Which previous major winners have the best chance to win another? Helen Ross picks five
Amazingly, 15 different players have won the last 15 majors, and most of those have been first-timers. Where are the proven champions? We pick five who just might win again.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
The numbers are eye-opening for golf fans who just a few years ago were accustomed to seeing a small handful of names gobble up the four majors year after year.
Starting with the 2008 PGA Championship, when Padraig Harrington won his third major in six starts, there have been 15 different major champions in as many events. All but three were first-time major winners, including the last nine.
It's an unprecedented stretch in the modern golf era, made even more intriguing by the fact that Tiger Woods' name is not among those 15 different winners.
Compare it to the stretch during which Woods did win his 14 majors, starting with the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open. During that nine-year period, 46 majors were played with 26 different names claiming the titles. Tiger, of course, wasn't the only multiple winner -- Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh each won twice.
"Almost every week there's a new face that comes through, especially on the U. S. tour," Els said last week prior to playing the Scottish Open. "I mean I watched a bit of golf on Sunday night, and I watched some guys that I haven't really seen a lot of, and they're playing good golf. ...
"It's a very, very open ballgame now, unlike, as you say, nine, 10 years ago where it was kind of more the regs that you could expect."
Will the trend continue at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, where the last two Open Championship winners are Americans who won their one-and-onlys? Or, will someone who has already successfully handled the suffocating pressure of contention in one of golf's crown jewels emerge?
We'll find out if recent history continues the gloaming late Sunday afternoon. Instead of trying to predict the next breakthrough victory, though, PGATOUR.COM decided to take a look at which five veterans who already already have majors on their resumes could break the streak of newbies.
Between them, the quintet we've chosen owns 22 majors, including six British Opens. And the other two are U.S. Open champs from Northern Ireland, men well acquainted with the challenges of playing golf on the windswept links and primed to chase the Claret Jug.
So consider the possibilities below as PGATOUR.COM takes a look at five major champions who could prosper on the Lancashire coast of England this week.
Tiger Woods: We know. This isn't a stretch, not after Woods won his third PGA TOUR event of the season at the AT&T National three weeks ago -- eclipsing Jack Nicklaus in career wins with 74. But he hasn't won an Open since earning his third title in a strikingly emotional display at Royal Liverpool in 2006, his first major championship since his father, Earl, died. Woods has a total of seven top-10s at the Open -- none, though, in his last three starts.
Padraig Harrington: The affable Irishman was at his best in 2007 and 2008 when he won his first of three majors at Carnoustie and successfully defended that title the following year at Royal Birkdale -- a month before capturing the PGA Championship. Soon, though, his inveterate tinkering cost him the ability to contend and Harrington has only recently begun to challenege again. He'll come to Royal Lytham with considerable confidence, though, after a tie for seventh at the Irish Open and top-10s in the last two majors.
Ernie Els: The Big Easy might have been born in South Africa but he certainly has the game for links golf. Els won the Open at Muirfield in 2002 and has a total of 12 top-10s -- more than any other player since 1980. Need another reason to place Els among the favorites? Well, he tied for second and third the last two times the Open was played at Royal Lytham. He's playing well, too, with four top-10s, including a tie for ninth at the U.S. Open in his last TOUR start.
Graeme McDowell: By the previous three players' standards, McDowell is a relative newcomer to the British Open. He's played in the game's oldest major just eight times and his best finish is an unremarkable tie for 11th at St. Andrews when Tiger Woods won his second title across the pond. That said, McDowell seems to have regained the focus he readily admits he lost after that breakthrough U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach in 2010. Remember his dogged effort at The Olympic Club last month where McDowell played in the final group on Sunday and went on to tie for second?
Rory McIlroy: A year after his buddy McDowell won the U.S. Open, McIlroy picked up his first major title in the same event, this time at Congressional Country Club, winning by a record-setting eight strokes. Over the last six months, the 23-year-old has battled Luke Donald for No. 1 in the world, won The Honda Classic and barely missed another title at the Wells Fargo Championship. Granted, he missed his next three cuts on both sides of the Atlantic amid concerns his quest to have a life outside the game had made him soft. A tie for 40th at the Masters and missed cut in his title defense at The Olympic Club further stoked the fire, but McIlroy is too talented not to bounce back and that tie for 10th at the Irish Open should be a confidence-builder.