Martin Dempster: Major turnover points to healthy game
IF VARIETY is indeed the spice of life, then it’s certainly advantage golf over tennis at the moment. The past 15 majors/grand slams in the two sports tell different stories in terms of predictability when it comes to potential winners.
In tennis, those titles have been shared mainly between three players – Rafa Nadal winning six of them and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic bagging four apiece. For the record, Juan Martin del Porto, the 2009 US Open champion, is the only player to have broken the monopoly that trio have on the sport right now.
In golf, however, the top titles have been shared around since Tiger Woods lost his cloak of invincibility after reaching the 14-major mark four years ago.
With Webb Simpson’s victory in the US Open in San Francisco, the sequence of different winners has been stretched to 15. Not since Padraig Harrington won the Open Championship and USPGA Championship in 2008 has the same player claimed the spotlight in the four big ones.
In 2009, Angel Cabrera (Masters), Lucas Glover (US Open), Stewart Cink (Open) and Y E Yang (USPGA) claimed the crowns. The following year they went to Phil Mickelson (Masters), Graeme McDowell (US Open), Louis Oosthuizen (Open) and Martin Kaymer (USPGA).
The trend continued last year when Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (US Open), Darren Clarke (Open) and Keegan Bradley (USPGA) emerged with the top titles.
Now Bubba Watson’s win in this year’s Masters coupled with Simpson’s success at the Olympic Club have provided more evidence about the changing face of the sport.
Perhaps that’s what inspired Sky’s package from California occasionally including a morphing sequence of some the game’s leading players that ended up, a tad scarily some would cheekily suggest, as Colin Montgomerie.
Is it healthy for so many different major champions to have been crowned in the past few years? Of course, it is. When Woods was in full flow, it was exciting to see him clock up wins with gay abandon. Jack Nicklaus, too. And there are plenty out there who won’t be happy until Woods wins again on the major stage to kick-start his bid to catch Nicklaus.
Yet golf, like any other sport, can’t afford to be about one individual. We want to be heading into majors with fields that are wide open rather than players being intimidated, as it once seemed, when Tiger was on the prowl. All 15 of those different winners listed above were worthy champions, having proved themselves in the heat of battle over four days.
In tennis, the All England Championships start at Wimbledon next Monday. Based on the aforementioned stats, it will be a shock of cataclysmic proportions if it’s not either Nadal, Djokovic or Federer who emerges as the champion.
Yet, when golf’s third major of the year, the Open Championship tees off at Royal Lytham next month, you could probably pick from as many as 30 players, if not more, as a potential Claret Jug winner.
And it is not as though majors have turned into events that have become easier to win. Simpson’s success on Sunday was secured because he the dug the deepest on a testing final day to pip three players who know what it takes to get over the finishing line in these events and, in particular, the US Open – Jim Furyk, McDowell and Ernie Els all being former champions.
Was it an exciting finale? Probably not. And there’s no way you could ask players to face an examination week after week where sloping fairways make it so difficult to keep shots on the cut stuff. Yet that shouldn’t detract from Simpson becoming the latest member of the major club, something that you feel has to happen to Lee Westwood before he disappears into the sunset.
While Luke Donald’s performances in majors is beginning to cause this correspondent concern, Westwood, on the other hand, can head for Lytham in a few weeks’ time feeling more confident than ever that his time will eventually come.
In terms of driving accuracy and overall ball-striking, he’s almost in a class of his own at the moment. He just needs one of those good puttings weeks he has every now and again in the week of a major and he’ll land the reward he richly deserves.
As the major caravan prepares to move on to Lytham, at least the world’s oldest major will restore our faith in how golf fans should behave at these events. Over the years, we’ve become used to the Americans behaving like muppets with their cries of ‘get in the hole’. Heck, we even heard that when players were teeing off at the 670-yard monster that was the 16th at the Olympic Club.
But this lot lowered the bar to a new low with their idiotic hooping and hollering that even included one clown bellowing out the Flinstone’s catchphrase ‘yabba dabba doo’!
It’s time officials at one tournament in the States made an example of these people as that’s the only way it’s going to be stopped.
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