Look, sometimes it happens. Sometimes one of the biggest weeks on the golf calendar, after months of anticipation and expert projections, ends up being pretty much a snooze. You’ll know it when golf announcers are straining over the weekend for new ways to heap praise on the tournament leader. Or when they sound just a bit too excited about someone pulling to within five shots.
To be clear, there is no guarantee this week at Bethpage Black is headed down the same path, no matter how many times you look up and see Brooks Koepka wave dispassionately to the gallery after another birdie. Perhaps Koepka over the final 36 holes accepts the reality already confronted by everyone else in the field – that golf is hard, and that golf at Bethpage Black is supposed to make you want to quit altogether. Long is the list of players who seemed infallible one day at a Major championship, only to be flailing helplessly the next. Somebody cue those Greg Norman 1996 Masters highlights. Or Rory McIlroy from 15 years later.
But, if form holds and Koepka cruises over the weekend to a second PGA Championship and fourth Major title, he’ll join a distinguished group of players who killed all suspense at a golf Major, simply through the sin of proficiency. Among some others:
Old Tom Morris, 1862 Open Championship
We are reluctant to cite too many examples from Major golf’s formative years, if only because tournaments were constructed vastly differently than they are now. There was no re-pairing of leaders at the end of rounds, and it’s not like there were TV executives worrying about a one-sided competition cutting into the tournament’s ratings number. Then again, Morris won this Open by 13 shots, so at some point, other golfers must have looked up and realised they were hosed.
Raymond Floyd, 1976 Masters
It had been seven years since Floyd won his first Major title, but he took control of this one early, shooting 65 and 66, then opening up an eight-stroke lead after Saturday. That night he walked into the press room and asked the assembled media, “Anybody here betting against me tomorrow?” No one needed to respond. Floyd cruised on Sunday.
Jack Nicklaus, 1980 PGA Championship
Fair or not, certain marquee players are afforded more latitude when taking control at a Major, so when it’s Jack Nicklaus rolling on the weekend at Oak Hill, a level of fascination endures. Besides, Nicklaus was actually trailing heading into Saturday, down a shot to Gil Morgan. But from there, he steamrolled the field, shooting 66-69 to win by seven. It was his second Major of the year, but as we now know, he wouldn’t win again until channeling magic in April 1986.
Tiger Woods, 2000 Open Championship
Notice how we skipped right over Woods’ 12-stroke win in the Masters, or his 15-shot bludgeoning at Pebble Beach. Both fit the clear definition of a runaway win, but both were moments of such historical significance – one that shook the foundation of the sport, the other arguably the most dominant performance in history – they retained interest right to the end. We’d argue Woods’ Open triumph at St Andrews was different. Yes, it was at the Home of Golf, and yes, he completed the career Grand of Slam. But because it came on the heels of Pebble Beach, it felt like an inevitability from the moment he took the lead on Friday. He won by eight, never hit into a bunker, and barely broke a sweat along the way.
Louis Oosthuizen, 2010 Open Championship
Nothing against the Old Course, really, but this one was a clunker as well, for reasons that had as much to do with weather patterns as anything else. Chasing tournament leader Rory McIlroy by two shots after the first round, a relatively-unknown Louis Oosthuizen benefited from placid early morning conditions to shoot 67 on Friday, while McIlroy walked into an afternoon monsoon and shot 80. Oosthuizen never looked back, opening up a five-stroke lead after 36 holes, and ultimately winning by seven, with the biggest question mark on Sunday the correct pronunciation of his last name.
Rory McIlroy, 2012 PGA Championship
As with Woods in 1997, we are excluding McIlroy’s maiden Major title at the 2011 US Open from this list for despite the eight-shot margin because it marked the emergence of an exciting talent, and because it came just two months after his aforementioned meltdown at the Masters. But a year later at the PGA was different. Not only did McIroy roll to win by eight again, but the trail of players in his wake that Sunday were probably happy just to be that close. His closest pursuer, England’s David Lynn, was playing in just his second Major, and hasn’t factored in one since. And only one player in the top 10, Keegan Bradley, had won a Major title.
Martin Kaymer, 2014 US Open
Kaymer’s win at the restored Pinehurst No.2 course was at the front end of the USGA’s bold experiment to host the men’s and women’s US Opens in back-to-back weeks. Although an overall logistical success, the Women’s Open provided a more compelling storyline thanks to the breakthrough Major title of one-time phenom Michelle Wie. The men’s Open, meanwhile, saw Kaymer go wire-to-wire and win by eight to inspire a reliable stream of “German efficiency” references. Curiously, the win was Kaymer’s second Major title, and came just a month after a win in the Players, but he hasn’t had a top five in a Major since.