Golf’s Majors Delivered Inspiring Comebacks Minus The Drama

HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Wyndham Clark was on the 18th green, 60 feet away from the hole. Rory McIlroy was in the scoring room, watching on television. Clark rolled the long putt to within a foot of the hole and pumped his fist. All that remained was tapping in for par to win the U.S. Open.

That was the extent of Sunday drama in the majors this year.

The champions are not about to complain, least of all Clark at Los Angeles Country Club or Brian Harman at Royal Liverpool, both of them first-time major winners who played as though they had been there before.

Not every Masters can have the remarkable back-and-forth between Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, much less a comeback by Tiger Woods. Augusta National always seems to deliver, but the slogan of the Masters not starting until the back nine on Sunday would be a tough sell the last four years.

All that can salvage 2023 for edge-of-the-seat theater is the Ryder Cup.

Rahm becoming a Masters champion is a big deal, particularly winning on the birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros with caddie Adam Hayes being assigned No. 49 — 4/9 is Seve’s birthday — for his caddie bib. But with Brooks Koepka going 22 holes without a birdie, Rahm all but sealed it with an 8-iron from the trees to 3 feet for birdie on the 14th and a four-shot lead with four to play.

Clark also hit his money shot on the 14th hole, a 3-wood onto the green at the 623-yard par 5 for a two-putt birdie, right after Rory McIlroy couldn’t hit the same green with a wedge. Clark had a three-shot lead with four to play.

The PGA Championship at Oak Hill was reasonably tight until it wasn’t. Brooks Koepka was one shot ahead when Viktor Hovland hit 9-iron from the bunker into an embedded lie in the face, leading to double bogey. Koepka made birdie and the lead was four shots with two to play.

As for the British Open, consider that Harman took the lead on Friday morning with a 25-foot birdie putt on the third hole. No one caught him the rest of the week. On the weekend, his lead was never fewer than two shots (that lasted one hole). He won by six.

While dull, the majors did not lack for inspiration, particularly the last two.

Most amazing about Harman winning the British Open was how seldom he had won for his ability. No one ever questioned his talent or his ability, particularly his putting. But he had won just two tournaments in his 335 previous starts as a PGA Tour member.

Why? Not even Harman knew.

“It just hasn’t happened,” he said Friday. “I don’t know why it hasn’t happened, but I’m not going to quit. I’m going to stick with it and just keep after it. And hopefully, it’ll pop one day.”

It didn’t pop at Hoylake, it burst. And then he was asked the same question with the silver claret jug at his side. And he still had no answers. He had the pedigree as an amateur. He was 18 when he partnered with Anthony Kim in the Walker Cup.

He poured time into his iron play at the expense of his reliable putting. The iron play was sublime, and the putting caught up in a big way. He missed only one putt inside 10 feet over 72 holes at Royal Liverpool.

“I don’t know why this week,” he said. “But I’m very thankful that it was this week.”

He never looked happier.

Clark was highly sought as a high school player in Colorado and landed at powerhouse Oklahoma State. His mother died of cancer and he lost his way, transferring to Oregon and eventually returning to his potential. His U.S. Open victory was preceded by beating a field of stars at Quail Hollow.

Koepka, already a prolific major champion, also returned to his potential. His journey was more about health, particularly his knee and hip that made him question his future and might have led to him taking Saudi cash to join LIV Golf.

He joined Curtis Strange as the only back-to-back U.S. Open winners in the last 50 years. He joined Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back PGA champions in stroke play. But his win at Oak Hill, considering how much he had to overcome, was the sweetest of all.

As for Rahm? The Masters was the last surprising outcome of the majors. He is among the best in the world. He already had won three times this year before arriving at Augusta National. This felt a little like destiny.

Rahm was fresh from disappointment of the British Open, and he was soaking wet from the Sunday rain. The first question that came his way was about the Ryder Cup.

“I just finished The Open Championship. I’m not going to lie. I love the Ryder Cup, but it’s not really on my mind right now. Especially after the day like we had today. I’m looking forward to a shower,” he said.

But he’s excited about a chance to regain the cup in Italy. He expects Europe to have a lot of fresh faces. If called upon to be a leader, he said he would try to “channel my inner-Seve.”

It should be a good one. The Ryder Cup never lacks for excitement.

Whether it’s a nail-biter remains to be seen the way this year has gone. It’s worth noting the last four Ryder Cups have been decided by five points or more.