Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bobby Jones' slam and the near-misses

This year marks the 80th anniversary of Bobby Jones winning golf’s grand slam. In 1930, Jones captured the U.S. and British Open tournaments, and the U.S. and British Amateur championships. Today, the two amateur championships are no longer considered golf majors, having been replaced by the Masters and the PGA Championship.


In 1930, though, there was no Masters (it started in 1934, after Jones, a Georgia native, helped build Augusta National), and the PGA Championship was then a lesser-known, 14-year-old event involving mostly club professionals at a time when pro golfers were considered second-class citizens to the great amateurs of the day.


Whatever you may think of Jones’ accomplishment, it’s worth noting that no golfer since 1930 has won the four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA) in a single year. But who were some of the other golfers who came close?


Tiger Woods’ name immediately jumps to the fore, no pun intended. His 2000 season is considered by some the greatest single season in modern golf. That year, he won the U.S. Open by 15 shots at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Ernie Els of South Africa and Miguel-Angel Jimenez of Spain were a distant second.


Woods then won the British Open at St. Andrews in Scotland by eight strokes, with Els again sharing second, this time with Thomas Bjorn of Denmark. Woods closed out his stellar season by winning the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky in a three-hole playoff with Bob May. In the first major in 2000, Woods was fifth at the Masters, six shots behind winner Vijay Singh.


Woods’ remarkable 2000 campaign drew extra attention after he won the 2001 Masters to simultaneously hold all four majors, although not in a single year. It has become known as the Tiger Slam.


Here are some of other notable near-misses:


1945: Byron Nelson won 18 tournaments that year, including 11 in a row, both tour records. However, due to World War II, there was only one major championship held that year, the PGA, and not surprisingly, Nelson won it. Plus, Ben Hogan, his chief competition, was away at war for the first six months of the year.


1953: Ben Hogan put together arguably the greatest single season between Jones’ in 1930 until Woods’ in 2000. The Texas native played only six events that year but won five, including three majors, the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. He was unable to compete in the PGA because it was held at the same time as the British Open. And, oh yeah, he was 40 years old that year.


1960: Arnold Palmer, as Hogan did in 1953, won the Masters (his second of four Green Jackets) and the U.S. Open (his only win in that event), but wound up second at the British Open, one shot behind Kel Nagle. He also tied for seventh in the PGA, the only major he failed to win in his illustrious career.


1974: Gary Player, like Hogan a man of modest stature with fierce determination, won the Masters and British Open that year, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and finished seventh in the PGA.


1975: Jack Nicklaus, who finished in the top 10 in a remarkable 35 out of 40 appearances in the majors in the 1970s, won the first and last majors that year, the Masters and PGA, and finished seventh in the U.S. Open, two shots back of Lou Graham, and tied for third in the British Open, one stroke behind Tom Watson. Nicklaus also won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1972, finished second in the British Open and tied for 13th in the PGA.


1977: Tom Watson, the gap-toothed boy wonder often hailed as the man who would dethrone Nicklaus, fulfilled a great deal of his promise with four top-10 finishes in the majors. He won the Masters and the second of his five British Open titles. He tied for seventh in the U.S. Open and tied for sixth in the PGA.


1982: Watson again caught fire, winning two majors and placing in the top 10 in the other two. He captured the U.S. Open with a master stroke by holing out a delicate chip for birdie on the next-to-last hole at Pebble Beach, then birdying 18 to beat Nicklaus by two shots. He also won the British Open a fourth time, tied for fifth in the Masters and tied for ninth in the PGA.


2005: Woods’ season was nearly as remarkable as his 2000 assault. He won the Masters and British Open, tied for second in the U.S. Open, two shots behind Michael Campbell, and tied for fourth in the PGA, two strokes behind Phil Mickelson.

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