By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM CorrespondentRobert Allenby:
Darren Clarke proved last month that major championships aren't just the property of flat-bellied guys who need to show their driver's license when they order a pint of ale. It is quite possible that someone who can remember music on cassette tapes, movies on VHS and non-high-definition television is capable of winning a big one.
Clarke was 42 and almost an afterthought when he won the Open Championship at Royal St. George's. He used his experience and superior course management to think his way around the course and perform when things got tight.
It had been a while since an old guy had won a major. Hale Irwin was 45 when he won the 1990 U.S. Open. Vijay Singh was 41 when he won the 2004 PGA Championship and Angel Cabrera 39 when he won the 2009 Masters. But they already had a major stashed away in their trophy case. Clarke won his first major when he was older than some of the bubbly that was opened during his celebration party.
So while it's difficult for someone in the plus-40 set to win his first major championship, it's not impossible. That should be comforting to some of the PGA TOUR's elite players, who have shown the ability to win a regular event, but have struggled at the majors.
Here are five talented 40-year-olds in the field at this week's PGA Championship in Atlanta who still have enough game to break through and win a major championship:
Steve Stricker: The 44-year-old American is probably the best player in the world without a major championship. The King of Consistency has been in the mix at each this season: tying for 11th at the Masters, 19th at the U.S. Open and 12th at the Open championship. He’s made the cut in every event he’s played this season, with five top-10s in 13 starts. Since his re-emergence in 2006, Stricker has played in 21 major championships, with five top-10s and 10 top-20s.
K.J. Choi: He continues to build a reputation for playing well on tough courses, as evidenced by his victory at this year’s PLAYERS Championship. The 41-year-old Choi has at least one top-10 in every major, save the U.S. Open, and tied for eighth at Augusta National this spring. Choi has played well this season; he’s nailed down six top-10s and is No. 3 on the FedExCup points list, so he’s a player to watch.
Miguel Angel Jimenez: Like Clarke, the cigar-smoking Spaniard was in contention for his first major at Eoyal St. George’s, but closed with a 78 to finish 25th. With 19 international victories, Jimenez knows how to close, but at age 47 he’s running out of time. He’s had a top-10 at each of the major championships, the most recent a tie for sixth at the 2008 U.S. Open.
The 40-year-old Aussie continues to remain competitive, although he hasn’t won a tournament since 2001. Allenby has five career top-10s at the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, but nothing higher than a tie for seventh, twice. Allenby has three top-10s on the PGA TOUR this season, most recently tying for sixth at the AT&T National; but he’s made the cut in only one of the three majors, tying for 48th at the Open.Scott Verplank:
Physical issues have helped derail Verplank, 46. This year a bad wrist has limited the Oklahoma State product to only 12 events and he’s still managed to produce two top-10s, including that gutsy tie for second at the Shell Houston Open. Verplank has been among the top 10 at each major championship, including twice at the PGA Championship, but hasn’t competed in the three previous majors in 2011.
There's nothing wrong with young guys winning; they're the future of the sport. But it's nice to see a veteran who has paid his dues rewarded with such a career-defining victory. It was a good story when Clarke won and it'll be a good story if one of these old-timers can win. Besides, they can join each other in line at dinner for the Early Bird special.