Four up, four down. The major championships for 2016 are complete. The year isn’t over yet but honestly, it’s all downhill from here for serious fans, no matter what happens at the Olympics, in the FedEx Cup playoffs or at the Ryder Cup or the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Here are my major takeaways from this year’s majors:
The Big None: The expiration date of the Big Three nickname has passed. Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy were a Big Three in 2015, but they combined for zero major titles in 2016. Spieth lost a Masters, Day got edged in the PGA and Rory disappointed in all four. There’s no Big Anything. Let’s lose the hype and the forced marketing phrases and, go ahead and say it: Make Golf Great Again.
The Greatest Year That Wasn’t: A few things go the other way and Spieth, Day and Phil Mickelson join Dustin Johnson on the major-champion roll in 2016. You can’t improve on that group for marquee value unless you throw in a player nicknamed after a wild animal.
Couching Tiger: Tiger Woods barely made more than a cameo this year. He hit a few shots at the opening of a par-3 course at his new Bluejack National outside Houston and shared a nice moment with a youngster who aced the opening hole. Later, Tiger dunked a couple of shots into the water at Congressional in a promotion for his Quicken Loans National event. Otherwise, the swings we saw told us he’s not close to returning to competitive golf. The cleverest T-shirt seen at the PGA Championship: Make Tiger Great Again. At home on the couch is not where the game wants Tiger spending most of his time.
Sunday Will Never Be the Same: Other sports stop the action and use instant replay to correct calls. Golf does not, and we learned the hard way that has to change after the USGA made a colossal mistake in the Johnson moving-ball fiasco at the U.S. Open and caused further controversy in how it assessed a penalty in the playoff at the U.S. Women’s Open. A rules official in a TV booth is needed, something like the NFL and Major League Baseball use, to make an immediate decision, especially during a final round. The score of the U.S. Open leader being in limbo during the final round was a travesty, and that should never happen again. Note to USGA rules committee members: While we’re young ...
April Rules Day: Can we agree that the rule about a ball moving on a green must be changed? In addition to Johnson, Shane Lowry, who tied for second at the U.S. Open, took a penalty for such an infraction. Is this really how you want to go about crowning your champion? At the Masters, Billy Horschel’s ball moved while he was lining up a putt and rolled into a pond. No normal person (that’s obviously not you, rules wonks) thinks that is fair. Here’s the simple solution: If a ball moves on the green and a player didn’t hit it or wasn’t attempting to make a stroke, replace the ball in its original position without penalty.
Johnny Be Gone: The record of 63 in a major championship was set by Johnny Miller at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. It has been matched 29 times in the 174 major since, and it’s just a matter of time before somebody shoots 62. Robert Streb posted a 63 at Baltusrol, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson did it at Royal Troon without having to hit many drivers and Hiroshi Iwata did it at last year’s PGA. When Jason Day can reach Baltusrol's par-5 18th in two with a couple of long irons, it’s obvious that major venues can’t keep up with the game’s distance revolution. Get ready: Somebody will shoot a 61 within two years.
Julius Be Gone: The next major mark most likely to be broken is that for oldest champion. Julius Boros was 48 when he outdueled Arnold Palmer at the 1968 PGA. A pair of players have won majors at 46: Jack Nicklaus at the ’86 Masters and Old Tom Morris at the British Open in ’67—1867. Mickelson, 46, shot 63, then pushed Stenson to the final hole at Royal Troon, giving us no reason to think he can’t keep contending. Don’t bet against Phil becoming the second-oldest major champ in 2017.
Major Shot(s) of the Year: Unfortunately, the most memorable moment belongs to Spieth. Leading the Masters by two on Sunday, he hit his tee shot into Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th, then chunked another one into the water and made 7. Runner-up is Jimmy Walker’s three-footer for the win at Baltusrol. Third might be Mickelson’s power lip-out for 62 in the opening round at Royal Troon.
One-Hit Wonders: Golf in the post-Tiger era (since 2009) suggests that you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for this year’s major champions to snag a second one. Twenty-one of the last 32 major champions were first-time winners ,and the only players to win at least one more are McIlroy (four), Spieth, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer. Of this year’s major champs, Johnson has to be the favorite to bag another.
Quite a Round: The best 66 at Augusta National this year? It belonged to veteran sportswriter (and SI alum) Dan Jenkins, who covered his 66th Masters. That mark is untouchable, if not dead solid perfect.