With Tiger Woods, who set the bar for modern dominance, back in the game, Kevin Markham looks at golf’s greatest winning runs.
EVERYONE loves a hot streak, whatever the sport. It may be your favourite player or even your least favourite team but you have to admire such dominance.
The recent back-to-back wins for Justin Rose and Tyrrell Hatton have given us a glimpse of what is possible and the return this week of Tiger Woods, holder of the hottest streak in the modern era, will no doubt lead to talks of future kingpins and grand slams. Such streaks have become increasingly difficult, however, as there are so many dynamic players dominating at the top. Forget the ‘big four’, it’s more like the big 20 these days. Justin Thomas won five tournaments in 2017, including back-to-back wins in January, and a September to October six-week streak, which included two wins, a second and a tied sixth. Some players just have that ability to find and hold onto form.
With the new golfing season upon us, exactly one week after the last one finished, will we see hot streaks to challenge those below?
Consecutive major wins
Tiger Woods is the only golfer in the modern era to have held what is known as the ‘Tiger Slam’. Starting with the 2000 US Open, and finishing with the 2001 Masters, Woods won all four major golf championships. He won the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, the Open by eight shots, the PGA Championship in a play-off (against Bob May), and the Masters by one shot. He also won the two tournaments he played ahead of the Masters.
Will we ever see that again?
It seems unlikely, given the spread of talent in the game today. Much was made of Rory McIlroy’s arrival, but so far he — like Pádraig Harrington — has managed only two majors in a row. Jordan Spieth is the most recent player to hold back-to-back majors (Masters and US Open, in 2015).
A special mention must be made for Bobby Jones, who is known for being the only man to hold a Grand Slam, as he won all four of golf’s biggest events in the same calendar year. That was back in 1930.
Consecutive wins are the holy grail of hot streaks. Winning two in a row is impressive, but how about winning 11 in a row? That is the record of the great Byron Nelson. On March 11, 1945, he won the Miami International Four-Ball and continued winning until the Canadian Open on August 4. He won a total of 18 times that year and was runner-up in a further seven events. Lord Byron, as he was known, retired in 1946, at the age of 34, to become a rancher.
Now, let’s talk about Tiger Woods and his 2006 hot streak. Tiger had taken a nine-week break after the death of his father Earl, but when he arrived at Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship, he tore the place apart, hitting irons off the tee. His -18 total beat Chris DiMarco by two shots. He then went on to win the Buick Open, the PGA Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the Deutsche Bank, the WGC-American Express, and he closed out the year by winning the Target World Championship. After seven consecutive wins, Tiger wasn’t done, as he won the Buick International in his next outing (January 2007). Eight successive victories puts Tiger in second spot.
It is worth noting that Tiger also won six times in a row in 2000, a record held by Ben Hogan since 1948. The streak started with his 15-shot victory at the US Open at Pebble Beach, where he was the only player (-12) to shoot under par.
Speaking of Hogan, let’s not forget ‘Bantam Ben’s’ incredible recovery following a life-threatening car crash in 1949. In 1953, he played just six tournaments, but won five of them… in a row. These included the Masters, US Open and The Open Championship. If the PGA Championship and The Open hadn’t been played on the same dates that year, we might well have had another Grand Slam winner.
Rory McIlroy’s three in a row, in 2014, may seem like small change compared to the above streaks, but it did include two majors. Rory won the Open at Royal Liverpool, leading from start to finish, then went to the US where he cantered to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title, beating Sergio Garcia into second place, two events running. The following week, he won the US PGA Championship, beating Phil Mickelson by one shot. His combined score for the three events was 48-under.
Not to be outdone, there are three remarkable ladies who have each had impressive winning streaks: The start of Nancy Lopez’s career is the stuff of dreams. She joined the LPGA Tour in 1977, at the age of 20. The following year, in her first full season, she won nine times, with five consecutive victories. Little wonder that she won both Rookie and Player of the Year awards. She won a further eight times in 1979.
There’s little doubt that Annika Sorenstam remains the world’s greatest female golfer. Her 72 LPGA tournament wins and 10 majors highlight her exceptional career, and her 2001 season included a stretch of five wins on the trot. In all, she won eight times that year, a feat she then matched in 2002.
Finally, Lorena Ochoa may only have played on the LPGA Tour for eight years (2003-2010) but she won 27 times, including two majors. She held the No 1 ranking for 158 consecutive weeks and earned over $4m in prize money. In 2008, she won five tournaments in a row, including a major. She retired at the age of 28.
Consecutive cuts made
It is often said that you don’t have to win anymore to make a very respectable living in golf... but you do need to make the cut to get paid. Not that such issues ever bothered Woods, who holds the record of 142 straight cuts made (1998 to 2005).
On the European Tour, the most consecutive cuts made goes to Ernie Els, with 82, between 2000 and 2007.
It is worth noting that Nelson holds the second longest streak, of 113 consecutive cuts, but his achievement somewhat outshines that of Tiger’s when you consider the PGA Tour definition of a ‘cut’. A ‘cut’ means receiving payment and, back in Nelson’s day, that meant finishing in the top 20. In other words, Byron Nelson finished in the top 20, 113 times in a row. Now, that’s a hot streak!
Consecutive cuts at the Masters
There will always be room for Fred Couples in a list like this. The man is a favourite at Augusta and the Masters and, even now, at age 58, his name often appears on the leaderboard. The 1992 Masters champion made the cut at Augusta for 23 straight years to tie with Gary Player. The streak ended in 2008, but Freddie keeps coming back for more and he continues to show the guys less than half his age how to play this incredible golf course.
Consecutive Ryder Cup matches without a loss
With the Ryder Cup beginning to play on golfers’ minds, let’s look at one of the more interesting streaks in the biennial match’s history. Who would you think holds the longest streak for not losing a match? Faldo? Montgomerie? Nicklaus? There are two golfers, one from either side of the pond, who hold this title: Arnold Palmer is one, while the other is Lee Westwood. Both men have gone 12 matches undefeated. Westwood achieved his streak with four wins and one half in 2004 (at Oakland Hills), three wins and two halves in 2006 (at The K Club), and two halves on the opening day in 2008 (at Valhalla), before having his run stopped in the fourballs on day two.
Consecutive weeks at number one
No surprise to see Tiger Woods in the top spot of the Official World Golf Ranking... but it does only date back to 1986. Tiger held that position for 281 straight weeks between June 2005 and October 2010. He also holds the second longest streak of 264 weeks.
In the ladies’ game, Lorena Ochoa holds the record at 158 weeks, between 2007 and 2010... but the ranking only kicked off in 2006, just as Annika Sorenstam’s career was coming to an end.
Consecutive no three-putt streak
Freddie Jacobsen holds a record that any golfer would envy: between January and April 2015, he played 524 holes without a three-putt. That’s over 29 rounds of tournament golf... most of us can’t manage one round of amateur golf.
Consecutive birdies to win a tournament
Take a bow, Kevin Streelman. At the 2014 Travelers Championship, in Connecticut, Streelman finished with seven straight birdies. He won by a single shot to claim only his second PGA title. His back nine comprised 28 strokes and he one-putted his final 10 holes.
Consecutive sudden death play-off holes
You make it to the play-off, ready for sudden death, only to find you’re up against another golfer on a hot streak. That’s what happened in 1949, at the Motor City Open. Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd Mangrum finished the 72-hole event on 11-under and then proceeded to match each other for 11 consecutive holes. In very gentlemanly fashion, the men agreed that due to falling darkness they would be declared as co-winners.
Consecutive rounds under par
At the 2015 ANA Inspiration tournament, Lydia Ko shot a first round 71. That equalled Annika Sorenstam’s 2004 record of 29 straight sub-par rounds. Even more remarkable is that Ko was aged 17.
Consecutive balls hit in the water
You’d think it would be Kevin Costner, aka Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy, but then you remember there’s a certain John Daly out there. In the fourth round of the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, Daly hit his tee shot into the water on the par-five sixth hole. He took a drop and proceeded to hit three wood into the same water... five more times. “Every shot, I aimed farther and farther right. The more I aimed right the more I hooked the ball left,” he said later. Daly’s card recorded an 18.
Consecutive Top 10 finishes
Let’s leave the last word on hot streaks to Nelson. Starting at the 1942 Texas Open and ending at the 1946 New Orleans Open, Nelson finished in the top 10 in 65 straight PGA Tour events.
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