This week's PGA Championship is the second major I haven't attended since joining the Golf World staff in 1995. The other was the 2000 U.S. Open, which I missed because of the birth of my first child, a tournament Tiger Woods won by 15 strokes. When I later told Woods about my absence, he shot me a funny look, then suggested a series of Irish twins before my best days were behind me.
Majors are like kids in that they all take on different personalities. All are special in their own way, yet some ultimately turn out better than others. If Sunday drama, sexy story lines, quality of play, historical connotations, tournament atmosphere and Monday-morning buzz count for anything, here are my nominees for the 10 best majors of the past 10 years.
10. 2002 PGA Championship
Rich Beem's improbable victory capped a week full of electricity, be it via late-afternoon thunderstorms or the positive energy emitted by Hazeltine National's massive galleries. Woods' late rally made it interesting, but this time, a guy who had no business winning went out and did just that. Three strokes behind at the start of the day, Beem mixed early aggression and late caution to play a stellar final round.
9. 2006 U.S. Open
The macabre movie on this menu, its gruesome ending will always disguise the notion that this was the fairest and most fascinating bloodbath of the current era. As three of the game's best players faltered on the 72nd hole, forfeiting a victory claimed by Geoff Ogilvy, the USGA's sadistic-but-not-silly scenario had, for once, reared its pretty head. After overcooked setups at Shinnecock and Pinehurst, Winged Foot was served well-done.
8. 1999 Masters
A vastly underrated affair won by Jose Maria Olazabal, who edged Greg Norman in a tense-but-friendly duel. It would prove to be Norman's last hurrah, in a sense, another of those tough losses that defined his career, but it also was one of the few times in the past decade that Augusta National played firm and fast. From premium conditions came an ultraworthy champion.
7. 1999 PGA
Sergio Garcia's debutante brawl with Woods looked like the start of a delightful rivalry. Still, this false alarm featured plenty of late-Sunday suspense, with Garcia's escape from behind a tree and jaunt up Medinah's 16th fairway becoming a seminal moment. A major with all the trimmings, it ended Tiger's 28-month drought and ignited a run of seven big titles in 11 starts.
6. 2000 U.S. Open
Less a tournament than a Hall of Fame induction, it lands on this list because it was only the greatest performance in golf history. I didn't make it to Pebble Beach, but no one else needed to bother besides Woods, who shattered the U.S. Open scoring record despite a third-round triple-bogey. More than any other of his remarkable victories, this triumph created the competitive separation and psychological advantages Tiger still enjoys today.
5. 2007 British Open
From the John Daly leaderboard sighting Thursday to the Euro-thriller climax Sunday, rare was the dull moment last month at Carnoustie. A different and interesting cast of characters featured a nice mix of star power and a tragic Cinderella (Andres Romero). After an overdose of bogeys in the year's first two majors, the '07 British provided a welcome respite.
4. 1998 Masters
A big-name scuffle with all the ingredients that make this golf's best event. Mark O'Meara's birdie at the buzzer beat Fred Couples and David Duval, capping a mesmerizing stretch of drama lengthier than you'll find in any other sport. Perfect weekend weather didn't hurt. Neither did a brisk Thursday-Friday breeze that weeded out all the choppers.
3. 1999 U.S. Open
Even if Payne Stewart hadn't died tragically four months later, this one would rate highly. Play by all contenders throughout the back nine Sunday was exceptional. Stewart holed the winner at 18 to beat Phil Mickelson, but Woods and Vijay Singh lurked for most of a drizzly afternoon. Terrific crowds, a smart course setup -- and the house we rented that week was great, too.
2. 2000 PGA
Woods vs. Bob May on the day I officially decided Tiger came from another planet. To call it David & Goliath would be an understatement; May is two feet shorter than Dave ever was. The final holes of regulation and three-hole playoff were outrageous fun, which is why people forget Woods played the first two days with Jack Nicklaus. Laugh at Valhalla -- I know I do -- but it has hosted two good PGAs.
1. 2004 Masters
The reason you become a golf writer. Lefty's dazzling stretch run trumped Ernie Els and ended a decade of hard-core Philstration in a 2½-hour fireworks display at the little green ballpark. The joy on Phil's face had a kid-at-Christmas quality, while a devastated Els suffered the first haymaker in a season from which he has yet to recover. Winners and losers are rarely so perilously defined. Thank God we stopped having babies the previous April.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.