As the calendar year draws to a close, we reflect on the compelling drama and great storylines the Major Championships once again provided us in 2022.
Scheffler wins maiden Major at Augusta
A tradition unlike any other, the first Major of the season saw the 86th edition of the Masters Tournament held at Augusta National from April 7-10. Attendance returned to full capacity for the first time since Tiger Woods’ triumph in 2019 and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scottie Scheffler arrived at Augusta National on the back of a scintillating run of form that had seen him claim three PGA TOUR titles and rise to World Number One in the Official World Golf Rankings in barely two months. Victory at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at the tail end of March saw the American rise to the summit of men’s golf and he underlined his pre-tournament status as the dominant force in the men’s game with a polished performance to claim his maiden Major victory in Georgia.
Scheffler did not make a bogey until the 18th hole of his three-under-par 69 in the first round which left him two shots back of pace setter Sungjae Im of South Korea. As the wind picked up on day two, the US Ryder Cup star seized control of the tournament with a 67 to open up a five-shot advantage at the halfway stage and in the process tie the tournament record for the largest 36-hole lead.
Despite a difficult back nine in the third round in which Scheffler carded four bogeys in the last seven holes, the World Number still held a three-shot lead heading into the final day’s play. Players Champion Cameron Smith, Scheffler’s nearest challenger, reduced the overnight gap to one shot over the opening two holes but the American bounced back with a stunning chip-in birdie which turned the momentum back in his favour. Scheffler won with a one-under 71 that included a double bogey on the 18th green as he finished three shots ahead of Rory McIlroy who, having begun the day ten shots adrift, carded a remarkable closing 64 to finish in solo second.
Afterwards Scheffler revealed he “cried like a baby” on the morning of his triumph due to doubts he was ready to win one of golf’s four Majors. He added: "Probably the first time the thought of winning popped into my mind was Friday in the afternoon after we got done.
“I never really make it this far. I always dream of being here and competing. I can’t put into words what it means that I’ll be able to come back here for a lifetime, hopefully, and I can’t speak highly enough of this place."
Thomas denies Zalatoris to win PGA Championship again
A month later saw the second Major of the season – the PGA Championship – held at Southern Hills, with Green Jacket holder and World Number One Scheffler viewed as a co-favourite alongside reigning U.S. Open Champion Jon Rahm.
However, it was two-time champion McIlroy who carried over his resurgence from Augusta to Tulsa as he shot a five-under 65 – his lowest round in his PGA Championship career – to take a one-shot lead after the first round. After carding his best Major round with a 66 on day one, Will Zalatoris went one better a day later to get to nine under and the lead the way from Chile’s Mito Pereira at the midway point. Overnight leader McIlroy was five shots adrift of the lead after a 71.
Pereira, in his PGA Championship debut, then recovered from four bogeys in five holes around the turn to post a 69 and claim a three-shot lead heading into the final round. Matt Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris were his nearest challengers and, like Pereira, were targeting their first Major wins.
Yet it was neither of those three players who celebrated success as Justin Thomas staged a remarkable fightback before beating compatriot Zalatoris in a play-off to win his second Major, five years after winning his first at the same event.
Beginning the day seven shots adrift, Thomas shot a three-under 67 to the set the clubhouse target at five under. Pereira appeared set to win the Wanamaker Trophy until he double bogeyed the 18th after hitting his tee shot into a creek to finish at four under. Zalatoris, playing in the group ahead, made a gutsy par putt for a one-over 71 to match Thomas’ total and force a three-hole play-off.
Both Thomas and Zalatoris birdied the par-five 13th – the opening hole of the shootout. Thomas then made a two-putt birdie at the 302-yard par-four 17th in what proved the decisive moment as he sealed victory with a par at the 18th.
“I was asked early in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,’” said Thomas, who equalled John Mahaffey's record of coming from seven behind to win the 1978 PGA Championship, also in a play-off, at Oakmont. “I can’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”
Fitzpatrick fulfils his dream to win first Major with tense Brookline finish
Another dramatic finish played out at the third Major of the season when the 122nd U.S. Open was held at The Country Club in Brookline.
Fitzpatrick, who had fallen out of contention on the final day at the US PGA, arrived in Massachusetts with fond memories after winning the US Amateur title at Brookline in 2013. The Englishman began his campaign with a two-under 68 that left him two adrift of first-round leader Adam Hadwin of Canada.
Collin Morikawa was the big mover on day two as the American star carded a 66 to earn a share of the halfway lead at five under, with McIlroy and defending champion Rahm a shot further back.
Zalatoris, forging a reputation for producing his best golf at the Majors, surged into a share of the lead alongside Fitzpatrick heading into the final round with a best-of-the-day 67. But with Rahm a stroke behind and Scheffler a further shot adrift, there was an exciting finale in store. Overnight leaders Morikawa and Dahmen saw their hopes of victory all but ended with rounds of 77 and 74 respectively.
In a gripping final round that saw the lead exchange hands on several occasions, Fitzpatrick produced an extraordinary bunker shot at the 18th on his way to his first Major title with a one-shot victory.
Initially, Scheffler powered into the lead with four birdies in six holes, before Fitzpatrick responded with birdies at the third and fifth to take a one-shot advantage into the back nine. But back-to-back bogeys from the Englishman at the tenth and 11th saw him fall two shots behind final-round playing partner Zalatoris. A 48-foot birdie putt at the 13th saw Fitzpatrick draw level again with Zalatoris, before he moved two clear when he birdied the 15th and Zalatoris made a bogey. Yet, Zalatoris refused to give up hope as he birdied the par-three 16th after a brilliant iron shot. After Fitzpatrick made a two-putt par following his miraculous recovery from the fairway bunker at the 18th, Zalatoris had a birdie putt to force extra holes for the second consecutive Major but he agonisingly missed it.
"It's what you grow up dreaming of," said an ecstatic Fitzpatrick. “The feeling’s out of this world, it’s so cliché, but it’s the stuff you dream of as a kid. I could retire a happy man tomorrow."
Smith wins at St Andrews after back-nine charge as McIlroy falls just short
The final Major of the season was a historic one as The Open Championship celebrated its 150th anniversary at the Home of Golf, the Old Course at St Andrews.
There had been much discussion around how three-time winner Tiger Woods might fare on his return to Major golf after sitting out the U.S. Open in a bid to improve his chances on the Old Course.
But despite the pre-tournament anticipation, Woods double bogeyed the first and struggled thereafter as he opened with a six-over 78. Leading the way after the first round was PGA TOUR rookie Cameron Young, who carded a bogey-free 64 to stand two shots ahead of McIlroy.
Smith matched that score on day two to reach 13 under par and take a two-shot lead into the weekend, with European pair Viktor Hovland and McIlroy well positioned in a share of third place. The Ryder Cup pair then shot matching 66s in the third round in front of record crowds to open up a four-shot advantage as Smith and Young struggled to reach the heights they had set on the opening two days.
Amid fever-pitch excitement around the prospect of McIlroy ending his eight-year wait for a fifth Major title, Smith stunned the swathes of crowds that lined the St Andrews fairways to lift the Claret Jug. A bogey-free eight-under 64, which included five successive birdies from the 10th, saw the Australian finish one shot ahead of Young, who eagled the 18th to pip McIlroy into second place.
"I didn't feel like I did many things wrong, but the putter went cold on me throughout the round," said McIlroy, who earlier held a two-shot lead after nine holes.
Smith said: "I think to win an Open Championship in itself is probably going to be a golfer's highlight in their career. To do it around St Andrews, I think is just unbelievable."
As is so often the case with elite sport, the results of three of this year’s four Majors have aptly illustrated how fine the margins are between success and perceived failure.