By Zak Kozuchowski, PGATOUR.COM Staff
Rory McIlroy's runaway win at the U.S. Open quickly drew comparisons to Tiger Woods' landslide victory of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Woods obliterated the field in 2000, winning by a margin of 15 shots, a U.S. Open record that still stands. More importantly, it started Woods' streak of four consecutive major wins, the famed "Tiger Slam," that ended with his victory at the 2001 Masters.
McIlroy's 16-under par performance at Congressional broke 11 U.S. Open records, including lowest aggregate score and lowest score in relation to par, so it's easy to see why McIlroy is drawing comparison to Woods and his ability to dominate major championships.
McIlroy, 22, is two years younger than Woods when he won his first U.S. Open title. Woods has said that McIlroy's swing is more advanced than Woods' was at the same age, and Johnny Miller commented during the U.S. Open telecast that McIlroy's putting stroke is the "most solid" he's ever seen.
McIlroy tied the major championship record in the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews with a first-round 63 and finished in a tie for third. He also held the lead for the first three rounds at Augusta National this year, although a final-round 80 dropped him out of contention. McIlroy handled his Masters disappointment with class, however, learning from the experience and rebounding at the U.S. Open for first major win. So what's to stop the young Northern Irishman from winning back-to-back majors, something Woods has done a record five times? While McIlroy has showed that he has the game to dominate majors in Woods-like fashion, history is not on his side. A player has won back-to-back majors only 20 times in golf's history. A golfer also has never won back-to-back majors as part of their first major victory, a feat McIlroy will attempt at Royal St. George this week.
Back-to-back major champions (since World War I):
Walter Hagen – 1924 British Open, Royal Liverpool Golf Club; 1924 PGA Championship, French Lick Springs Resort. Hagen's flamboyant style and showmanship paved the way for professional golfers today. Hagen was 31 when he won back-to-back majors in 1924, which were the fifth-and-sixth of his 11-career major titles. He earned 45 PGA TOUR titles from 1916 to 1936 and also won the Western Open five times when it had near major championship status.
Bobby Jones – (1) 1926 British Open, Royal Lytham & St. Anne's Golf Club; 1926 U.S. Open, Scioto Country Club. (2) 1930 British Open, Royal Liverpool Golf Club; 1930 U.S. Open, Interlachen Country Club Jones, who famously never turned professional, won all of his majors as an amateur. His major configuration is different, though, than that of the modern era.
The current major championship lineup consists of the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Only counting these events, Jones won seven majors. He won his first major, the 1923 U.S. Open, at the age of 21 – a year younger than McIlroy.
But in Jones' prime, the Masters Tournament had not yet been established (he co-founded it with Clifford Roberts in 1933). Jones, like many other top players at the time who were also amateurs, did not compete in the PGA Championship, which was created professionals for like Walter Hagen.
For those reasons, he British and U.S. Amateur events were considered to be major championships in 1930. Jones won the British Amateur, the British Open, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur in succession in 1930, becoming the only golfer in the game's history to win the Grand Slam, or all four major tournaments in one calendar year. Counting the British and U.S. Amateurs, Jones won a total of 13 majors.
Ben Hogan – (1) 1951 Masters; 1951 U.S. Open, Oakland Hills. (2) 1953 Masters, 1953 U.S. Open, Oakmont Country Club (3) 1953 U.S. Open, Oakmont Country Club; 1953 British Open, Carnoustie. Hogan limped to victory at 1950 U.S. Open just over a year after a horrific car accident that threatened to shorten his career. In 1951, he won his first Masters. The 29-year-old then successfully defended his U.S. Open title to win his first back-to-back major titles.
Hogan would go on to win three-consecutive majors in 1953. His third that year, the British Open at Carnoustie, was his first-ever British Open appearance. Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods are the only professional golfers to have ever won three consecutive major championships.
Sam Snead – 1951 PGA Championship, Oakmont Country Club; 1952 Masters. Snead's was 39 when he won the 1951 PGA Championship. It was the fifth of his seven career major victories. The following season, he won his second Masters, giving him back-to-back majors wins.
The Virginian also won 11 events in 1950 – no one has since recorded more wins in one year. Snead won a record 82 PGA TOUR events in his career, and received the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Arnold Palmer – 1960 Masters; 1960 U.S. Open, Cherry Hills. Palmer was 30 when he won his second major, the 1960 Masters. "The King" won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills and then traveled the British Open at St. Andrews, hoping to match Hogan's 1953 feat of three consecutive majors and put him one step closer to winning the modern-day Grand Slam. He lost the British Open to Kel Nagle by a shot, although his good looks and swashbuckling style made him a favorite of European golf fans. Palmer won seven career majors and 62 events on the PGA TOUR. Like Snead, he was awarded the PGA TOUR Lifetime achievement award in 1998. His grandson, Sam Saunders, currently plays on the PGA TOUR.
Lee Trevino – 1971 U.S. Open, Merion Golf Club; 1971 British Open, Royal Birkdale. Trevino was 31 when he won back-to-back majors in 1971. His win at 1971 U.S. Open was his third major, and came after an 18-hole playoff against Jack Nicklaus that Trevino won by three shots.
Trevino's major wins are even more impressive considering they came near the height of the "Big Three," Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who combined for 34 major championship titles. The "Merry Mex" won 29 PGA TOUR events with his self-taught game, his last win coming at the 1984 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981.
Jack Nicklaus – (1) 1971 PGA Championship, Ballen Isles Country Club of JDM; 1972 Masters. (2) 1972 Masters, 1972 U.S. Open, Pebble Beach Golf Links. Nicklaus won eight majors before the 1971 PGA Championship, which started a streak of three in a row. Like Bobby Jones, he won his first career major at the age of 21. Like Hagen and Trevino, he won the first of his back-to-back major wins at the age of 31. "The Golden Bear" won his last major, the 1986 Masters, at the age of 46 – more than 24 years after his first major title. All together, he totaled 18 majors in his career, more than any other player. After McIlroy's U.S. Open win, Padraig Harrington, who became the last player to win back-to-back major titles in 2008, said that McIlroy has a "great chance" to break Nicklaus' record.
Tom Watson – 1982 U.S. Open, Pebble Beach Golf Links; 1982 British Open, Royal Troon Golf Club. Watson's win at Pebble Beach was one of the most memorable in U.S. Open championships in history. Jack Nicklaus, who was playing two groups ahead of Watson, rallied in the final round to shoot 69, putting him in a tie with Watson as he approached Pebble Beach's difficult 17th hole.
Watson pulled his 2-iron into the long rough just left of the green. He then made what ESPN named the greatest shot in golf history – from a bad lie and with the green running away from him, Watson executed a perfect pitch shot that landed softly on the fast and firm green and rolled into the cup for a birdie. The 32-year-old then birdied Pebble Beach's famous 18th hole to secure a two-shot victory over the Golden Bear, the sixth of his eight career majors.
Nick Price – 1994 British Open, Turnberry; PGA Championship, Southern Hills Country Club. Price was at the peak of his career in 1994, winning a career best six titles that year. The Zimbabwean won his first major in 1992 at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. After his 1994 British open title, he ran away from the field with a six-shot victory at the 1994 PGA Championship, sealing back-to-back majors at the age of 37. He won 15 times in his career on the PGA TOUR, his last victory coming in 2002 at Colonial. Price, now 54, has also won four times on the Champions Tour, including the Toshiba Classic in March.
Tiger Woods – (1) 2000 U.S. Open, Pebble Beach; 2000 British Open, St. Andrews. (2) 2000 British Open, St. Andrews, 2000 PGA Championship, Valhalla. (3) 2000 PGA Championship, Valhalla; 2001 Masters. (4) 2002 Masters; 2002 U.S. Open, Bethpage Black. (5) 2006 British Open, Royal Liverpool Golf Club; 2006 PGA Championship, Medinah Country Club. Woods has won back-to-back majors five times, more than any other player. Like Jones and Nicklaus, he won his first major at the age of 21. At 24, he won four-straight majors, setting the bar for modern-day dominance in major championships. Woods has 14 career major titles, only second to Jack Nicklaus. Like Nicklaus, he has won three career Grand Slams. At 35, he has already won 71 times on the PGA TOUR, a number that includes a staggering 16 World Golf Championship events.
Phil Mickelson – 2005 PGA Championship, Baltrusol Golf Club; 2006 Masters. Mickelson shed the title of "best player never to win a major" with his breakthrough win at the 2005 Masters at the age of 34. He finished tied for 33rd at the 2005 U.S. Open, but the returned to winning form at the 2005 PGA Championship and 2006 Masters. Mickelson had a chance to join the exclusive company of Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to win three consecutive majors at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Needing a par on the 72nd hole to win the championship, Mickelson hit shots off a hospitality tent, tree branches and a deep greenside bunker in route to a double bogey and a second-place finish.
Padraig Harrington – 2008 British Open, Royal Birkdale Golf Club; 2008 PGA Championship, Oakland Hills Country Club. Harrington defeated Sergio Garcia in a thrilling three-hole playoff at the 2007 British Open to win his first major at the age of 35. He successfully defended his title the next year at Royal Birkdale, cruising to victory by four shots. At the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, he again faced off against Garcia, holing a birdie putt on the 18th green to defeat the Spaniard by two shots and notch back-to-back majors. Harrington's major count, three, is the fewest of any player that has achieved the feat.