Carnoustie 1999, Turnberry 2009, Whistling Straits 2010.
Not the only cases, but key examples of major championships more recognised for the man who did not win –Jean van de Velde, Tom Watson, Dustin Johnson – than the one who did. As unfair and unfortunate as that situation is, it represents a blunt reality which grates with victors.
Martin Kaymer is not the type to display annoyance in public. He is, in fact, one of the most calm, measured and articulate sportsmen in the world. It was notable, then, to hear the German admit to frustration on Wednesday over Johnson’s position as the key reference point from five years ago. Here we are, back in Wisconsin for a US PGA Championship at which the burgeoning rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, it is hoped, will reach its most significant point.
But first, the inevitable glance backwards. The 2010 scenario is well-versed. Johnson was issued with a retrospective two-shot penalty for grounding his club in what was controversially deemed a bunker in the rough wide of the 18th hole at Whistling Straits. Kaymer later prevailed in a three-hole play-off with Bubba Watson, a feat achieved in part by a five-iron tee shot to the 17th which was one of the most glorious hits in this, or any other, era with pressure of situation taken into account. Instead of that, it is Johnson’s tale of woe that has resonated.
“It is a little sad that every time I speak about the PGA Championship it’s like Dustin threw it away,” Kaymer said.
“Of course, if he had holed a putt on 18 and not had the penalty he would have won the tournament. The penalty was very unlucky. The putt? It was just a regular putt that he missed.
“It was very unfortunate for him but on the other hand, knowing the player he is, he will be in that position again. If it was a player who will never be there again, you would feel very, very sorry for them. He is going to be there again and he will win a major eventually.
“Dustin will have a good chance to win here this week. It would be quite a funny story if he wins here. It was sad to see, you don’t wish that on anyone.
“It’s just a little sad that every time you talk about Whistling Straits people say that he would have won. He would have been in the playoff [without the penalty]. And it would still have been Bubba, Dustin and me. That’s the only thing that’s a little strange.”
Fittingly, this marks the culmination of a curious major year. The build-up to the Masters was utterly dominated by talk of McIlroy’s quest to complete a career grand slam at the age of just 25. That he did not accomplish it owed plenty to the intensity attached to potential achievement.
Spieth subsequently came to the fore; a position he has not relinquished over the intervening four months. The young Texan’s coach, Cameron McCormick, succinctly explained this week’s plan: “Keep on riding that bike downhill.”
Others have found it incredibly difficult to knock Spieth off course. McIlroy, only recently so detached at the top of the world rankings, now has a live threat.
At the US Open the dismal state of the Chambers Bay greens and discord over a quirky set-up overshadowed a gripping tournament. The Open Championship regressed into the realms of the chaotic because of wind and rain, prompting a Monday finish that thankfully was at least worth the wait.
There must be another weather watch at Whistling Straits. The threat of 25mph gusts and “possible” thunderstorms on Thursday will not be music to the ears of competitors. If forecasts are to be believed, four different winds will be served up over as many tournament days.
Some would have you believe this stunning venue is links in nature. The notion has been swatted aside by players, the Open champion Zach Johnson included.
“Links golf is using the land, using trajectory control, running things on the green, using the bounces and the rolls,” he explained. “This course is all aerial. You have to hit it here to hit it there. It may look like links standing from the clubhouse looking down, but it does not play like a true links course.”
Some have specific fondness for courses designed by Pete Dye. McIlroy can be counted among them, such was the ease of his US PGA success at Kiawah Island in 2012. Others are models of major consistency; Jason Day, for example, has recorded nine top-10 finishes in 20 such starts.
“I think it’s good to be consistent because every once in a while you can catch lightning in a bottle,” Day said. “I don’t want to be that one-hit wonder and just kind of go off in the distance.
“I want to be a dominant player and I want to be able to, in big tournaments like this, be able to close and win; not only one major but more consecutive majors, two, three, four.”
It is difficult to foresee an outsider prevailing, such is the depth of talent at the summit of world golf. Perhaps Justin Thomas, a 22-year-old with a PGA Tour scoring average of under 70 and a level of driving distance which can only be beneficial on such relatively soft surfaces, is the best placed of that group.
Tiger Woods will make his last major appearance before turning 40, a key juncture in history for those who have lived through his imperious march towards golfing domination and subsequent decline. The general 80-1 for a Woods win only endorses the theory that bookmakers are seldom wrong.
Not since 1982 have American golfers swept up every major. With three out of four this year, that feat is again within reach. The wider hope must be that Whistling Straits in 2015 is most notable for the winner, a sentiment with which Kaymer, and probably even Johnson himself, would concur.
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