By Brice Polender
After the year’s first two Major champions were first time winners, including a long awaited breakthrough from Dustin Johnson, it should have come as no surprise that Henrik Stenson, one of the Tour’s best players to not have won a Major broke through in emphatic fashion. We’ve always known Stenson had limitless talent, and he showed it by shooting the lowest score ever at The Open Championship, tying Jason Day’s 20 under at the 2015 PGA Championship for lowest Major total ever in relation to par. 2016 is shaping up to not only be the year of new time Major champions, but it is becoming a year where monkeys are being chucked off the backs of the most accomplished players to still be lacking Majors. If 2016 is to be the definitive year where the game’s most tortured greats finally break through to win that elusive Major title, then there is no doubt who should be the man to win the year’s final Major in the PGA Championship.
Sergio Garcia has now come to be synonymous with the title of “Best Golfer without a Major”. When Sergio first emerged on the scene at the turn of the millennium, many experts believed he would be the one to go head to head with Tiger for years and years to come and win numerous Majors in the process. But Tiger asserted his dominance, and as he began to rack up Major victories, the pressure of expectation mounted on Sergio. Despite consistently remaining one of the world’s best players, Sergio has continued to receive grief on the topic of having no Major championships to his name and has even described himself as an “unlucky golfer” in trying to explain why he has not broken through. And unlucky is not an unfair analysis for a man who lipped out on an eight footer that would have given him the 2007 Open Championship before losing in a playoff by one stroke to Padraig Harrington.
If luck has truly been the force keeping El Niño from winning his first Major championship, then perhaps destiny will be the other mystical force that will lead him to finally get over the hump. There would be no better feel good story than if Sergio could finally break through by winning at Baltusrol to end what would be the most feel good year in golf history. His career is Hall of Fame worthy even without a Major, as he has finished top seventeen in the year-end Official World Golf Rankings fifteen times in his career. Twelve of those years were top twelve finishes, seven of those years were top ten finishes, and three of those years were top five finishes. Most notably, in 2008, Sergio finished ranked number two in the World in addition to winning the Players Championship.
Yes, Sergio has had a great career, but aside from the sentimental reasoning, why is now the time that he will finally break through? As we saw was the recipe for Jason Day and Dustin Johnson in their breakthrough wins, putting one’s self into contention often will result in an eventual breakthrough. And as the tenth ranked player in the world and the second highest without a major (trailing only seventh ranked Rickie Fowler), Sergio has quietly been doing just that. He is currently on the longest streak of his career in made cuts at Major championships as he now stands at ten in a row. Perhaps even more telling than this streak are Sergio’s tied for fifth finishes in this year’s two most recent majors. With an already successful career and strong play fueling Sergio this year, Baltusrol is the place where El Niño can rid himself of the monkey on his back and lift the Wanamaker Trophy. If luck (or lack thereof) was what prevented Sergio’s putt from going in to win the 2007 Open Championship, then destiny is what will elevate him above his past disappointments and crown him a Major champion.