With a memorable Players yesterday and the U.S. Open one month out, I wanted to pose a question that has been on my mind for a while — where have the Tom Watsons gone? Watson represents those players whose careers overlapped Jack Nicklaus and who won, say, 5 or more majors. They stand out as the all-time greats just below the Nicklaus-Woods level. (Majors Won List on Wikipedia). Gary Player (9 majors), Watson (8), Arnold Palmer (7), Lee Trevino (6), and Seve Ballesteros (5) not only won a lot of majors during Nicklaus’ major-winning time frame, but they beat Nicklaus in head-to-head battles on several occasions.
Among established players over Woods’ career, only Phil Mickelson looks like he might win as many as 5 majors. At this point, the next best players to Tiger (including Phil) are down in the Julius Boros-Andy North-Ray Floyd category of very good golfers who won more than 1 major but not among the elite of all time. Only 3 (genuinely) active guys (including Mickelson) have won 3 majors and only 3 more have garnered 2. Among these multiple winners, none have snatched a major out of Tiger’s jaws as more than one of the Watsonesque group did.
So what up? I have some guesses — none of which are completely satisfactory to me:
1) Maybe the income effect is working here on motivation as it might be in regard to the relative paucity of “hour ahead” low Sunday rounds (see Johnny Miller — Economist).
2) Maybe the overall depth and parity of “the field” makes winning majors more difficult (for all except Tiger). Even if this competitive influence is at work, it does not explain the seeming inability of the just-below-Tiger crowd to really go shot-for-shot with Tiger and beat him once in a while.
Any other suggestions?