By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
In 2004, the 86th PGA Championship was the first major championship contested at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis.
After 72 holes at the windblown links course that sits along Lake Michigan, three players – Vijay Singh, Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard – were tied for the lead at 8-under 280, forcing a three-hole playoff.
Singh, who shot a 4-over 76 in the final round and had yet to make a birdie all day, snapped the drought with a birdie on No. 10, the first playoff hole. In the end, that’s all he would need to claim his third major overall. The 76 remains the highest final-round score ever by a PGA Champion.
So, what has the trio been doing since that August Sunday in 2004?
Let’s start with Singh.
That 2004 season was as good as it gets for a player not named Nelson or Woods. Singh’s victory at Whistling Straits was one of nine for the season, part of an astounding 18 top-10s. When Singh won the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston on Labor Day a few weeks later, he overtook Tiger Woods as the No. 1 player in the world, ending Tiger’s streak of 264 weeks at the top of the golf world.
The duo traded the No. 1 ranking a couple of times early in 2005 before Woods finally locked it down again with his win at the 2005 Masters.
Even still, until recently, Singh had remained an early favorite every time he teed it up. At age 47 now, Singh has recorded a record 22 PGA Tour victories since turning 40, beating the record previously set by the late great Sam Snead.
Singh’s 34 career victories are the most on the PGA Tour by a non-American player and rank him 14th on the all-time list.
Aside from the fact that he’s the only player to win the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, chances are Singh won’t be considered an early-tournament favorite this time around. He hasn’t had a top-10 in a major since the 2006 U.S. Open and hasn’t had a PGA Tour win since September of 2008 at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Because of lingering injuries that have taken longer to heal with age, the consistency that was once synonymous with Singh’s name appears to have vanished. In 2010 on the PGA Tour, he has just two top-10 finishes in 18 starts and has missed the cut five times.
Even if Singh never wins again – not likely for anyone who is familiar with his work ethic – no one will ever forget what he’s accomplished late in his PGA Tour career.
It’s often said that majors define a career and, lucky for Leonard, he’s got one of those – the 1997 Open Championship. Because of that, it’s easy to look past his close-call playoff losses at the 1999 Open Championship and 2004 PGA Championship.
Not to mention, Leonard will always be remembered for being a U.S. Ryder Cup hero, thanks to the 45-foot birdie putt he made on the 17th hole over Jose Maria Olazabal to lead the Americans to a historic come back.
While losing a major in a playoff must be crushing, it certainly didn’t have an adverse effect on Leonard. Since 2004 at Whistling Straits, the Texan has had four more PGA Tour wins to go along with one other top-10 in a major – a tie for eighth at the 2009 Open Championship.
At the time, Leonard was frustrated with his 1-under 71 in the final round at Whistling Straits, which he said could have been better – and avoided a playoff – were it not for four missed putts inside of 10 feet on the back nine.
Without a top-10 finish in 2010 after six such finishes in 2009, it’s anyone’s guess how Leonard will perform this week at Whistling Straits.
Will he harness some good vibes from 2004 and turn his 2010 season around?
Finally, there’s the case of DiMarco, who will be missing out on this year’s PGA Championship and actually hasn’t played in a major since the 2008 PGA.
Although he didn’t have a PGA Tour win in 2004, the playoff at Whistling Straits counted as one of three top-9 major finishes for DiMarco that season.
In 2005, DiMarco lost a playoff to Woods at the Masters and then finished second to Woods again in 2006 at the Open Championship.
DiMarco was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world in 2005, but just hasn’t quite been the same since a rib injury from a ski trip in 2007 and shoulder surgery.
Overall, the 41-year-old DiMarco has three PGA Tour wins in his career, but hasn’t contended in quite some time, evidenced by just five top-10 finishes since 2006.