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No lead is safe in the majors this year
No cheer that sounded like the clap of thunder. No need to raise both arms or pump the fist in celebration.
Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open while sitting in the clubhouse at The Olympic Club, a nervous wife at his side as they watched the last few holes on television. Ernie Els was pacing on the practice green behind the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, spending more time on his phone than rapping a few putts in case of a playoff, when he realized he had won the British Open.
These are not unusual spots to win, but they seem to be popular places in this most peculiar year.
Three majors, three-come-from behind winners.
The PGA Championship, which starts Aug. 9 at Kiawah Island along the coastal waters of South Carolina, is known as “Glory’s Last Shot” because it’s the final major of the year. The way this season has gone, that slogan could apply to any number of players going into the last round _ just not the 54-hole leader.
“It’s showing how deep the fields are and that winning from the front is tough,” Luke Donald said. “I think that’s why we all respect what Tiger has done in the game, because he was so good at getting a lead and keeping it. That’s a tough thing to do. And obviously, that’s been shown this year that no lead is really safe.”
Bubba Watson had the closest thing to a normal celebration. He was three shots behind Peter Hanson going into the final round at Augusta National, made four straight birdies on the back nine to close with 68, and then beat Louis Oosthuizen on the first hole of a playoff with a wild hook out of the tree. He was the only major champion this year to be declared the winner while still on the golf course.
Simpson was four shots behind Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell going into the last round at Olympic Club and never really looked like the winner until a tough chip to save par on the 18th hole. He had to wait as Furyk chopped up the 16th for bogey and McDowell ran out of holes to atone for earlier mistakes.
Not only was he six shots behind Adam Scott going into Sunday at Royal Lytham, Scott had a four-shot lead with four holes to play until Els closed out a 32 on the back with a 15-foot birdie on the 18th, and Scott bogeyed his last four holes.
You have to go all the way back to 1989 to find the last time no 54-hole leader won a major. Nick Faldo rallied from five behind at the Masters, Curtis Strange (U.S. Open) and Mark Calcavecchia (British Open) were three shots back, and Payne Stewart won his first major by overcoming a six-shot deficit to Mike Reid at the PGA Championship.
What’s going on?
“I think everybody got spoiled with Tiger winning,” Brandt Snedeker said. “I bet if you look back 20 years ago, very few guys closed all the time. Tiger was the best closer ever. But you know, it’s hard to win. Guys are getting nervous. Guys behind don’t get nervous, they just fire at pins because you’re not thinking about it.”
Tiger Woods won all 14 of his majors with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He didn’t lose a lead in a major until 2009 in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, when Y.E. Yang chased him down in the final round to turn a two-shot deficit into a three-shot win.
“He made it look so easy for so long,” Steve Stricker said.
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