Keeping Score

16 - Major drama gives 2018 its stripes

Looking back, the 2018 golf year had one player’s name stamped all over it. I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Liger.

Yeah, that was a layup. If you didn’t deduce the answer, go back to reading Bowling Digest. Tiger Woods had a surprising and memorable year. He made an unlikely comeback from back issues and stamped his pawprints all over golf.

Instead of reliving Woods’ greatest hits, though, let’s examine 2018’s major championships and rank the best 16 majors. I’m counting four men’s, five women’s, five senior men’s majors and two senior women’s events for this exercise. I ranked them based on drama, suspense, historical significance and memorability.

Start the countdown…

16. U.S. Senior Women’s Open: It was nice to see golf’s grandest women finally get a curtain call at a classic, Chicago Golf Club, but we knew who the winner was going to be before they teed off. Laura Davies breezed home by 10 shots. There’s no depth in senior women’s golf yet, but now that there’s a big reason to keep playing, just wait.

15. Regions Tradition: This is the senior major most often forgotten. Miguel Angel Jimenez steamrolled to a three-stroke victory at Greystone in Birmingham, Ala., after an opening 64 and a 17-under blitz through three rounds. Golf finally got a major champion who wears a ponytail, smokes cigars and likes fine wine. Sweet.

14. Senior PGA: The final-round drama level was near zero at Michigan’s Harbor Shores. England’s Paul Broadhurst checked for early flights home after a 1-over opening round. Then he played 20 under during the next three days, featuring a closing 63, to win by four. “I just wish I played like this on the main tour 20 years ago,” Broadhurst said jokingly. Nick Faldo is glad that you didn’t.

13. Ricoh Women’s British Open: Six birdies over the closing round meant 22-year-old Georgia Hall could bogey the final hole and still win by two. Wayne Hall, the father of the rising English star, caddied for his daughter, who was born during Faldo’s 1996 Masters victory and named for Augusta National’s home state.

12. Senior Women’s LPGA: Davies won again, this time by four strokes over Helen Alfredsson at French Lick (Ind.) Resort. It was No. 86 in the worldwide victory column for the popular Davies. This was the first year for multiple majors in senior women’s golf, and Davies won both. What do we call that, a Laura Slam?

11. Senior British Open: A close match featured some shaky putting over the closing nine, but Jimenez ground out a 3-under 69 to edge ageless Bernhard Langer at St. Andrews’ Old Course. “This is the place where everyone wants to win, where Seve [Ballesteros] won his second Open Championship,” said Jimenez, saluting his late Spanish compatriot. “It feels like I am part of history.” It smelled like victory … and cigars.

10. Senior Players: You’d have to call Vijay Singh a disappointment as a senior golfer, considering that 22 of his 34 PGA Tour victories came when he was in his 40s. When he shot 20 under at Exmoor Country Club near Chicago and beat Jeff Maggert with a birdie on the second playoff hole, Singh recorded his first senior major and only his third senior title. Don’t rush him. He’s a late-bloomer.

9. Evian Championship: Though it’s debatable whether this event in France should carry a major designation, it featured major drama at the end. Angela Stanford scored her first victory since 2012 and her first major by surviving a double bogey at the 16th hole and then watching as Amy Olson, needing a par to win outright, hooked a drive, failed to get out of the rough and three-putted for double bogey to lose outright. That might leave a mark.

8. KPMG Women’s PGA: Sung Hyun Park made one of the year’s best escapes in the final round at Kemper Lakes when she wedged out of the weeds to 3 feet to save par at the 16th. The South Korean, who owns one of golf’s best-looking swings, defeated fellow South Korean So Yeon Ryu with a 10-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole. Tears of joy followed, with no interpreter required.

7. U.S. Senior Open: A classic dogpile as players were within a stroke of the lead down the home stretch at The Broadmoor. David Toms made a big birdie at 16 and added two clutch pars coming in to edge Jimenez, Jerry Kelly and Tim Petrovic by one. It was the first victory in seven years for Toms, whose caddie left early in the week with chest pains. Toms’ son replaced him. How’s that for a cool father-son moment in the winner’s circle?

6. U.S. Women’s Open: Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn had an Arnold Palmer-esque finish at Shoal Creek. Like Palmer at Olympic Club in the 1966 U.S. Open, Jutanugarn lost a seven-stroke lead over the final nine. Unlike Palmer, who lost a next-day playoff to Billy Casper, the 22-year-old Jutanugarn rebounded to win the USGA’s first-ever two-hole aggregate-format playoff, on the fourth extra hole with a bunker shot to a foot to save par. Hyo-Joo Kim, also in a bunker, missed her par putt. Jutanugarn’s adventure in one word: Whew!

5. Masters: It was as tense as it was lovely, as usual. Jordan Spieth charged home with a 64 that easily could’ve been lower. Rickie Fowler birdied the final hole, which forced Augusta State alumnus Patrick Reed to make par for his first major title. Spieth began the final round nine strokes back and briefly tied for the lead with a birdie at 16. Reed hadn’t broken 70 in 12 previous Masters rounds but lit up Augusta National on a 66-67 spurt in the second and third rounds. He played the final seven holes in a smooth 2 under after a rocky start, and lived up to his own world “top five” billing.

4. ANA Inspiration: This one ranks among the wildest donnybrooks ever and had a Fleck-beats-Hogan flavor. It went eight playoff holes at Mission Hills and was won by a 30-foot dagger birdie putt. The winner was a 31-year-old unknown, Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg, who hadn’t won in her first 193 LPGA starts. It featured a Monday morning finish after darkness halted play Sunday night following the first four extra holes. Jennifer Song was eliminated early, then Lindberg knocked off the Queen of the Hill, seven-time major champion Inbee Park, for the title. “I couldn’t believe that last one went in,” Lindberg said. Cinderella rocks.

3. U.S. Open: OK, so there wasn’t a dramatic winning shot, and if you remember any one stroke from Shinnecock Hills, it’s probably Tommy Fleetwood’s near-miss for 62 or Phil Mickelson’s third-round tantrum when he intentionally struck a moving ball after missing a putt. But Brooks Koepka made history as the first back-to-back U.S. Open champ in 29 years. The Fox Sports commentator covering the final-round pairing and who was there to hug Koepka behind the 18th green was Curtis Strange, the last to win back-to-back Opens. Call it cosmic karma.

Brooks Koepka
With the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy in hand, Brooks Koepka wins a 2nd major title of the year and earns the moniker of ‘Mr. Clutch.’

2. British Open: Earth tilted on its axis when Tiger Woods made the turn with the lead in the final round at Carnoustie. Holy tornado! Could this really be No. 15, the Comeback of the Millennium, and a resumption of the historic pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and 18 majors? Almost. Instead, Cinderella had an Italian accent. Francesco Molinari, one of golf’s finest ball-strikers, showed off his formidable new putting prowess and snagged his first major while Woods faltered just enough to come up short. You may now exhale, earthlings.

1. PGA Championship: That crazy planet-tilty feeling returned when Woods made eight final-round birdies, shot 6-under 64 and chased Koepka all the way to the Bellerive clubhouse. It felt like old times except for the part in which the leader didn’t slip up after feeling heat from Woods. “Tiger pushes you to step up your game, because you know he’s right there if you fall,” Koepka said. What’s a guy got to do to get some respect besides win back-to-back U.S. Opens, two majors in one season and look like he might blow past Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Mickelson and others on the major-victory list? You can debate the stats about who is golf’s real No. 1 player. Golf’s real Mr. Clutch is Koepka. He proved it.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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