Keeping Score

Best player in ’17 majors? Don’t be surprised

It easily generated more aficionado angst and outright beefing than any other major in 2017, to the point where it practically drowned out the accomplishments of the winner.

The historically easy course setup at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in June gave bombers open access to unusually generous fairways, which fit Brooks Koepka, who mashed his way to a tournament-record-tying victory at 16 under.

It also gave the rising star from Florida an insurmountable leg up on another majors race: the year-end, sustained-excellence award amassed upon the game’s greatest stages. Over the seasonal arc, the winner in Wisconsin was the big cheese at the season’s four biggest events, too.

Only 27, Koepka finished with the lowest cumulative score relative to par among the players who made the cut at all four major championships, claiming the mythical Summative Slam title by a stroke over Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Matt Kuchar.

Following his scorching total at Erin Hills, Koepka finished the majors year at even par on Sunday at the PGA Championship for a cumulative 21 under. Surprising? Not really. The former European developmental-tour player teed it up on the weekend at all four majors in 2015, too, finishing a cumulative sixth on the overall list that season at a rock-solid 20 under.

However, to those paying close attention, Kuchar and Matsuyama were more of a consistent presence on the Grand Slam leaderboards in 2017 than was Koepka. In fact, Matsuyama and Kuchar were the only players to finish under par at all four majors, with Kuchar amassing three top-nine finishes.

Then again, Koepka only twice in his young career has played all four majors in a season – and he has made the cut in all eight tries, suggesting that more titles could be on the way. He has six top-10 finishes in the majors over the past four years, and didn’t finish worse than 13th at a slam event in 2017.

To make the cumulative list, a player had to complete the weekend at all four slam events. Here is the comprehensive leaderboard, with scores ranked relative to par at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA, respectively:

1. Brooks Koepka, U.S. (-1/-16/-4/E = -21)
2. Matt Kuchar, U.S. (-5/-5/-9/-1 = -20)
Hideki Matsuyama, Japan (-1/-12/-2/-5 = -20)
4. Rickie Fowler, U.S. (-1/-10/E/-5 = -16)
5. Jordan Spieth, U.S. (-1/+1/-12/+2 = -10)
6. Paul Casey, England (-4/-2/-3/E = -9)
7. Charley Hoffman, U.S. (+2/-9/-1/+5 = -3)
8. Steve Stricker, U.S. (E/-5/+2/+6 = +3)
Marc Leishman, Australia (+8/-1/-4/E = +3)
10. J.B. Holmes, U.S. (+11/-7/+4/+2 = +10)
11. Russell Henley, U.S. (-1/-1/+2/+12 = +12)
12. Kevin Kisner, U.S. (+8/+8/+4/-4 = +16)
13. Lee Westwood, England (+1/+7/+1/+11 = +20)

While Rickie Fowler remains a popular pick as the best player who hasn’t yet gone home with majors chrome, Matsuyama is right on his spiked heels. Fowler, who won the 2014 Summative Slam with four top-five finishes, placed fourth this season. Matsuyama posted two top-five finishes in 2017. 

There were notable performances this year from two members of the graybeard society, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood. Stricker, who will serve as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team this fall, made the cut in all four majors this season for the fourth time this decade, which isn’t bad for a 50-year-old. Westwood, 44, made the cut at all four majors for a third consecutive year.

For Jordan Spieth, the accomplishments keep piling up. Lacking only the PGA’s Wanamaker Trophy for a career Grand Slam, Spieth, 24, finished fifth on the aggregate majors list, thanks mainly to his 12-under victory at the British Open. He has played on the weekend at every major dating to the Masters in 2015, a season in which he finished an incomprehensible 54 under at the slam events on his way to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

While Sunday’s final round at the PGA ended in disappointment for late-blooming veteran Kevin Kisner, who tied for seventh after holding the 54-hole lead, he is one of only three players to have made the weekend at all four majors in 2016 and ’17, joining Westwood and Spieth.

It was a great year for the Yanks, who picked off nine of the 13 Summative Slam chart slots after claiming seven of 14 in 2016 and eight of 18 in 2015. Americans claimed three of the four major titles, each won by a player age 27 or younger.

Taking the long view, it’s interesting to note that the total number of Summative Slam survivors rarely deviates much from this year’s total of 13. In fact, beginning in 2011, an average of 13.15 players annually have managed to play on the weekend at every slam event. Over the previous 10 years, from 2000 to 2009, an average of 12.4 players made the cut at all four.

Five players finished even par or better at all four slam events: Matsuyama, Kuchar, Koepka, Fowler and England’s Paul Casey.

The hard-luck award this season? It has to be handed to European Tour standout Bernd Wiesberger, who made the cut in the first three majors, then missed by a stroke last weekend at Quail Hollow after making a bogey on his final hole Friday. He was a cumulative 11 over at the first three slam events of the season.

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling


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