Bubba Watson. Keegan Bradley. Darren Clarke. Rory McIlroy. Charl Schwartzel. Martin Kaymer. Louis Oosthuizen. Graeme McDowell.
In golf’s past eight major championships, eight first-time major winners have emerged victorious.
Take it back a step further and there have been 14 different winners in the past 14 majors. Of that group of 14, only Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington have multiple major championships on their résumés.
So it begs the question, are the days of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson or even Tiger Woods treating the golf world like their own personal playground finished?
“There’s always room for a dominant player,” said NBC golf analyst and San Francisco native Johnny Miller, who will be calling this week’s U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. “It’s just dominant players don’t fall off trees.”
It’s a trend that hasn’t just played out in majors, but on the PGA Tour as well. In 2011, no player won more than two events the entire season. In 2010, Jim Furyk won the most events on tour with three. Prior to that, the last time three wins led the PGA Tour was in 1995.
“You go through eras where it’s just one or two [dominant players], and basically that’s where we’ve been since Tiger was here is we get very few people that are good players on Sunday,” Miller said.
While superstar players are few and far between, golf recently enjoyed a run where the biggest names seemed to show up on the biggest stage. From 1997 to 2008, either Woods, Mickelson or Vijay Singh, arguably the three highest-profile players during that tenure, won a major every year but 2003.
A lot of the recent turnover in major winners can be traced back to Woods’ precipitous fall from grace due to injuries and personal turmoil.
His pursuit of Nicklaus’ record 18 major wins has stalled at 14. He won the Memorial last week, but whether or not that success will carry into the rest of the majors this year remains to be seen.
McIlroy, the defending U.S. Open champion, has been anointed by some pundits the heir apparent to Woods’ throne as king of the golf world. But even he admits it can be tough once you have a target on your back.
“I feel like I’m coming back to defend my title as a more established player, I’m coming back as a major champion and maybe expectations are a little higher,” McIlroy said.
Given the recent history, the odds appear to be against McIlroy, who has missed the cut in three recent events, or any other previous winner to hold off the field at the Olympic Club. But Miller, for one, isn’t ready to rule out the possibility.
“I mean, it takes a special player to win majors and a guy who can make those putts in the last couple of days,” Miller said. “They are rare, but a guy can definitely do it.”