Sunday, August 17
So much for paying your dues before major success
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- To experience major championship success, you must first endure major championship duress.
|Comeback king Mike Weir entered the final round three back, but opened with five straight bogeys to shoot himself out of contention.|
Put yourself in position a few times, learn from your mistakes. Oh, and win a few regular events to get used to the feeling.
Toss that theory into the Oak Hill Country Club rough, where just like all the balls that entered, it can be buried.
So much for paying your dues in majors. So much for the seasoned, tournament-tested veterans charging past the wobbly-kneed, wide-eyed upstarts. So much for conventional wisdom.
Shaun Micheel became the second straight player to make a major championship his first PGA Tour victory when he captured the 85th PGA Championship on Sunday.
But it could have been Chad Campbell or Tim Clark or Alex Cjeka.
The top four finishers were all in the same situation, having never won on the PGA Tour, let alone a major.
Ernie Els and Mike Weir have to be shaking their heads somewhere today. The same, to some extent, can be said for Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Go back to last month's British Open, and Thomas Bjorn, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods are also lamenting opportunities that got away.
What happened to major championship protocol?
"The depth on the tour is just getting that much deeper,'' Woods said. "Guys' techniques are better, they are more consistent, our equipment is better, more forgiving. You add that with guys are just more talented. You get that many players with the skill that we've got ... look how many first-time winners we had on tour last year (18). ... There's been a lot of depth and pretty good talent out here.''
It is no surprise that a first-time major winner is holding the Wanamaker Trophy. That is an ever-growing trend at the PGA, where 13 of the last 16 major champions were first-timers.
And for the first time since 1969 -- George Archer won The Masters, Orville Moody won the U.S. Open, Tony Jacklin won the British Open and Raymond Floyd won the PGA -- each of the four legs of the Grand Slam was won by a player who hadn't previously won a major.
But first-time winners
Before Curtis won the British Open, the last player to make a major championship his first victory was John Daly at the 1991 PGA Championship. Now it happens twice in two majors?
As stunning as such an occurrence is, you can argue that it only became possible when more accomplished players did not step up.
Take Weir for example. He started the final round just three shots out of the lead, one of only three players under par. Given his three victories this year, his breakthrough playoff win at The Masters, you figured Weir might be a good bet to overtake Micheel and Campbell.
And making the plot juicier? All six of his tour titles were from behind.
So what did Weir do? He bogeyed the first five holes on his way to a 75 and a tie for seventh.
"I think everybody is raising their game a little bit,'' Weir said. "I think maybe guys just aren't afraid.''
Then there is Els. After winning the first two tournaments of the year, he figured to have a monster season. But he's been plagued by inconsistency in the majors, and Sunday was another example.
Starting the final round five shots out of the lead, Els could never seize momentum. He got to even par, within three of the lead, then made two bogeys. He followed with two more birdies to get back to even, then made two more bogeys and parred in for 71 and a tie for fifth. What if he had posted a score of 2-under? Could that have done some damage?
Singh has been doomed by poor final rounds at all of the majors this year. He shot 73 at The Masters and tied for sixth, had a 78 at the U.S. Open to tie for 20th, and his 70 at the British Open came up one shot short of Curtis. On Sunday, with an outside shot at contending, Singh shot 79.
Mickelson put himself in great position to win his first major with a 66 on Thursday, then never sniffed par again.
Could it be easier to be a nobody? At least for two straight majors, that is the case.
"I remember when I won my first one ('94 U.S. Open), I just played,'' Els said. "I was just enjoying it. I was doing things I saw on television, things I saw Jack Nicklaus and Curtis Strange and guys like that (doing). I just did it. And now, 10 years down the line, you've won three and it's almost more difficult to win one now. They're playing great golf and enjoying themselves.''
Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.