The phrase “expect the unexpected” should really become the new slogan for the PGA Tour. Fifteen different players have come home with victories in the last 15 major championships with nine of those being crowned major winners for the first time.
Why the inconsistency? Wins in the majors are no longer clustered around the top of the rankings. Currently, the world’s top three have only one major win between them. No. 1 ranked player Luke Donald and No. 3 ranked Lee Westwood have never tasted major championship success. No. 2 Rory McIlroy capped off a brilliant victory in the 2011 U.S. Open, but hasn’t been back in the winner’s circle since then.
None of the three have even been able to keep a firm grasp on the world’s top ranking. In April 2011, Westwood took hold of the top spot from then-top ranked player Martin Kaymer, only to see it slip away a month later to Donald. Less than a year later, McIroy took over the No. 1 position after winning the 2012 Honda Classic. Two weeks later though, Donald was back on top after earning a victory in the Transition’s Championship held in Palm Harbor, Fla.
It was a much different picture only a few years ago. For nearly a decade, Tiger Woods dominated golf’s top position with brief interruptions coming only from Ernie Els, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Woods finished the season ranked as the top player in 10 out of 11 years from 1998 to 2009. He also won 13 of 40 majors during that time frame.
But during those years, he was joined by only a handful of players who were ranked near the top and could also contend and win major championships.
Of course, there were some odd ones thrown into the mix -- Todd Hamilton in the 2004 British Open or Michael Campbell in the 2005 U.S. Open -- but throughout that time, there were six players with at least two major championship wins.
Els, Mickelson, and Singh gave Woods the biggest challenge, bringing home a combined 10 major championships in their careers up to this point.
Angel Cabrera, Retief Goosen, and Padraig Harrington also won multiple championships during Wood’s reign at the top.
Looking at the current landscape in golf, it seems Woods’ drop off has not left a huge gap to be filled by players who wouldn’t have won titles during his period of dominance. More accurately, the sport has seen the emergence of many young and talented players that fit the bill as major championship contenders.
For instance, McIlroy’s win at Congressional to win the U.S. Open came when he was just 22-year-old, making him the second-youngest player to win a major since 1945. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, 29, and Charl Schwartzel, 27, have both won majors and are young enough to continue to contend for victories for years to come. Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, both only 26-years-old, have also taken home victories in majors and are poised to do so in the future. Fellow Americans Rickie Fowler, 23, and Dustin Johnson, 28, haven’t reached those heights yet, but are consistently near the top of the leaderboard in major championships as well.
With the British Open set to kick off July 19 in Lancashire, England, it’s only reasonable that the streak of first time winners could stretch to 16.
In this era of golf, picking a favorite is obviously not an exact science. Simpson, for example, missed the cut at the Players Championship and the Memorial leading up to his win at Olympic.
Tiger’s win at the AT&T National on Sunday will lead many to put him on the list of contenders for the Open. While his play over the past several months has been inconsistent, he’s still, after all, Tiger Woods. But with more up-and-coming players inching towards major championship contention, that name doesn’t exactly mean what it used to.