In that window after the British Open ended and before the gripping women’s World Cup title game kicked off, Chris Lazzarino, associate editor of the Kansas Alumni magazine, wondered aloud how many American golfers can claim top-30 finishes this year in all three (of the four) major golf tournaments.
The answer is three. Not the injured Tiger Woods, who finished fifth at The Masters and missed the U.S. Open and British Open. Not Phil Mickelson, whose U.S. Open was spoiled by a third-round 77. Not Dustin Johnson or Zach Johnson. Neither Rickie Fowler nor Bubba Watson. Not Nick Watney. Not Anthony Kim. Not Jim Furyk. Not Stuart Cink.
Steve Stricker and Ryan Palmer. Guess the third.
Hint No. 1: As many athletes who both played basketball for Washburn and golfed for Kansas University have finished in the top 30 in all three majors as have all the European professional golfers combined.
Hint No. 2: Why would an associate editor of the Kansas Alumni magazine wonder aloud how many American golfers have done so?
The answer is Gary Woodland, who played in even more miserable conditions than most because of his unlucky tee times at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England. He shot a 72 in Sunday’s final round to finish tied for 30th. Woodland tied for 24th in the Masters and tied for 23rd in the U.S. Open.
The PGA, the final major on the calendar and the only one Woodland never has played, is scheduled for Aug. 11-14 at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Woodland will gun for first, not the top 30. Still, his consistent performance in the majors puts him in rare air.
Young players who do well in majors tend to add season over the years and eventually win one. The length of Augusta National suits Woodland well and so do the bright lights. Big stages tend to bring out the best in the former Washburn University basketball player.
Believing Woodland one day will have the Green Jacket slipped onto him in Butler Cabin is not a stretch. His obsession with improving as a golfer didn’t come to him as early as most tour players because he spent so much of his youth on baseball diamonds and basketball courts.
Six players from three continents can boast top-30 finishes in each of the majors so far this year.
The world’s most underrated golfer, reigning Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa; Y.E. Yang of South Korea, who tied for third in the U.S. Open; and U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland also have done it. From youngest to oldest: McIlroy, 22, Schwartzel, 26, Woodland, 27, Palmer, 34, Yang, 39, and Stricker, 44.
Woodland never contended in a British Open during which five of the world’s top 10-ranked golfers missed the cut, but he did make news Friday when he drove the 419-yard fifth hole and shot 68, the same day Tom Watson, 61, aced a hole for the 15th time on his way to a tie for 22nd place.
Watson has won eight majors: five British Opens, two Masters and one U.S. Open. Woodland has won one PGA Tour event, the Transitions in Orlando in March. Strong signs suggest it will be neither his last nor biggest victory.