LITTLE ROCK — Graeme, Louis, Martin, Charl, Rory, Keegan, Bubba or Webb — any of them would be a welcome winner of the British Open this week.
Among casual fans of golf, no one generates a constant buzz. Any of the men mentioned above could spike the flat line by winning his second major.
Other than Phil Mickelson in the 2010 Masters, none of the past 14 winners of golf’s majors has progressed to the center of the world stage and remained prominent. Mickelson separated Graeme, Louis and the others from guys named Trevor, Lucas, Stewart and Yang.
Beginning with Graeme McDowell’s victory in the 2010 U.S. Open and interrupted only by 43-year-old Darren Clarke’s popular triumph at the British in 2011, the winners of the last eight majors are young enough to merit speculation if they craft an individual act two.
McDowell and Bubba Watson , emotional winner of the Masters in April, are the only ones in their 30s; the others — Oosthuizen, Kaymer, Schwartzel, McIlroy, Bradley and Simpson — are in their 20s. Simpson does get a pass for the moment because he is home with his wife who is due to give birth this month.
Ask around about the No. 1 player in the world and the conversation rambles before many settle on an old reliable, Tiger Woods. The only three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, Woods must win a major before I will return to his bandwagon. That might be unfair, but Woods is measured against a different standard, albeit one he established.
Still a crowd favorite, Mickelson has played so poorly that The Associated Press story about the second round of the Scottish Open led with Mickelson even though he was five shots behind the leaders. The news was that he shot 64, breaking par for the first time since May.
Luke Donald, McIlroy and Lee Westwood — 1-3 in the World Golf Rankings — have a hole in their resumes. Donald and Westwood can’t be considered the best until they win a major. So impressive in the U.S. Open last year, McIlroy looked like he might be the one. But, he was 40th at The Masters in April and missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month — performances that eliminate him from the conversation.
There is an argument that lack of follow-up success by the major winners reflects the multitude of talented players around the world. True, but it also punches holes in the aura of the majors. Nicklaus and Hogan and Woods are supposed to be on those trophies; it’s the same with horse racing’s triple crown, where champions are named Citation, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and Secretariat.
McIlroy has the best swing of the recent major winners; Watson has the talent to curve the ball either way, an on-command commodity that is invaluable when the goal is to avoid the more than 200 bunkers at Royal Lytham. On some holes, a ball can be lost 10 yards off the fairway in what is best described as hay.
For Watson and many others, self-restraint is a must.
For instance, he says he can reach the 589-yard seventh in two if he wields his pink driver, but that his plan is to hit something less off the tee to remain short of the bunkers.
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to do that,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
Watson has played in only four events in the last three months, missing the cut in the Memorial and the U.S. Open.
If McIlroy doesn’t get back into his groove or Westwood doesn’t have a much-anticipated breakthrough, the winner is likely to be a player between 25 and 35 who is prominent on the European Tour, but unfamiliar to most golf fans in the U.S. That’s not what golf needs.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.