Category archive: Ben Curtis

No need for big names in a major finish

August, 16, 2011

Trivia question

Who were the 2 players to finish in the top-20 in all four major championships in 2011? (Answer below)

Sunday's conclusion to the PGA Championship proved that you don't need big names on a Sunday leaderboard at a major championship to provide big entertainment.

Though television executives might cringe at the sight of a Jason Dufner--Keegan Bradley playoff, true golf fans were treated to a dramatic finish to regulation, followed by clutch shot-making in the three-hole playoff by the eventual champion -- PGA Tour rookie Bradley.

A few notes from the Numbers Game notebook on the season's final major:

•  Bradley, amazingly, won in his first career major appearance. Only two other players in modern major history have won in their first ever start at a major: Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open Championship and Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open.

•  Talk of the "next young American to break through" has been a pervasive theme leading into major championships over the past several years. Though names like Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are often thrown about, Keegan Bradley was the surprising member of the under-30 crowd to snap the American major drought.

Bradley is the youngest American golfer to win a major since Tiger Woods was in the midst of his legendary "Tiger Slam" from 2000 to 2001, when he won four straight majors for the first and only time in golf history. In fact, Bradley, Woods and Ben Curtis have been the only three American major winners younger than 29 since the year 2000.

•  At 25 years, two months, Bradley became the third major champion this year under the age of 27. Three of the four major champions in 2011 were age 27 or younger (the other two: Charl Schwartzel at the Masters, Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open). The last time that three of the four major winners were age 27 or younger in a calendar year was 2000, when 24-year-old Tiger Woods won three on his own en route to the "Tiger Slam" he completed at the 2001 Masters.

•  Bradley snapped a streak of six straight major championships played without an American winning. That was easily the record in modern major history -- the prior mark was four straight, when non-American players won all four majors in 1994.

•  Bradley marked the seventh straight first-time major champion, and the 10th in the last 11 dating back to the 2009 U.S. Open won by Lucas Glover. The streak of seven straight first-time winners is the longest in modern major championship history.

•  From 2005 to 2008, eight different players won major championships. In just three years since (2009-11), 12 different men have won a major.

•  Bradley's triple-bogey on the 15th hole seemed like the effective end of the tournament, as Dufner's lead climbed to five shots for a brief period of time. But Bradley's resilience was truly historic. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the last player to win any PGA Tour event with a triple-bogey or worse in the final round happened eight years ago -- David Toms at the 2003 Wachovia Championship.

•  Since the inception of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986, only seven players have been ranked 108th or lower and won a major championship. That's now happened in the last two majors -- Darren Clarke was 111th at Royal St. George's, and Keegan Bradley was 108th entering the PGA Championship.

•  With yet another playoff, we inch closer to the record for most playoffs in a PGA Tour season. The PGA Championship made it 14 times we've seen extra holes on Tour this year. That's just two shy of the record, set in both 1988 and 1991.

• Steve Stricker looked like he may have been on his way to his first career major championship -- and seizing complete control of the Player of the Year race after his opening-round 63 Thursday at the AAC. However, it was not to be, as has frequently been the case on Tour this year. A player has opened with a score of 63 or lower this year a total of 13 times, and only twice did that player go on to win the tournament -- Adam Scott (62) at the WGC-Bridgestone and David Toms (62) at the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

As far as majors go, it's just as rare for a player to go low Thursday and hang on to win. Stricker was the 25th player to shoot a 63 in a major in any round, and the seventh to do it in the first round. Only five times has a player shot 63 in any round of a major and gone on to win. Of the seven players to do it in the opening round, only two won -- Raymond Floyd at the 1982 PGA and Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 U.S. Open.

The Wyndham Championship

This weekend at the Wyndham Championship marks the last chance for players outside the top 125 in the points standings to potentially qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin in two weeks in New Jersey at The Barclays.

The most talked-about player outside the top 125 is 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, but there are several other huge names who will need to play well or see their 2011 season come to an end.

One of them is Ernie Els (126th), who won twice on Tour just a year ago. Els added Wyndham to his schedule at the last minute in an attempt to qualify for the postseason. Padraig Harrington (130th) is on the outside looking in, too, as is Angel Cabrera (150th). Last year's Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, is skipping the Wyndham this week (like Woods), ending his Tour season.

Also currently on the outside are Paul Casey (147th) and Justin Leonard (142nd); in the past, both have been among the top 10 players in the world.

Trivia answer

Question: Who were the 2 players to finish in the top-20 in all four major championships in 2011?

Answer:Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel.

Some names on the other side of the bubble to watch include this week's defending champion Arjun Atwal (120th), Heath Slocum (121st) and Camilo Villegas (125th).

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to