Northern Ireland at center of golf's universe

July, 19, 2011

It's been said in many other places before it was said here, but Northern Ireland is, in 2011, the golf capital of the world.

With 3 of the last 6 major championships won by different players from the country, the nation is undoubtedly beaming with pride this week in the wake of Darren Clarke's victory at Royal St. George's. A few numbers from the proceedings, with a tip of the cap to the rest of the ESPN Stats and Information team:

Trivia question

Which player is tied with Mike Weir for most official career PGA TOUR wins by a Canadian-born player? (Answer below.)

-- Northern Ireland has a population of about 1.7 million people. Earth, excluding Northern Ireland, has a population of about 6.9 billion people. Earth (minus Northern Ireland) has 3,833 times more people than its counterpart in this comparison. Each collection of humans have won 3 of the last 6 major championships played.

-- Clarke was ranked 111th in the Official World Golf Ranking to begin the week of the Open. With his win, he becomes the lowest-ranked player to win a major championship since Shaun Micheel at the 2003 PGA Championship (169th). Micheel is only bested in this category by Ben Curtis, who was 396th the week he won at Royal St. George's in 2003. The OWGR has existed since the mid-1980's.

-- At 42 years old, Clarke is the first player to win his first major championship after turning 40 since Mark O'Meara at the 1998 Masters. He's the first player to win a major after his 40th birthday - period - since Vijay Singh at the 2004 PGA Championship.

-- A couple more notes on how out-of-nowhere Clarke was entering the week: he hadn't had a top-20 finish in a major since the 2005 Open Championship, where he finished T-15th. He hadn't had a top-10 finish in a major since the 2001 Open Championship (T-3rd).

Want to predict the next major champion? Be our guest. Clarke is the 12th different major champion in the last 12 majors played. He's the 6th straight 1st-time major winner, and the 8th of the last 9. This marks the 6th straight major that a non-American has won, continuing the longest-ever streak without a major championship for the United States.

- - Maybe the most amazing statistic about Northern Ireland is this one: they're the 1st country outside of the United States to win back-to-back majors (among the ones recognized today as the four major championships) -- by different players -- in a century. The last to do it? Scotland's Alex Smith and James Braid, who won the U.S. Open and Open Championship in 1910.

Amazing as they may be, statistics don't tell the whole tale. Numbers can't quite quantify the many character traits that make Mr. Clarke such a popular Open Champion.

The PGA TOUR returns to Vancouver this week for the RBC Canadian Open. This is the first time that the tournament has been held at Shaughnessy G & CC in Vancouver since 2005, and just the second time since 1966.

Fan favorite Mark Calcavecchia picked up the 12th of his 13 career PGA TOUR wins that week with a score of 5-under par. Just 9 players in the field that week finished with a score better than par. After the final round in '05, Vijay Singh likened Shaughnessy to a U.S. Open course.

In fact, Shaughnessy played as the second-toughest course on the PGA TOUR that year in terms of average score to par. Only Pinehurst # 2, home of the U.S. Open that year, played to a higher score in relation to par.

The field will be challenged from the start at Shaughnessy G & CC this week. The par-4, 475 yard 1st hole is played as the most difficult on the course in 2005. In fact, it was the 4th-toughest hole on ANY PGA Tour course that year.

The PGA Tour provides further context for us, as far as opening holes go. The 1st hole at Shaughnessy G & CC's mark of 4.478 (0.478 shots above par) in 2005 is the highest average score for any opening hole (in a single event) in a non-major on the PGA Tour since they started keeping track of such information back in 1983.

It's a mere 4,800 miles from Sandwich to Vancouver. Still, many Tour grinders will be making the trip for this week's event, including Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Anthony Kim.

European Tour stalwart Darren Clarke is obviously not in this week's field in Vancouver, but it begs asking, who was the last player to win a major, then win the subsequent week on the PGA TOUR?

That distinction belongs to Tiger Woods, who in 2006, won the PGA Championship and then followed it up with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone. Woods also did it in 2000 with the same two events.

Trivia answer

Question: Which player is tied with Mike Weir for most official career PGA TOUR wins by a Canadian-born player?

Answer:George Knudson with 8

The last person not named Woods? Vijay Singh in 1998 -- he won the PGA followed by The International.

No player has EVER won the Open Championship then flew back across the world to win a PGA Tour event the following week.



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