OPINION

Why the latest first-time major winner streak needs to end at the Open

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In the 36 majors that have taken place since Tiger Woods’ 14th and most recent triumph at the 2008 US Open, we’ve seen a total of 28 different major champions.

In that time, only six players – Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, along with Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson – have won more than one of golf’s four marquee events.

From the 2010 US Open to the 2012 US Open, there were nine straight first-time major champions – the longest streak in the game’s history – and, after Brooks Koepka’s win at Erin Hills, it currently stands at seven-in-a-row dating back to Jason Day’s victory at the 2015 PGA Championship.

The more first-time major winners there are, the more the conclusion is drawn that the depth of talent in the game has never been greater. It’s almost impossible to argue against that. And the fact that Sergio Garcia at T21 was the highest-placed major champion in the field at Erin Hills only reaffirms it.

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Jimmy Walker

Speaking after Jimmy Walker’s PGA Championship win last August (above), Sir Nick Faldo said: “The talent now goes so deep that it is getting hard for anyone to separate themselves. There are so many players who can win and it makes it very exciting.”

Exciting, though, is hardly a word that could be used to describe the final round of the US Open and, in truth, the weekend in general – with the exception of Justin Thomas’ scintillating nine-under-par 63 on Saturday.

There was a significant lack of major-winning big names sniffing around at the top of the leaderboard, with six of the world’s top ten – including the top three, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day – failing to even make the cut.

Add into that the absence of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for the first time at a major since the 1994 Masters and you have a championship that was, according to US TV figures, the second-lowest rated of all-time behind Martin Kaymer’s runaway victory at Pinehurst in 2014.

What does that tell us? Well, while this depth of talent – a generation inspired by Woods’ achievements – has given us so many players to root for, the need for golf’s current stars to contend at majors and consequently widen the game’s appeal outwith hardcore fans was perhaps never more glaring than at Erin Hills.

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Tiger Woods Margin

It should also give us an even greater appreciation of what Woods did throughout his career. He missed just three cuts in 68 majors from 1997 to 2013 and, in addition to his 14 wins, he had 24 top ten finishes. Day has missed three cuts in 27 majors, Jordan Spieth three in 18, Johnson six in 32 and McIlroy seven in 33.

Some argue that Woods didn’t compete against the same depth of talent. In May 2015, best-selling author and highly respected golf writer Dan Jenkins claimed Woods beat ‘a lot of nobodies’. Harsh, considering his main rivals Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh are all multiple major champions in their own right.

Sadly, Woods won’t be at Royal Birkdale next month and we’re highly unlikely to ever see that level of dominance from him – or possibly anyone – ever again. The US Open, though, desperately highlighted the need for golf’s current icons to step up on the biggest occasions and if McIlroy, Johnson, Spieth or Mickelson are to add to their major hauls,
it could do with being at the Open.

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