Major trend emerges

IAN HUTCHINSON

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

The lone major championship for Larry Mize is not only memorable for the 1987 Masters crown, but also for those who witnessed his birdie on the final hole at Augusta to force a playoff with Greg Norman and the now-retired Seve Ballesteros.

With Ballesteros out of the picture after the first extra hole, Mize took out his second legend of the day with a 140-foot chip-in that gave him the win against the Shark.

Sergio Garcia had a similar opportunity to clinch his first major at the British Open a couple of weeks ago, except for that unfortunate putt that slipped by to forgive Padraig Harrington's bloopers on the 18th at Carnoustie and allow him, instead of Garcia, to hoist the Claret Jug and continue a surprising trend.

This week's PGA Championship could make it a clean sweep for first-time major winners in 2007, with the titles claimed by Zach Johnson at the Masters, Angel Cabrera at the U.S. Open and Harrington, not unlike four years ago when Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel won their first majors.

Consider also that Lorena Ochoa won the Women's British Open yesterday to join Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr as first-time major winners on the LPGA Tour this year.

"You're going to have Tiger (Woods) and Ernie Els and Phil (Mickelson) and Vijay (Singh) win majors, but you need the first-time winners. It's good for the game of golf," Mize said. "It doesn't surprise me because there are a lot of guys out here who haven't won majors, but are very capable of doing it."

Jason Gore agrees.

"It just shows you how deep our game is and how many great players we have. Everybody's got to win their first," said Gore, who made an unlikely run at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 before a final-round collapse brought him back to reality.

"Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington are great players and they've been great players for a long time. It's not an accident."

The theory is that first-time winners are often frozen by nerves at important moments.

Whether nerves or negative thoughts affected Garcia's putt at Carnoustie can only be answered by the Spaniard himself, but neither Mize nor Gore feel he gagged on that one.

"He hit a great putt," Gore said. "I watched (the British Open) all morning and every one of those putts broke, except for (Garcia's). I'm sure everybody's going to say: 'His putting, his putting, his putting.' But he hit a great putt."

That's all part of the pressure in a major, where everything is magnified, especially in the closing moments.

"Nobody knows what's going through his mind," Mize said. "It always kills me when the commentators on TV say: 'Well, he's thinking this.' Well, you know what? You don't know what he's thinking.

"What you want to be thinking is just hit a good putt -- stay in the present, hit a good putt and it's no different than the putt on the first hole, as much as the TV announcers want to say (a putt on 18) is more important.

"If you didn't make that one on No. 1, then this wouldn't be for the win, so you've got to treat every shot with the same intensity and that's the challenge," Mize said. "Sergio is a heck of a player, a great player. I think he hit a great putt. It just wasn't his time to win."

It has been time for other players and what stands out is the venues on which this year's majors have been played. The difficulty of Augusta, Oakmount, Carnoustie and now Southern Hills, may actually be a blessing.

"That may be good for the first-time guys," Mize said. "They're so tough, everybody is struggling, where if it wasn't as tough, it may be better for the (usual contenders)."

"I think that golf courses are getting so difficult that it's actually benefitting everybody and it's opening it up to more guys who are going to flourish," Gore added.

THE SHORT GAME

The Jane Rogers Golf Championship of Mississauga, a new Canadian Tour event to be played at Lakeview Golf Club, Aug. 20-26, is looking for volunteers to handle public relations, transportation and other duties. Caddies are also needed. For information, call Deb Taylor at (416) 777-8727.


Videos

Photos