This was a very good year for major championships. (Well, Louis Oosthuizen might disagree.)
It could’ve been better. What if Oosthuizen won three majors instead of finishing second twice and third once? That would’ve been truly historic. So would the moon falling into Lake Erie but that didn’t happen, either.
It also could’ve been worse. Or did you forget that Corey Conners led the PGA Championship after one round and Richard Bland — yes, The Richard Bland, 44 — was atop the U.S. Open leaderboard after 36 holes? Cinderellas and pumpkins, you know the routine.
But the best year ever for majors? No, 2021 wasn’t that close. Tiger Woods didn’t play in any majors due to his infamous car accident so right away that’s an automatic demerit… no relation to Jimmy Demaret.
Still, 2021 was a strong year if you examine all 15 majors — four on the PGA Tour, five each on PGA Tour Champions and LPGA, and one in Senior Women’s golf. We saw 15 majors,14 major champions and three playoffs. You’ll never guess which player won two majors in 2021 but you can get the answer below, where I rank all 15 based on drama, excitement, historical significance, memorability and whim. Begin the countdown.
15: Bridgestone Senior Players Championship
Wisconsin native Steve Stricker took all the fun out of it for everyone else by shooting an opening 63 at Firestone South and romping to a six-shot victory. Cheese, Louise, that’s like knowing the surprise ending before you watch “Sharknado.”
14: Senior PGA Championship
The granddaddy of all senior majors lacked starpower and sizzle at Southern Hills. Alex Cejka hit two balls into water hazards during the final round yet shot 67 and coasted to a four-shot win over Tim Petrovic. I like those guys — Petrovic was a pizza delivery guy once upon a time — but they’re not Gary Player and Lee Trevino. This was Cejka’s second PGA Tour Champions major title in his second PGA Tour Champions major championship. Yes, Cejka surprisingly batted 1.000 in his first two senior majors and was the year’s only two-time major-winner. So your first 189 guesses were wrong.
13: Senior U.S. Women’s Open
This tourney was over the moment Annika Sorenstam filed an entry and ended her 13-year retirement. She rolled over the field at Connecticut’s Brooklawn Country Club in Connecticut like the New England Patriots over Bryn Mawr College and won by eight shots. The judges gave it an A-plus for nostalgia, a D-plus for drama. It was a nice boost for women’s senior golf (yes, such a thing exists), plus I’d pay to watch Sorenstam play anytime, anywhere.
12: Senior British Open
Shooting a third-round 62, then holing a 10-footer for birdie to win on the 72nd hole sounds legendary, right? So let’s write heroic odes about… Stephen Dodd? The Welshman was a former Walker Cup player and 1989 Wales Amateur champ who won three times on the European Tour between 2004 and 2006. Thanks to the pandemic, Dodd hadn’t played in any tournament for 18 months before this shocker. Had runnerup Miguel Angel Jimenez won, at least there would’ve been cigars.
11: U.S. Senior Open
It wasn’t over when Jim Furyk shot a second-round 64 or even when he took a four-stroke lead into the final round, where he played the first three holes in three over par and his edge shrank to one. However, Furyk regrouped over the challenging Omaha Country Club course and won by three, becoming the eighth player to win a U.S. Open and a U.S. Senior Open and the first to do it in Nebraska. Pass the corn and the butter, please.
10. AIG Women’s Open Championship
Carnoustie played so tough that watching this leaderboard was like waiting for a traffic jam to untangle. Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall back into a three-way tie for second. Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen shanked — yes, shanked! — her pitch to the last green and fell out of a share of the lead. Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, who hadn’t won in four years, played Carnoustie’s challenging final four holes in even par and emerged with a one-shot victory, joining Sorenstam and Laura Davies as the only European women with at least three major titles.
9. ANA Inspiration
Patty Tavatanakit showed off her power, averaging more than 320 yards per drive, en route to her first major title. She’s 21, is from Thailand and played college golf at UCLA. She took a five-shot lead into the final round and enjoyed a wire-to-wire victory only after getting a scare from Lydia Ko, who scorched the front-nine in 29 strokes en route to a 62. Ko came up two strokes short of the champ, a new star for the LPGA. (Notice how I cleverly only spelled her name out once? Correctly, I hope… )
8. Amundi Evian Championship.
Welcome to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. First, the thrill. Jeongeun Lee6 fired a second-round 61, tying the lowest score posted in a women’s major. Then Australia’s Minjee Lee charged from seven strokes back — also an LPGA record for a major. Lee birdied four of her closing five holes for 64 to tie Lee6. Now, the agony. Lee hit a superb approach shot onto the first playoff hole’s green, then Lee6 thinned hers into the water hazard. Notable heroics, anticlimactic finish.
7. Regions Tradition
Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker would have successfully defended his Regions Tradition title if not for Jay Haas. Oh, Haas didn’t play in Birmingham, Ala. He withdrew, which allowed third-alternate Alex Cejka into the field. He and Stricker tied at 18 under par. Cejka holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole and Stricker missed his eight-footer. Cejka, 50, a native of Czechoslovakia, played the mini-tour Outlaw Tour during the pandemic but earned exempt status on PGA Tour Champions with this win, which set up his Senior PGA Championship victory.
6. Open Championship
So far, 24-year-old Collin Morikawa is 2-for-8 in major championships. Only Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones won their first two majors so quickly. And does that winning percentage remind you of anyone else who came from California? Think it over. Already considered the best iron player on the PGA Tour, Morikawa had the putting round of his life at Royal St. George’s and he needed it to stave off a charge by Jordan Spieth and hold off Oosthuizen, who led after each of the first three rounds. Morikawa shot 66 and played the last 31 holes without a bogey. He was also bogey-free over the closing 21 holes when he captured last year’s PGA Championship. Hmm, I detect a pattern…
5. U.S. Women’s Open
Lexi Thompson joined the list of big-name favorites who fumbled away an Open at Olympic club — Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart, to name a few. Thompson owned a five-stroke lead midway through the final round but inexplicably played the last ten holes in five over par, missing a playoff by one. Yuka Saso of the Phillippines beat Nasa Hataoka of Japan with a birdie on the third playoff hole. Saso, who modeled her swing after Rory McIlroy, tied Inbee Park as the youngest Women’s Open champion to the day at 19 years, 11 months, 17 days.
4. Masters Tournament
The tournament’s most important hour may have been the time Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama spent in his parked car during a storm delay and occupied himself with his cell phone. When play resumed, Matsuyama put on a show, covering Augusta National’s last eight holes in six under par and opening a four-shot lead. There was drama on Sunday, as there always is, but it faded late and Matsuyama enjoyed the luxury of being able to bogey three of the last four holes to win by one stroke. Matsuyama’s caddie provided the signature moment when he replaced the flagstick on the 18th green and, with hat off, bowed to the course in silent respect.
3. KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
The LPGA found the American superstar it’s been waiting for at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Nelly Korda snagged her first major title, became the first American in seven years to reach No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings and the first American in three years to win a major. Korda used her length off the tee to make two eagles in the final round, one after a 243-yard 7-wood shot nearly went in the hole. She finished three shots ahead of Lizette Salas, posted a 60 and 62 during the season, and won the Meijer LPGA Classic and the Women’s PGA in back-to-back weeks with a combined 44 under par total. The bad news for her LPGA competitors? She’s only 23.
2. U.S. Open Championship
For sheer goose bumps, nothing beat Jon Rahm pouring in a pair of hard-breaking putts on the final two holes at Torrey Pines. Wow, times two. It was his first major victory, validated his unusual-but-efficient short backswing and provided karmic justice a few weeks after Rahm was forced to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament with a six-shot lead due to a positive COVID test.
1. PGA Championship
What will Phil do next? Phil Mickelson doesn’t have to do anything next after his exceptional and unexpected performance at the Ocean Course. He’d dropped out of the World Ranking’s top 100 for the first time since 1993, hadn’t won in two years and was a 200-to-1 underdog. Looking back, Mickelson had only one other top-40 finish in 2021 and that was a 17th in the 65-man World Golf Championship field in Memphis. So this PGA Championship, his sixth major title, was beyond special.
This Phil-harmonic Convergence was a curtain call that ranks with Jack Nicklaus at Augusta in 1986 and Tiger Woods at Augusta in 2019. There was drama on the 72nd hole but not on the leaderboard. Mickelson lag-putted for a two-stroke victory. First, he had wriggle through a wild gallery that broke through the ropes and lined the 18th green. It was a Pied Piper moment similar to one with Woods in Atlanta at the 2018 Tour Championship, except Phil had a stampede in front and Woods had a gallery tsunami at his back.
Thanks to security, Mickelson and his group did find the green so he could make history as the oldest man—50, a few weeks shy of 51—to win a major. It wasn’t a moment for the aged, it was a moment for the ages.