2011 US Open: Ranking the Last 20 National Championships
The four different majors bring different prestige to different people. Other than being a major, the US Open generally brings two things to the table.
One: For Americans, it's always their national championship. Hopefully that's a pretty obvious statement.
Two: It's generally the hardest tournament in the world. Sure, there are exceptions to this from time to time, but the US Open generally takes that honor with room to spare.
As a matter of fact, it's often criticized for being unfair.
Regardless of whether or not it is unfair, some tournaments are just better than others. Generally a tournament's quality is based on how close it is, but strokes aren't the only factor.
Another tremendous factor is whether or not the players contending are big names. Is it two of the best golfers in the world going toe to toe on Sunday? Is it a real life golf version of Apollo vs. Rocky? Are there several players in contention on the last few holes?
Lastly, something that makes a tournament great is the lasting images that it provides. Some tournaments may play out in a very similar way, but one may lack that lasting image that the other one has.
Since 1991, four US Opens have gone to the 18-hole playoff on Monday. Of the 16 others that have been played, seven were decided by only one shot.
Indeed, the last 20 years has given us some phenomenal US Opens. It's also given us some clunkers, which is a very natural starting point.
Winner: Tiger Woods (-12)
Runner-up: Ernie Els, Miguel Ángel Jiménez (+3)
Host Course: Pebble Beach
Personally, I can't stand ranking anything that has anything to do with Pebble Beach in dead last on any list, but this isn't even close.
Woods won his first US Open title and the winning margin of 15 shots is not only a US Open record, but it's a record for all majors. With everything else remaining the same, he could have shot a final round 80 and still won by two strokes.
Sure, it was impressive. As a matter of fact, the stretch of golf that he had through the summer of 2000 is likely unequaled in the history of the sport. Bobby Jones winning the grand slam in 1930 is the only thing that comes close.
In truth, this was inevitable. This was in an era where even the best pros knew that if Tiger was playing, it was a race for second. Additionally, he had already won at Pebble Beach earlier that year.
Aside from Tiger, the lasting image from this tournament is that it was Jack Nicklaus' final US Open. On his final hole, he reached the long par-five 18th hole in two shots, becoming one of only a few players to do so on that day.
Winner: Jim Furyk (-8)
Runner-up: Stephen Leaney (-5)
Host Course: Olympia Fields
In relation to par, this was the lowest scoring major of 2003.
To date, this is the only career major for Jim Furyk, who is a good guy and has been one of the better players in the world for a long time. It was nice to see him get his reward, but this tournament lacked the "it factor."
After Leaney, the next best scores belonged to Kenny Perry and Mike Weir. Those are both good names, but they trailed Leaney by four shots and Furyk by seven.
One of the best things about this list is that it covers few bad US Opens. This was one of them.
The positive that needs mentioning is that this was the last US Open that Tom Watson would play with caddy Bruce Edwards on the bag. Edwards would pass away less than a year later.
Watson was tied for the lead after the opening round with a five-under 65. We wouldn't see the same magic that we saw at 2009's British Open, but he did notch a respectable top-30 finish.
Winner: Lucas Glover (-4)
Runner-up: Ricky Barnes, David Duval, Phil Mickelson (-2)
Host Course: Bethpage Black
This was actually an exciting tournament. Even on the 72nd hole, Barnes barely missed a putt that would have placed a lot of pressure on Lucas Golver's shoulders.
Generally, I don't buy the argument that a US Open is unfair. These are the best players in the world and everyone knows going in that it's going to be the toughest tournament in the world.
With that being said, this one was unfair.
A lot of the players were sent out on Thursday to play a significant amount of their opening round in horrible weather. Eventually, play was halted.
The next day, the players who weren't significantly into their opening rounds got to play in much easier conditions.
Was it fair? No. Can the USGA have reasonably done anything different? No, not really.
But still, it happened, and that greatly diminishes the overall quality of the event.
Winner: Tiger Woods (-3)
Runner-up: Phil Mickelson (E)
Host Course: Bethpage Black
The tournament where the the love affair between the New York galleries and Mickelson was exposed. Mickelson's always one of the more popular golfers with galleries, but New York fans seem to take it to a different level.
On the same note, whatever the exact opposite of a love affair is was exposed between the New York galleries and Sergio Garcia.
In terms of golf, this one lacked drama. Tiger had a three-shot lead by the halfway point, a four-shot lead after round three, and was never seriously challenged on Sunday.
This was a significant US Open, as it was the first time time that a fully publicly owned course held a US Open.
It was also the first post-9/11 US Open, and it was played in the greater New York area.
It's certainly significant for a lot of non-golf reasons, but the lack of drama keeps this one pretty low.
Winner: Tom Kite (-3)
Runner-up: Jeff Sluman (-1)
Host Course: Pebble Beach
Remember when I said that this list contains very few bad US Opens? Allow me to present exhibit A.
As a matter of fact, from this point on, the tournaments can be jumbled in any number of ways.
This US Open was the first time that any golfer reached -10. That was Gil Morgan, who actually got to -12 at one point in the third round.
Then, Pebble Beach fought back.
Morgan would shoot a 77 and 81 over the weekend to finish T13.
By the time the dust had settled, Kite and Sluman were the only golfers under par.
It was here that Kite won his only career major. At that point, he was the best golfer without one.
Winner: Lee Janzen (-8)
Runner-up: Payne Stewart (-6)
Host Course: Baltusrol
This is a 1-2 finish that will reoccur later in the list.
Janzen took a two-stroke lead on Stewart when he chipped in on the 16th hole.
He was fortunate on 17 when his drive hit a tree and bounced into the fairway and his drive on 18 found the rough, but neither dented his lead.
For the most part, the remaining tournaments on the list were either decided by one-stroke, or in a playoff.
This one ranks low because while the names behind Janzen and Stewart are strong, nobody was within three shots.
Its ranking is not a knock on the tournament, it just speaks to the quality of the ones ranked ahead of it.
Winner: Corey Pavin (E)
Runner-up: Greg Norman (+2)
Host Course: Shinnecock Hills
This moment is memorable. Unfortunately, it's somewhat overrated.
For one, he didn't make the birdie putt that he left himself. He made a par.
Two, the way that things played out behind him, a bogey would have still won him the tournament.
That's not to take away from the moment, which is still played quite often in US Open commercials.
The names behind Pavin also contribute to this tournament. Norman finished a solo second, but trailing him by one shot was a group of six golfers that included future major champions Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson.
Winner: Michael Campbell (E)
Runner-up: Tiger Woods (+2)
Host Course: Pinehurst No. 2
Entering Sunday, it seemed like Retief Goosen was a lock to win his third US Open title and second in a row. He had a three-shot lead and at that point had developed himself into one of the iciest golfers in the world.
Goosen shot an 81, knocking himself out of the top-10. He was paired with Cinderella story Jason Gore, who shot an 84. Tied with Gore for second place was Olin Browne, who shot an 80.
That cleared the path for Campbell, who shot a 69 to win his only career major. Woods also shot a 69, but bogeyed 16 and 17, providing the two-stroke difference.
The final round blowups really hurt this tournament's standing. The final round had its excitement, but Campbell's last few holes were played with basically no drama.
Winner: Ernie Els (-4)
Runner-up: Colin Montgomerie (-3)
Host Course: Congressional
From this point on, only one remaining US Open was not decided in a playoff or by a one-shot margin.
A 17th hole bogey on Sunday denied Montgomerie the chance to avenge his US Open loss to Els from three years prior (more on that later).
This was also the last of three consecutive years where Tom Lehman held at least a share of the 54-hole lead, but failed to win. He finished one behind Montgomerie. There was a three-shot drop after Lehman.
One other important note about this US Open is that it was the last one played at Congressional, which will host the 2011 tournament.
Expectations now are that it will be tough, so look for a winning score worse than -4.
Winner: Graeme McDowell (E)
Runner-up: Grégory Havret (+1)
Host Course: Pebble Beach
Dustin Johnson started the final round with a three-shot lead over McDowell, but that evaporated quickly. He shot an 82 and fell into a tie for eighth place.
Phil Mickelson shot a second round 66. Tiger Woods and Johnson matched that the following day, but none were in serious contention late on Sunday.
McDowell was always a good golfer, but was his first major and was part of a fantastic year for the man from Northern Ireland.
This leaderboard did not lack star power, as major winners Ernie Els, Woods, Mickelson, Davis Love III, and Martin Kaymer were all in the top-10.
For most of the day on Sunday, it was only Havret and Els that had a chance to take the crown from McDowell.
Even only a year later, the final round doesn't have many lasting images but McDowell, played tough golf to earn his first major.
Winner: Steve Jones (-2)
Runner-up: Tom Lehman, Davis Love III (-1)
Host Course: Oakland Hills
Playing in the final pairing, Lehman made a bogey on the final hole to give Jones the tournament outright.
This is definitely a feel good story, as Jones hadn't won anything for seven years and hadn't even participated in a US Open for five.
Injuries suffered in a bike accident kept him off of the course for a long time.
Jones had to qualify to even participate in the US Open in 1996, and he made the most of his opportunity.
In 1996, not many golfers were better than Lehman and Love III. John Morse finished one shot behind them, while Ernie Els and Jim Furyk were a shot behind Morse.
Winner: Ángel Cabrera (+5)
Runner-up: Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods (+6)
Host Course: Oakmont
This US Open is surrounded by two far more notable ones, so it's easy to overlook it.
But look at the two names that were only one shot behind Cabrera. He finished a few groups ahead of them and had to watch both finish.
Both Furyk and Woods had an opportunity to force a Monday playoff with Cabrera with a birdie on the last hole. Fortunately for the Argentinian, he dodged both bullets and claimed his first major.
This was a great week for sports fans from Argentina, as Cabrera's countryman Manu Ginobili and the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Championship earlier in the week.
It's also noteworthy that Tiger Woods' then wife was pregnant with his first child. Tiger later said that had there been a Monday playoff, he wouldn't have played, as his daughter was born just hours after the finish.
Winner: Lee Janzen (E)
Runner-up: Payne Stewart (+1)
Host Course: Olympic Club
Repeating what had happened in 1966 at the Olympic Club between Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper, at one point in the final round, Stewart was seven shots clear of Janzen.
After a shaky start, Janzen carded one of only four sub-par rounds on Sunday.
Stewart was certainly a victim of bad luck at times, but his final round 74 left him one shot short of a playoff.
He had a chance on the final hole to force a playoff, but missed his putt, giving Janzen his second US Open and second major. Both times, he finished one spot ahead of Stewart.
This is a notable US Open as Casey Martin was allowed to ride a cart, which was the first time in US Open history that a golfer was able to do that.
Winner: Retief Goosen (-4)
Runner-up: Phil Mickelson (-2)
Host Course: Shinnecock Hills
This is the only one in the top-12 that wasn't decided in a playoff or by one shot.
The reason it ranks this high was that 17 of the final 18 holes were about as dramatic as golf has ever seen.
Ernie Els began the final day two strokes behind Retief Goosen. Els struggled early and shot an 80, setting up a two-man battle between Goosen and Mickelson.
The New York galleries were not against Goosen in the way that they were against Sergio Garcia in 2002, but they were decidedly behind Mickelson.
Goosen put on a putting performance that rivals any. Due to high winds, the players might as well have been putting on parking lots. Still, Goosen completed his round with 24 putts.
The difference in the tournament came on the par-three 17th hole. Mickelson's tee shot landed in the bunker, but he blasted out to five feet away. Unfortunately, he missed his downhill putt and the come-backer.
A group later, Goosen got up and down from the same bunker and parred the final hole to win.
After years of frustration in majors, Mickelson was now going for two in a row. Still, it was Goosen's nerves that held up against the raucous crowd and the lightning fast greens.
Winner: Retief Goosen (-4, 70 in a playoff)
Runner-up: Steve Brooks (-4, 72 in a playoff)
Host Course: Southern Hills
Three golfers, Goosen, Brooks, and Stewart Cink, all three-putted the 72nd hole. Had Goosen or Brooks two-putted, they would have won outright.
Had Cink two-putted, he would have been in the playoff. He also nearly made his first putt on that green. At the time, he thought that would have forced a playoff. As it happened, it would have won him the tournament outright.
What keeps this from the top-five is that the playoff lacked a lot of drama, as there wasn't much chance of a two-shot swing on the final hole.
Brooks had already won a major at the 1996 PGA Championship. This was the first of two US Opens and two majors for Goosen.
Cink would have to wait eight years for his first major. There, he won the 2009 British Open, a tournament more remembered for who didn't win than who did.
The same can be said for this next US Open.
Winner: Geoff Ogilvy (+5)
Runner-up: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie (+6)
Host Course: Winged Foot
If you're the kind of person who watches NASCAR for the crashes, then you should probably try to buy a video of this tournament.
The 1974 US Open has earned the nickname of the Massacre at Winged Foot. What happened here, specifically on the final hole, rivals it. Maybe the Massacre Revisited would be an appropriate nickname.
Ogilvy chipped in for a par on 17, then made an up and down on 18. That proved vital.
Furyk needed a par on the final hole to force a playoff, that didn't happen. Both Montgomerie and Mickelson could have won the tournament outright with a par on 18, neither did. Both made double-bogeys, which kept them out of a playoff.
The doubles happened in dramatically different ways.
Montgomerie was in the middle of the fairway and hit a shot that he called one of the worst of his life. Short and right of the green in two, he couldn't even save a bogey.
Mickelson was in the final pairing and despite having virtually no accuracy with his driver all day, decided the driver was the play. He was lucky to not go out of bounds.
He then decided to go for the green, instead of punching out and relying on his stellar short game to make a par. That was even more disastrous than the drive.
All he could do with his third shot was find a greenside bunker. He blasted out, over the green. When his subsequent chip shot didn't go in, he was done. He made a nice putt to save a double-bogey.
Mickelson making that putt and subsequent tie for second in 2009's US Open gave him at least a share of second-place in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2009. All four of those tournaments were played in front of the raucous, pro-Mickelson, New York crowds.
This was also the first tournament that Tiger Woods had played in since that year's Masters. The illness and eventual death of his Earl had kept him away from golf.
For the first and to date only time in his professional career, he missed the cut at a US Open.
Winner: Payne Stewart (-6, 75 in a playoff)
Runner-up: Scott Simpson (-6, 77 in a playoff)
Host Course: Hazeltine
This was largely a two-horse race. On Sunday, Simpson made a bogey on the final hole while Stewart made a par to force a playoff.
In the playoff, it seemed as though Simpson would redeem himself, as he had a two shot lead over Stewart after 15 holes.
Stewart won the final three holes by four shots, earning a two-shot victory for his first US Open title and second major.
Simpson, who had won the US Open in 1987, never won another major.
Winner: Ernie Els (-5, 74 in a playoff, 4-4 in sudden-death.)
Runner-up: Loren Roberts (-5, 74 in a playoff, 4-4 in sudden-death.), Colin Montgomerie (-5, 78 in a playoff)
Host Course: Oakmont
In the sports world, this tournament gets overlooked. It simply happened during one of the busiest sports weeks of all time.
Rivaling it was a seven-game NBA finals series (that included a team from New York) and the OJ Simpson freeway chase.
Two big things work in this US Open's favor.
One is that it was the last US Open that Arnold Palmer played in. That would be special anywhere, but Oakmont is right in his backyard. While the galleries love the King everywhere, the love is never greater than it is in Western Pennsylvania.
The second thing that works in its favor is that of all the US Opens listed, this one took the most amount of holes (92) to decide.
Working against it and keeping it out of the top-two is that the golf in the playoff just wasn't that good. Els started the playoff with a bogey and a triple-bogey, and still won.
Yes, Oakmont prides itself in being the toughest course in the country, but two golfers shooting three-over par and the other going seven-over just hurts this in the standings.
Still, this was the first major championship for Els, who was just 25 years old.
Winner: Payne Stewart (-1)
Runner-up: Phil Mickelson (E)
Host Course: Pinehurst No. 2
No, it didn't have a playoff. If that's your standard, this one should rank below 2001, 1991 and 1994.
If Payne Stewart was still alive, this tournament would still have many lasting images. The first is Stewart's fist pump and scream after making the 15-foot putt the other.
The second is him grabbing Mickelson by both cheeks and telling him that he (Mickelson) was about to be a dad, which is far more important than anything that happens out there on the course.
Sadly, as we know, Stewart is not alive anymore. He died just four months later in a plane crash. The tragedy from that is immense, but it really does make those moments even more unforgettable.
But back to the golf aspect, this was not a two-horse race until late on Sunday. Just in case you were wondering, Mickelson finished only one shot ahead of two other golfers: Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh.
Winner: Tiger Woods (-1, 71 in a playoff, 4 in sudden-death)
Runner-up: Rocco Mediate (-1, 71 in a playoff, 5 in sudden-death)
Host Course: Torrey Pines
I had not even reached my first birthday when Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters, so consider that when reading what I am about to say.
The 2008 US Open was the best golf tournament that I have ever watched. If I am alive 100 years from now, I will probably say the same thing.
It was Rocky, only in took place in real life and on a golf course.
Rocco Mediate has always been a nice guy, but he's hardly ever been thought of as an elite golfer. Yet for 91 holes, he went toe-to-toe with one of the best who has ever played.
Tiger's birdie putt on the last hole on Sunday was just phenomenal. No, it wasn't a tremendously long putt, but both he and the crowd went nuts when it dropped.
Rocco's reaction was just as priceless, "Unbelievable, I knew he was gonna make it."
Despite falling behind at times in the subsequent 18-hole playoff, Mediate led by one on the 18th hole again. He was only able to make a par and Woods made a much less dramatic birdie on the par-five.
There is one other element to consider, and at the time it wouldn't have even been thought of.
There is a somewhat real chance that this will be the last major for Tiger Woods.
It's still not likely as he's young enough to win for a while if he regains his health.
But that's a big if, as the knee injury that he played with that week hasn't ever seemed to fully heal. Although he had a good 2009 season, he clearly hasn't been the same golfer since this US Open.