McDowell eyes rare consecutive major feat

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell


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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Don’t look now, but U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland fired a 4-under 68 Friday to leap into the top 10 in the British Open.

McDowell, seeking the rare achievement of winning two major championships in a row, stumbled with three second-round bogeys but offset those mistakes with seven birdies.

“I’m getting closer,” McDowell said. Closer to what remained a matter for debate, because 36-hole leader Louis Oosthuizen is 12 under par and seven strokes ahead of McDowell.

Still, McDowell’s 71-68 start is identical to his two opening rounds in the U.S. Open, where he proved to be a tenacious and unshakable contender.

photo

Graeme McDowell during Round 2 of the British Open at St. Andrews.

“All I want,” McDowell said, “is to be in contention. I believe I know how to handle myself once I get there.”

Back in 2006, McDowell, then 26 years old, was just learning to handle himself. In a figurative sense, he had to fall, then crawl, before he walked.

The 2006 European Masters was played at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland. McDowell’s game was coming unraveled, and he retaliated by firing his caddie and slamming his 5-wood into a large rock.

“I had played 19 of 21 weeks, and Crans is one of those courses where you can become very frustrated. I couldn’t get it up-and-down — I really was gone. I needed to get away from the game and reset. It was definitely a low point in my career and a moment I remember, quite well.

“I saw this rock out of the corner of my eye and suddenly, boom, the thing pretty much exploded in my hand. It was a reality check, thinking, ‘This is not me,’ thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’ I am not a particularly bad-tempered person, but sometimes you don’t know who you are in golf. This game can drive you crazy, and it does drive me crazy on a regular basis. But you have to learn to control those emotions. I had to ask myself who I was.”

The answer to this question: He is a major champion, joining Irishman Padraig Harrington in that elite circle.

Now the task becomes infinitely more challenging. In the last 115 years, dating to the inception of the U.S. Open in 1895, only 13 golfers have won back-to-back professional majors. One of them is Harrington.

We’re talking here about majors played consecutively, such as the U.S. Open and British Open. Sorry, but Mark O’Meara, who won two non-consecutive majors in 1998 (Masters, British Open), doesn’t qualify.

Two of the 13, Harrington and Tiger Woods, are active on the PGA Tour. Two others, Tom Watson and Nick Price, are playing on the Champions Tour.

Six of the 13 are no longer alive. In the order they achieved back-to-back majors, they are Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones (the only amateur in the group), Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.

As unlikely as it might seem, another giant of the game, Byron Nelson, never won two majors in a row.

Of course, neither did Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros or Nick Faldo.

Winning consecutive majors is a rare achievement, but doing it two or more times is exceptional. Only two golfers, Woods and Ben Hogan, have achieved this.

Hogan and Woods also share another distinction -- winning three or more majors in a row.

Hogan took the first three majors in 1953 before skipping the PGA Championship. Woods, of course, won four straight majors in 2000 and 2001.

Jack Nicklaus never won consecutive major titles more than once (1972 Masters, 1972 U.S. Open), nor did he ever win three a row. When Nicklaus captured the 1971 PGA, it was (for one year only) the first major of the year and thus did not precede the Golden Bear’s two majors at the start of 1972. 

For the record, the British Open was first played in 1860, the U.S. Open in 1895, the PGA Championship in 1916 and the Masters in 1934.

• • • 

Winners of back-to-back professional majors:

1924: Walter Hagen (British, PGA)

1926: Bobby Jones (U.S., British)

1930: Bobby Jones (U.S., British)

1932: Gene Sarazen (U.S., British)

1941: Craig Wood (Masters, U.S.)

1951: Ben Hogan (Masters, U.S.)

1951-1952: Sam Snead ('51 PGA, '52 Masters)

1953: Ben Hogan (Masters, U.S., British)

1960: Arnold Palmer (Masters, U.S.)

1971: Lee Trevino (U.S., British)

1972: Jack Nicklaus ('72 Masters, '72 U.S.)

1982: Tom Watson (U.S., British)

1994: Nick Price (British, PGA)

2000-2001: Tiger Woods ('00 U.S., '00 British, '00 PGA, '01 Masters)

2002: Tiger Woods (Masters, U.S.)

2006: Tiger Woods (British, PGA)

2008: Padraig Harrington (British, PGA)

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