The grades are in; here’s how 10 bold-faced names fared in the big four tournaments in 2015.
Jordan Spieth, A+
Led wire-to-wire in runaway Masters victory; 18-under total tied for best ever at Augusta. Won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay without his best stuff. Showed admirable fight amid spitting rain, howling wind and bad breaks at the British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he missed the playoff by a shot. And finished second, at 17 under par, at the PGA at Whistling Straits, which easily would have won the 2004 and 2010 PGAs there. His 54 under total bested, by one, Tiger Woods in 2000. Spieth did not split the atom, run a sub-four-minute mile or fix the Chambers Bay greens with the heeling power of his feet. But we’ll let it slide.
Jason Day, A
Fought through vertigo to shoot a third-round 68 and take a share of the lead into the final round of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he shot 74 and faded to a tie for ninth. Did everything but win at the British at St. Andrews (T4), leaving his birdie putt a few inches short to miss the playoff by a shot. Set a new mark for low scoring at the majors with winning 20-under total at PGA. His body of work was not as impressive as Spieth’s, but can you blame him? A total of 35 under at the majors, second best to Spieth, and a breakthrough W at Whistling Straits is nothing to sneeze at. Cry at? Yes.
Zach Johnson, A-
His final-round 66, coupled with his birdie-birdie start in the four-hole aggregate playoff, made Johnson’s performance in winning the British Open at St. Andrews one of the best ever bad-weather rounds. Otherwise, though, his body of work was uneven. He tied for ninth at the Masters but did little more than make the cut at the U.S. Open (T72). And his ragged missed cut at the PGA at Whistling Straits (75-72), where he was wild with the driver, was unlike him. Still, as Tiger Woods used to say, any season with a major trophy is a very good season, indeed.
Louis Oosthuizen, B+
He tied for 19th at the Masters and 30th at the PGA Championship, but it was what King Louis did at the middle two majors, T2s at the U.S. and British Opens, that turned heads. In fact, had he not gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Oosthuizen might have won. He, Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods shot 77, 81 and 80, respectively, in round one, an almost comical race to the bottom in which they seemed to be urging one another on to ever worse shots. Oosthuizen stormed back, though, firing rounds of 66-66-67 to finish a shot back. And he gets bonus points for knocking in a clutch, 18th-hole birdie putt to get into the aggregate playoff at the British Open a month later.
Justin Rose, B+
England’s Rose was consistently very good all year long, with ties for second, sixth and 27th at the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. And he was fourth alone at the PGA at the Straits. He was a cumulative 34 under par in the majors, which as The New York Times pointed out was the fourth-lowest total ever. But does anyone care? He won’t get a trophy for it. Timing is everything, and in 2015 the level of play was such that Rose, even with his consistency, never had a chance to win as he came to the 18th hole Sunday.
Rickie Fowler, B-
He tied for 12th at the Masters but shot a ghastly opening-round 81 and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. He finished T30 at the British Open and PGA. All in all he had a much better year in the majors in 2014, when he finished in the top five in all four of them, but Fowler’s electric performance in winning the Players Championship, where he went 8 under for his last 10 holes, was unforgettable. And surely, in some alternate universe, the Players Championship really is a major. Isn’t it?
Adam Scott, C+
The good news was Scott reunited with caddie Steve Williams to tie for fourth at the U.S. Open at Chambers, a result that was highlighted by a final-round 64. He also tied for 10th at the British. The bad news was Scott looked pretty average otherwise, with a T38 at the Masters—not so great in light of what he’d done there two years earlier—and a missed cut at the PGA. Now he’s got to give up the long wand in accordance with the USGA’s anchoring ban, which takes effect starting next year. Yikes. C’mon, Aussie.
Rory McIlroy, C-
He fired a third-round 61 in winning the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow, a course that is slated to host the 2017 PGA Championship. As for this year’s major venues, well, Rory wasn’t himself: T4 at the Masters (but never in contention); T9 at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where he made a brief run up the leaderboard on Sunday; a scratch at the British Open after wrecking his ankle playing soccer; and a rusty 17th place finish at the PGA at the Straits. How might the lad have fared at the Old Course at St. Andrews, a track that suits his game perfectly? Sigh. We’ll never know.
Phil Mickelson, C-
Lefty’s winless streak is at two years and counting, but Mickelson at least tied for second at the Masters, his 14-under total leaving him four back. Sadly for Phil fans there weren’t many highlights otherwise: T64 at the U.S. Open, T20 at the British; and T18 at the PGA Championship. The Hall of Famer vowed to make up for his winless 2014 with a big 2015, the way he’d bounced back from bad seasons earlier in his career, but at 45 he seems to have succumbed to father time. At least he didn’t hurt himself playing soccer.
Tiger Woods, D-
Okay, sure, only a softy would withhold an F grade for Woods, but here’s the thing: He not only fixed his short-game yips to finish 17th at the Masters, he kept showing up and kept trying at the season’s other three majors even though he must have been appalled by his scores. (We were.) What was the low point? Was it his opening-round 80 at the U.S. Open at Chambers, where he was overheard telling Fowler he couldn’t seem to find what he was supposed to aim at? Was it that he seemed to suffer stage fright at the British Open? That he missed the cut in three straight majors for the first time in his career? There’s nowhere to go but up, or into retirement, from here.