With the calendar poised to move forward to a new month, it can only mean one thing in the golf galaxy: Another major championship is moving into the on-deck circle.
Down in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., they call it “Glory’s Last Shot,” but for the purpose of keeping things orderly and simple, we’ll refer to it by its proper name, the PGA Championship. Only days away, the tournament is the deepest and strongest of the four majors, at least field wise, but it competes for media attention in a way that the others don’t. Neither the Masters, U.S. Open, nor Open Championship have to wrestle for the spotlight against football (yes, it is back), let alone a TV production as massive as the Summer Olympics.
Now by the time the first round gets under way at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, the Olympics should be winding down after what will have felt like 46 days and far, far too many controversies that sadly have come to define this global competition.
Of course, there is one clear way for the PGA Championship to command attention next week: Tiger Woods in contention.
There was a time when that was a foregone conclusion, but oh, have times changed. He was there on Sunday of the recent Open Championship, sure, but he vanished after just two days of the U.S. Open, never contended at the Masters, and was a MC at last summer’s PGA Championship.
The flip side to the disappearance of Woods as a dominating major champion, of course, is the emergence of an NFL-like parity to the scene. A different player has won each of the last 16 majors, dating back to Padraig Harrington’s win at Oakland Hills in the 2008 PGA Championship. In succession, the parade of major winners has lined up behind the Irishman thusly: Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Y.E. Yang, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els.
Wonderful talents, all of them, but it’s the longest run of different winners in the history of the major championships and if you want to know how much of a contrast that is from the way things used to be, consider this: In the previous 16 major championship before Oakland Hills (2008 Open Championship back to the 2004 PGA), Woods won six of them and was second, third, or fourth in six others.
Stop and digest that for a minute. The man was in the top four a whopping 12 times in a 16-major run.
To truly appreciate how incomparable Woods was at his very best, understand the type of stuff that has taken place during this parity parade the last 16 majors. Pick a name, any name, and see the lack of consistency:
• Kaymer in seven major starts since winning the 2010 PGA has missed three cuts and failed to finish better than T-12.
• McIlroy steamrolled the U.S. Open field in 2011, sure, but since then has played in five majors and finished no better than T-25.
• In 13 majors since his 2009 U.S. Open triumph, Glover has just one top 10 and has missed the cut seven times.
• Cink embraced his Claret Jug in 2009 and hasn’t been seen since.
• Change the year to 2011 and you can say similarly about Clarke.
• For all the hoopla over his Masters win, Watson’s resume during this stretch of 16 doesn’t impress – four missed cuts, just two top 10s, and he’s been inside the top 30 on but five occasions.
• Steve Stricker? The definition of regular-season consistency, but the majors are another story. He hasn’t finished first, second or third in any of the last 16, and there hasn’t been a top 10 since the 2009 Masters.
• Certainly this feeds fuel to those who are against Luke Donald being No. 1 in the world order: He has more missed cuts (five) than top 10s (four) in the last 16 majors.
• Once a major dynamo, Jim Furyk has been anything but during this 16-major run. His tie for fourth in the U.S. Open was his first top 10 in a major since the Masters of 2009, a stretch of a dozen that saw him miss three cuts.
• Hunter Mahan, one of the game’s best, has been top 10 three times in these last 16 majors, but not since the 2010 Masters. Oh, and sprinkle in six missed cuts.
• There have been strong bids by Mickelson to win the 2012 Masters and 2011 Open Championship, but five times in 10 tries he has been outside the top 25 since winning the 2010 green jacket.
• Schwartzel has a win, but just one other top 10 during this stretch.
• Give McDowell credit, he’s gone T-12, T-2, T-5 in his last three majors, but since his gutsy performance to win the 2010 U.S. Open, there have been four missed cuts in nine majors.
• Adam Scott’s top 20 total (six) is equal to the number of cuts he’s missed.
• Johnson’s T-9 at the Open Championship snapped a run of six majors in which he finished inside the top 20 just once.
• Matt Kuchar has teed it up in each of the last 11 majors and he’s missed just one cut, But the top 10s have been few (three) and only one has he finished in the top three.
• And even the younger talents, those who are settling into annual major berths, have not developed a consistency that even remotely resembles what Woods used to bring to the landscape. Brandt Snedeker, for example, has missed six cuts in 13 major starts during this stretch. Rickie Fowler has shown flashes, but he has but one top 10 in 10 tries. Jason Day has gone T-30, MC, WD, T-59, WD in five majors since being top 10 in three of his first four attempts.
Against such a string of numbers, it’s virtually unfathomable to realize that in what seems a lifetime ago, Woods in the majors went on an historic tear – T-3, T-7, 1st, 5th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st – to basically take ownership of them in a manner the game had never seen.
Of course, Woods distorted the picture, too, because consistent brilliance in the major championships is not easily attained.
Just ask the parity parade going by before your eyes.