Another major, another first-time winner – in this case 25-year-old Keegan Bradley, who had never before teed it up in a Slam. More amazing still, if Bradley hadn’t been victorious Sunday in the PGA Championship, another obscurity, Jason Dufner, would have.
Such is golf since Tiger Woods underwent knee surgery in mid-2008 – and subsequently drove his SUV (and his career) into a tree. There have been 14 majors since then … and 13 different winners. Paddy Harrington won the first two, the ’08 British Open and PGA, and since then we’ve had, in succession, Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Y.E. Yang (with Tiger fading badly in the final round), Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and now Bradley.
Here’s how it breaks down generationally:
● Twentysomethings (6): Glover, Oosthuizen, Kaymer, Schwartzel, McIlroy, Bradley.
● Thirtysomethings (7): Harrington (2), Cabrera, Cink, Yang, Mickelson, McDowell.
● Fortysomethings (1): Clarke.
This is one of the reasons Lefty, now 41, hasn’t been able to take greater advantage of Tiger’s travails. Let’s face it, it’s hard to win a major in your 40s. Heck, Jack Nicklaus won only three (the 1980 U.S. Open and PGA and the ’86 Masters). You can contend, sure, but taking home the trophy is a whole other matter.
Ernie Els, who’s the same age as Mickelson, finds himself in the same situation (though the biggest issue with him right now is that he can’t make a putt). So do a couple of other multiple-major winners, Goosen (42) and Cabrera (41). Later this month, Harrington (almost 40) will join them. That’s why the kids – McIlroy et al. – have begun to take over.
Before this stretch, Woods won 14 of 46 majors, an incredible run. Ever wonder who would have won those titles if Tiger hadn’t come along? Well, these are the guys who finished second: Els (2), Chris DiMarco (2), Tom Kite, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, Bob May, David Duval, Goosen, Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, Shaun Micheel, Woody Austin and Rocco Mediate. (Note: It adds up to 16, not 14, because there were two second-place ties.)
That’s a little more identifiable group than the last 14 major winners, isn’t it? On the other hand, it’s startling to think DiMarco and Micheel (who captured the ’03 PGA) might be two-time major champs – and that such journeymen as May and Austin might also have won majors.
What’s really interesting, though, is that Tiger hasn’t much impact at all on Mickelson’s major-championship total. As you can see, from 1997 to mid-’08, Phil was runner-up to Tiger only once in a major. And since then, with Tiger struggling, he has managed just one more major win (in the 2010 Masters, an event he had already won twice).
So you could make the argument that, if Tiger Woods hadn’t been born, Lefty would have won five majors rather than four, but hardly the eight or 10 his fans might imagine. Stunning.