Major Hangover

If history is any indicator, Phil’s chances at a three in a row are pretty slim. Only two before have done it and to make things worse only five golfers since 1978 have won a second major in the same year they won the Masters.

The Numbers GameCody talked about a Major Surpise… some of you think that Phil can seriously make a run at the Grand Slam. When one of the top players has their game peaking and seems to be on a roll, why not?

Well, not only do you have quite a few great golfers going after the same trophy but usually a peak has a sharp drop off as well. Only a few golfers in the history of the game have been able to keep their play at a high level after winning a major. With Phil, anything can happen, but the numbers don’t look like they are in his favor.

If you want to know what I’m talking about, here is a nice compilation of the results of golf’s four majors since their inception as a Grand Slam. There are a few things, to me, that show just how tough it will be for Phil, or anyone for that matter, to not only win consecutive majors but all four within a calendar year.

Post-Masters Syndrome (PMS)
Just because you win the greatest golf tournament in the world does not mean you’re ready for great play in the rest of the year’s majors. Only four times since 1978 has someone won the Masters and another major in the same year. They are:

Year     Golfer     Other Major
----     ------     -----------
2005     Woods      British Open
2002     Woods      US Open
1998     O'Meara    British Open
1990     Faldo      British Open

(Of course, it’s a bit of a quirk that the “Tiger Slam” started with the first major after the 2000 Masters, making all three of Woods’ major wins in 2000 ineligible for consideration here.)

The greatest golfers may rise to the top in the majors, but for the same person every time to do so requires some very special play. Does this mean that Phil can’t do it? No, but the odds are not in his favor.

Here’s another bit of data to chew on.

Year     Golfer
----     ------
2002     Tiger Woods
1972     Jack Nicklaus
1960     Arnold Palmer
1953     Ben Hogan
1951     Ben Hogan
1941     Craig Wood

What do they all have in common? They were the only players to win the first two majors (Masters and the US Open) in the same year. Not a bad list to be on, huh? Of course, I’m not sure who Craig Wood is, but the rest of the list is pretty strong. From there, only Hogan in 1953 was able to win the third major, the British Open.

Tiger holding all four trophies at the same time is really impressive. Heck, Phil winning two in a row is impressive as well. But I’ll be flabbergasted if he can win his third in a row at Merion come June…

Tiger or the Rest of the Field?
So who do you take? When Tiger was on his run, most of the pundits were taking Tiger. Nowadays, it’s a different story altogether.

First off, you have the “other” side of the big four. Retief, Ernie, Vijay, and Phil… who again has won the last two in a row. These guys all have great odds in any tournament they enter. Some people would now take those three against Tiger and forget the rest of the field. Interesting concept, but you can’t ignore over 100 other golfers.

How about the rest of the field? The odds are very high… and I mean very high that there will be a first-time winner in a major every year. In fact there have only been three years since the four tournaments have been in existence that there has not been a first-time winner. Here is a list of those with the number of majors won at that point in parenthesis:

Year   Masters         US Open         British       PGA
----   -------         -------         -------       ---
2000   Singh (2)       Tiger (3)       Tiger (4)     Tiger (5) 
1980   Seve B. (2)     Nicklaus (16)   Watson (4)    Nicklaus (17) 
1972   Nicklaus (10)   Nicklaus (11)   Trevino (4)   Player (6)

Three times in 73 years we have not had a first-time winner. For those readers lacking ready access to a calculator, that’s a whopping 4.1% of the time. I’d lay down some good money that in the next three majors this year we’ll see someone hoist one of those trophies for the first time. Heck, in 2003 we had four first-time winners in Weir, Furyk, Curtis, and Micheel.

Your Next Major Winner Is?
I have no clue. Nobody outside of New Zealand picked Michael Campbell to win at Pinehurst last year and I certainly don’t expect him to repeat. Phil has won two in a row, but only two guys (Woods and Hogan) have ever won three straight. He might be able to, but Phil has always been on the outside looking in when it comes to the US Open.

I want to say it will be Tiger (go figure), but he seems to be occupied with more important things right now like bungee ju, uh, I mean his father’s failing health. Something in me just doesn’t believe it will come from Tiger or the other big four.

Will it be one of the first-time major winners? There was a stretch from 1992 to 1996 that had five straight of them. Since then, there have been only three: Furyk, Goosen, and Campbell. If I had to pick one person to break through, I’ve had my eye on Scott Verplank for a while now. Of course, the US Open is a ways off and a lot can happen between now and then. Until the week or so before Winged Foot, I’ll keep my eyes open for some more numbers… but I still think Phil has history – and the numbers – working against him.

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