boasts a combined total of 29 Major victories.
Notwithstanding Mickelson’s stunning fifth Major triumph at Muirfield in The Open last month, golf’s four top prizes have never appeared more wide open.
But what of the fortunes of some of those first-timers in the Majors since their maiden wins?
Rose, rightly still revelling in his magical display at Merion Golf Club, missed the cut at The Open, while Scott came the closest out of the recent first-time Major winners to adding to his haul in finishing tied third in East Lothian.
Watson, meanwhile, has a best finish of tied 11th in the six Major Championships since he claimed the Green Jacket in April 2012, while Simpson’s highest placing is tied 32nd in his defence of the US Open in June.
Charl Schwartzel might appear one of the most likely to add to the Major count he started with victory at the 2011 Masters, bucking the trend with five finishes inside the top 16 since then.
“Maybe we're starting a new cycle,” said Scott, decidedly looking on the bright side in his preview press conference on Tuesday. “There are still some quite recent repeat winners, so maybe the new cycle is that there will be some more, hopefully. I'm trying to talk myself into this one.”
Indeed, the subject has been a hot topic in the build-up to this year’s US PGA and players have been quick to offer their views on the recent trend.
What the players say
“I just think it shows the depth and strength of golf at the moment. There are a lot of good players playing golf at the moment and Major Championships are probably harder to win than they ever have been.”
“I guess there are a lot of good players in the world. I don't know any other way of how to explain that. I think when you look at the World Rankings and look at how many players have played well in the Majors and how many new Major winners there have been, it just proves that golf is very, very strong right now. There are lots of people that are going to put themselves in position again this week and have a chance of winning their first Major.”
“I think with technology and the golf course setup, it's very difficult for players to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The depth of the game is incredible, everyone is so much closer. You put the top 100 guys in a row on the range and watch them hit a ball and you can't really tell the difference. You could look at any other sporting event and you would have certain favourites. Obviously in golf there are a few but anyone out of this field could win this tournament and that's not the case in some other sports. That is something quite appealing about golf.”
“Guys tend to be a little more fearless these days. They don't tend to subscribe in the fact that you need to pay your dues, possibly, they just get it out here and get it done. I don't know if that's because coaching has got better or mentally guys are just a little bit more advanced at an earlier age but either way I definitely think golf is getting stronger and stronger and deeper and deeper.”
Whether or not this year’s final Major will harvest another first-time Major victor, only the next four days will tell.
One of America’s finest actors, Christopher Walken, once said: “At its best, life is completely unpredictable.”
Some might say the same about the crazy sport that is golf…