Sports / Golf

A Major Shift To Parity

By Reuters In Springfield, Illinois (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-03 07:39

First-time champions disrupting Big Three dominance of big events

The golf year started with buzz about the dominance of a new Big Three of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy that echoed the storied days of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

The major championship season ended, however, with four first-time major winners, as American Jimmy Walker capped a grand slam sweep for debutants at the PGA Championship, where the Texan toughed it out over a 36-hole final day to triumph.

The results in the majors suggest that parity has returned in the post-Tiger Woods era.

The victory by Walker, 37, followed Englishman Danny Willett at the Masters, American Dustin Johnson at the US Open and Sweden's Henrik Stenson at the British Open, striking four hefty blows for those on the 'yet to win a major' list.

"I think it shows that everybody out here is really good, and everybody's got a chance to win," Walker said after a bogey-free final round at rain-battered Baltusrol, capped by a title-clinching three-foot par putt that kept world No 1 Day at bay.

Day, who won the PGA last year at Whistling Straits for his long-awaited first major victory, showed off his wondrous talent and competitive grit by turning up the heat on Walker, firing a 2-iron to the green on the par-5 last hole and draining the putt for eagle to force Walker to make par for the win.

The 28-year-old Australian said he pleased by the way he played in defense of his PGA title and said expectations might have been driven too high by the exploits of Woods in his heyday.

Woods dominated for more than a decade, winning 14 majors between 1997 and 2008, while nobody else among active players has more than the five majors collected by Phil Mickelson.

"I think everyone expects if you're in the lead or if you're a favorite to win, they expect you to win, and if you don't, then you're in a slump," said Day.

"I think the bar's been raised ever since Tiger kind of came around.

"It's very, very difficult to win tournaments. Golf is a very difficult game, on top of trying to manage the mental part of it."

Day had the best 2016 majors season of the Big Three, finishing second by one shot at the PGA, threatening at the US Open in the final round before tying for eighth and finishing tied for 10th at Augusta.

Spieth, who won the Masters and US Open in 2015, seemed a lock to repeat at Augusta National as he carried a five-shot lead into the back nine on Sunday. But a quadruple-bogey seven on the par-three 12th, where he blasted two shots into the water, left him trailing by three on his way to a tie for second.

McIlroy's best major was a tie for fifth at the British Open, but he never threatened, finishing 16 shots off the pace.

"I think the winners that you've got this year just go to show you it's been so varied," said Willett, 28, who had four wins on the European Tour before his Augusta victory.

"Obviously Henrik being 40 and finally capturing a major, surprising it's his first because of how good of a player he is. And obviously Dustin has come so close over the last five or six years, to finally polish one off.

"I think it just goes to show the strength and depth throughout golf at the moment."

Four-time major winner McIlroy concurred. "There's no doubt that the fields are very deep. You know, any number of guys can turn up on a major championship week and win," the Northern Irishman said at Baltusrol.

Spain's Sergio Garcia, long on the list of 'best players yet to win a major', blamed the media for all the hoopla over the Big Three.

"I think it's something that you guys have always done," he said. "You've always kind of gone with the Big Three or the Big Four or the Big Five or whatever.

"At the end of the day, on my behalf, the only thing I can do is keep improving, keep getting better, keep doing what I know how to do and then the rest doesn't really affect that much.

"It's nice to see new major winners, but every week is a new world. Every week is a different story."

 A Major Shift To Parity

This season's four major winners, clockwise from the top: Jimmy Walker (PGA Championship), Henrik Stenson (British Open), Danny Willett (Masters) and Dustin Johnson (US Open) Agencies

A Major Shift To Parity

(China Daily 08/03/2016 page22)

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