When a major golf championship begins with its earliest tee time on Thursday, one of two things is going to happen.
Either a world class player will move up a rung of golf’s elite, or some middling player of modest-to-little staying power is going to rob the game of further glory after four days of unexpected success.
One or the other.
This season of major championships has proven to be the norm in golf over the past few years. After a stirring Masters victory by one of the game’s greats, Phil Mickelson, players with substandard Q ratings have taken the U.S. Open (Graeme McDowell) and now, after lapping the field at St. Andrews, it’s Louis Oosthuizen at the Open Championship.
Such major mediocrity is nothing new. Since 2003, 31 major championships have been played in nearly eight full golf seasons. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have won nine of them — a whopping 29 percent. Padraig Harrington, the one player outside of Lefty and Tiger in the last five years to forge his legacy by virtue of major wins, has won three championships. That single triumvirate boasts 12 major wins.
Beyond a third major by another great, Vijay Singh (2004 PGA Championship), and two fluky wins by Angel Cabrera, there has been little separation from what is a “major winner” and a “fledgling, journeyman pro”. (Retief Goosen, who has seven PGA Tour wins and 14 European Tour wins, won his second major in this period at the 2004 U.S. Open.)
Take the 14 “high-major” wins away — Woods, Mickelson, Harrington, Singh and Goosen — and you’re left with 17 major titles among 15 major-championship winners.
This is where we use the term “major” lightly. Greatness seems only to come to only about half of the actual major champions.
Here’s a look at each player who has won a single major since 2003:
Mike Weir (’03 Masters) Eight career wins on the PGA Tour, Weir has won just twice on Tour since donning the green jacket. He has not won since 2007, or finished better than sixth in a major since 2006.
Jim Furyk (’03 U.S. Open) The best player of the most recent “single winners,” Furyk has won 15 times on Tour, including seven times since he won the Open. But he has thrown away chances at a second major win on several Sundays in the last three years.
Ben Curtis (’03 British Open) He was ranked 396th in the world when he played in and won his first major tournament, the Open at Royal St. George’s. He’s won twice since, but both came in 2006. He was second at the 2008 PGA and made the Ryder Cup team.
Shaun Micheel (’03 PGA) One win. You know which one.
Todd Hamilton (’04 British Open) Hamilton’s other PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic came four months before he beat Ernie Els in a playoff at Royal Troon. He hasn’t won since, but does claim 11 wins on the Japan Tour. OK, then.
Michael Campbell (’05 U.S. Open) A series of injuries have derailed Campbell’s career, and he’s won only once since holding off Woods in Pinehurst. At the time of his Open win, though, Campbell had won seven times in six years on the European Tour.
Geoff Ogilvy (’06 U.S. Open) Though his major was gift-wrapped by Mickelson, Ogilvy is more Furyk than Hamilton. Ogilvy’s won seven times on Tour, four of which have come since his major victory. Two of those wins include World Golf Championships.
Zach Johnson (’07 Masters) He’s close to joining the next-level group with Furyk and Ogilvy. Johnson has won seven times on Tour, with five of the victories coming after Augusta. Johnson’s won three times since January 2009, but has just one top-10 finish in a major since winning.
Trevor Immelman (’08 Masters) Better before than after: two wins on the PGA Tour, three other wins on the Euro Tour, though none of them have come since 2004. He hasn’t finished better than T-19 in 10 major starts since his win.
Lucas Glover (’09 U.S. Open) Only other Tour win came in 2005 at a late-season event at Walt Disney.
Stewart Cink (’09 British Open) In his 15th year on Tour, he has six wins. Cink hasn’t finished better than T-40 in his last four majors since winning.
Y.E. Yang (’09 PGA) The one guy to come from behind to beat a leading Woods in And he’s also already 38 years old.
Graeme McDowell (’10 U.S. Open) McDowell is on par with Johnson already. Before winning at Pebble Beach, McDowell had claimed five Euro Tour victories in a span of eight years.
Louis Oosthuizen (’10 British Open) Quite a year for the 27-year-old. He won on the Euro Tour in March and finished second as well. Before his triumph Sunday, though, Oosthuizen had made just one cut in eight previous major starts, finishing 73rd at the 2008 PGA.
After the hits and misses over the last eight years, let’s just say the jury’s still out on the new Open Champion.