Surprising snapshot at the majors

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The young lady in the gallery at Oak Hill might not realize this until she gets her film back, but she has quite a memento from the PGA Championship.

Three groups were stacked up on the first tee during a practice round Tuesday when she ducked under the ropes, talked her way past a marshal and asked John Daly to sign her flag.

Autograph in hand, the woman then wanted a picture with Daly. He insisted on a group photo with his playing partners Phil Mickelson and Robert Gamez and any other player on the tee box who wanted to join them.

One did: Shaun Micheel.

He was an insignificant other last Tuesday, the PGA champion by the end of the week.

It just goes to show that in golf especially this year there's no telling who might be the next big attraction.

No one had any reason to believe Micheel would be the final piece of a puzzling season in the major championships.

He spent almost as much time on developmental tours as he did in the big leagues. He had never cracked the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list. Two months ago, Micheel figured this year would end like so many others grinding down the stretch to keep his card.

After four great rounds and one unforgettable shot, Micheel found himself staring at the names already engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy, from Walter Hagen to Sam Snead, from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods.

''I just hope that maybe I can produce a career like a lot of those guys,'' he said.

Ben Curtis was even more obscure. A 26-year-old rookie, he had never finished in the top 10 on the PGA Tour and was No. 396 in the world until winning the British Open.

''Many people are probably saying, 'Well, he doesn't really belong there.' But I know I do,'' Curtis said the day he cradled the claret jug.

No one raised an eyebrow at the other two first-time major winners.

U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk has been a top-10 player the last five years and has played on the last three Ryder Cup teams. He already was considered behind Mickelson the second-best player to have never won a major.

Mike Weir of Canada wasn't far behind. Despite winning only three times coming into this season, one of those was the Tour Championship, another was a World Golf Championship.

The popular reference point last week was 1969, the last time the majors were swept by four guys who had never captured one.

George Archer (Masters) and Orville Moody (U.S. Open) never did anything noteworthy the rest of their careers. Tony Jacklin (British Open) and Raymond Floyd (PGA) are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

No telling what the future holds for the current crop of first-time major winners.

As for why it took 34 years for this to happen, don't waste your time. Golf is loaded with peculiar trends that are not easily explained.

The oddity last year was a record 18 first-time winners on the PGA Tour, presumably because there were more talented players than ever.

What happened to them?

Not only has none of those guys won this year, the focus has shifted to the eight multiple winners on tour, the most at this stage in the season since 1969.

''Just crazy streaks,'' Furyk said. ''You go through different periods where there's going to be a lot of multiple winners, a lot of first-time winners, veterans winning, over-40s winning and a lot of young-20s winning.

''It's like going to Vegas and playing baccarat. You catch red a lot, you catch black a lot. You don't know. It just happens.''

Maybe this would have happened sooner if not for Tiger Woods. No one had much of a chance to capture a first major because Woods was hogging them all. He won seven of 11 majors through the 2002 U.S. Open, which included an unprecedented four in a row.

A year like this should make people appreciate his 2000 season.

Nicklaus was no different. Following that '69 season, he won all four of the majors over the next three years.

A year like this should make people realize that winning 18 majors is no small task.

If anything, a year like this should be a reminder that timing is everything.

Four of the best rounds Curtis played happened to come at Royal St. George's.

Micheel never seriously contended anywhere but the B.C. Open. He arrived at storied Oak Hill Country Club and held the lead over the final 54 holes.

Mickelson has won 21 times on the PGA Tour, the most of any active player besides Woods, yet he has never led a major going into the final round and has held the lead only five times in 160 rounds in the majors.

As annoyed as Woods gets talking about a slump in the majors, he is starting to feel even worse for Mickelson.

''I don't have it anywhere near as difficult as Phil has it,'' Woods said. ''He's going to win one because he has too much talent. It's just a matter of time.''

It just hasn't been the right time for Lefty.

Not this year, anyway.

Doug Ferguson covers golf for The Associated Press.

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