The 2018 Major Championships
Golf fans live for the majors season, starting with the Masters in April and closing out with the PGA Championship in August. This year the majors lived up to the hype, with two historic comebacks, one breakthrough victory for a country that has been left out of majors, and one emerging if understated star. The Masters has a tradition of getting the season off to a dramatic start, and 2018 was no exception.
The Masters 2018
The 82nd Masters, held as always at the hallowed Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, was won this year by a somewhat unlikely hometown hero, Patrick Reed. Despite Reed’s victory, much of the story of the final round focused on an historic comeback by Jordan Spieth. Going into the week, all eyes were on Rory McIlroy, Spieth, Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson to earn the revered green jacket. Reed, who had never won a major or finished better than 22nd in his four previous Masters appearances, was not listed as a contender. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old, 6-time PGA winner and Ryder Cup presence had an impressive first three rounds, all under 70 (69, 66, 67), and found himself with a three-stroke lead over McIlory going into the final round. While Reed and McIlory started the day in the spotlight, fans slowly began to turn their attention to another pair, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who started four groups ahead. Spieth, who began the day nine strokes out, birdied nine holes to find himself even with Reed at the 16th hole. His comeback fell narrowly short when he bogeyed the 18th, yet he still walked away with the lowest final round in Masters history, 8-under-par 64, and finished third, two shots behind Reed. At the same time, with all eyes on Spieth and Reed, fellow American Rickie Fowler made a quiet and late charge by birdieing the 12th, 13th, 15th, and 18th holes. Fowler put the pressure on Reed going into the 18th, forcing him to make par on this daunting, final hole. Reed made a final, gut-wrenching 4-foot putt to make par and finish with a one-stroke lead over Fowler.
Reed has a reputation for being bad-tempered and arrogant. He was even kicked off of his first college team at the University of Georgia, but nevertheless became somewhat of a hometown hero at the Masters, just a short distance from Augusta State University, where he led teams to National Championships in 2010 and 2011. While his reputation and past are far from perfect, his play at the 2018 Masters was not. Unfazed by the pressure or by the astounding challenges by Spieth and Fowler, Reed made his own history on April 8 to win his first major. And make no mistake, he was very clear to label it his first, sure that many more will come.
The Us Open 2018
Up next, the US Open was played at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York on June 14-17. Located on Long Island and about 80 miles east of New York City, Shinnecock Hills has hosted the US Open five times. Among those five is the infamous 2004 US Open, when USGA officials decided to stop watering the course after two days of play to make it more challenging. This decision ended up making the course treacherous to navigate by Sunday, and officials were even forced to water the course between groups during the final round. Golf fans will not soon forget the horrors of the 7th hole, which was basically unplayable, on that Sunday. Thankfully, this year, after difficult conditions during the first three rounds, during which there were only 21 scores total below 70, improved conditions and course adjustments led to a much smoother Sunday. Fortunately, a repeat of 2004 was avoided and 15 players finished the day in the 60s.
American Brooks Koepka, the defending champion, was unfazed by the ups and downs of the tournament and clenched a second US Open win, finishing with a one-stroke lead over England’s Tommy Fleetwood. Koepka, 28, won his first major at the US Open in 2017, making him only the third person since World War II to win back-to-back US Open Championships (Ben Hogan (1951) and Curtis Strange (1989)). After a trying first three rounds, Koepka was tied for the lead at three over with Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger, and Tony Finau. His challenge in the final round, however, did not come from Johnson, Berger, or Finau, but from Fleetwood, who started the day 6 shots back. Fleetwood birdied eight holes to finish the day at 63, just the sixth player in US Open history to do so. As Fleetwood finished, Koepka was on the 8th and at 1 over. Fleetwood’s historic round, leaving him at 2 over, put Koepka in a position where he had to shoot par or better for the next ten holes. Composed under this pressure, Koepka held steady at par and birdied the 16th to give himself a little room. Despite a bogey on the 18th, he finished with a one-shot lead over Fleetwood to secure his second major title. Koepka’s good friend and fellow American, Dustin Johnson, finished third at 3 over, and Patrick Reed, hungry for another major win, had a surge in the final round to finish fourth at 4 over.
The Open 2018
The golf world then turned all eyes to Scotland, where the 147th Open Championship was played on July 19-22 at Carnoustie Golf Links in Carnoustie, Scotland. A course where golf has been played since the 16th century, Carnoustie is one of the most difficult courses around due to strong winds, menacing bunkers, and the long, narrow course (at 7,400 yards long, it is the longest course to host The Open). World Golf Hall-of-Famer Sir Michael Bonallack said of Carnoustie, “When the wind is blowing, it is the toughest course in Britain. And when it’s not blowing, it’s probably still the toughest.” Undaunted by the challenges of the course or the difficulties he had previously had there, Francesco Molinari won the 2018 Open, becoming the first Italian to win a major title. At 35, Molinari has had a breakout year, winning his first PGA title on July 1 at The Quickens Loans National after winning the BMW PGA Championship, the crown jewel event of the European Tour, in May.
Molinari went into the final round of The Open three shots back from leaders Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner, and Xander Schauffele. Nevertheless, many eyes were on his group as he was paired with Tiger Woods. In the front nine, Woods attracted more attention than usual when he played bogey-free and shot two birdies to momentarily take the lead. His storybook-comeback was abruptly stopped, however, when he shot a double bogey on the 11th and a bogey on the 12th. Meanwhile, Molinari quietly held at par through the first 13 and birdied the 14th, giving himself the lead in a very tight battle for the prized Claret Jug. At one point in the back nine, there were as many as seven people tied for the lead. Calm under this mounting pressure, Molinari continued to hold steady before birdieing the infamous 18th for the first time of the week. This was enough to separate Molinari from the field and to secure a two-stroke lead. Schauffele, McIlroy, Kisner, and Justin Rose tied for second, with Woods finishing tied for third with Kevin Chappell and Eddie Pepperell. With so many players in close reach of the Claret Jug this year, no doubt many already have turned their focus to next year’s Open at the Royal Portrush Golf Club in Antrim, North Ireland.
PGA Championship 2018
The majors season closed out with the 100th PGA Championship on August 9-12 at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. Bellerive first opened in 1897 – then called The Field club – with a nine-hole course. In 1955, the club relocated and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed the current course, which opened in 1960. In 2006, Jones’ son, Rees Jones, helped to renovate the course, further adding to its difficulty and beauty. The beauty and genius of the course, however, were overshadowed by the drama that unfolded in the final round at this year’s tournament. While Brooks Koepka pulled out the victory, much of the attention of the day went to Woods who, despite having an off day, somehow managed to shoot a 64. Fans were loud and nearly crazed watching Woods as he orchestrated and narrowly missed a fairy-tale comeback win. Despite falling short, Woods’ weekend of a 66-64 is the lowest weekend ever in PGA Championship history and his second place finish, 2 shots short of the victory, is his best finish since he was the runner-up at the PGA Championship in 2009.
While Woods got much of the attention, cheers, and excitement of the day, Koepka’s performance was impressive and should not be overlooked. Koepka came into the final round four shots out of the lead. His start was shaky, with a bogey on the 4th and 5th, but he steadied with par on the 6th and then closed out the front nine with three birdies. Two more birdies on the 15th and 16th were all he needed to walk away with a 4-under 66 for the day and a two-shot lead over the rest of the field.
Koepka remained focus and consistent amidst a strong attack from both Adam Scott and Woods to win his third major. In so doing, he quietly became the first golfer since Jordan Spieth in 2005 to win two majors in one year. Perhaps even more noteworthy, he became only the fifth player ever to win the US Open and the PGA Championship in the same year, adding his name to the likes of Gene Sarazen (1922), Ben Hogan (1948), Jack Nicklaus (1980), and Tiger Woods (2000). Koepka is an understated and often underrated player, but perhaps is finally earning the notoriety that he deserves. He is a player to watch in the coming months.
The 2018 majors were full of Sunday drama, historic comebacks, and newly revealed heroes. The competition was tight in each tournament and champions stepped up and showed the best of themselves on these, the biggest stages of golf. There is much to recount and celebrate from this year even as the golf world starts to count the days until April, when it will all begin again. Will Woods continue to mount a comeback? Can Koepka and Molinari continue their momentum? Will Reed make good on his promise to add to his major wins? Only eight months to go.