All hail another first-time major champion – but who will it be?
Question: Who was the last major champion to win another major championship?
I’ll give you a clue. Actually, I’ll just tell you because it’s Sunday and it’s nice out. It was Zach Johnson at the 2015 Open Championship.
Since then, we’ve had a run of six straight first-time winners: Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Sergio Garcia.
And it looks for all the world like it will be seven on Sunday.
In fact, you have to go all the way to Louis Oosthuizen in a tie for 17th for the highest-placed major champion in the remaining field.
When we lost the top three players in the world at the halfway stage, my colleague Steve Carroll asked: “Who will step up?” The answer? Loads of players.
It’s the US Open, but not as we know it.
And it’s great. When was the last time five players were at double figures under par through 54 holes at a major championship? (No, you look it up.)
Justin Thomas was first there, firing a major championship record-equalling 63, the first ever round of nine-under-par at a US Open, which included a mixture of bombs and creativity and that insane eagle at 18.
Tommy Fleetwood joined him soon after and led at 12-under, but then did quite the opposite on the final hole, scrambling for bogey after failing to find the green from first 40 yards then from just off the front edge.
That left Brian Harman out on his own at 12-under. He’ll take a one-shot lead over Thomas and Fleetwood.
They’re joined at 11-under by Brooks Koepka and one further back is Rickie Fowler. The American carded just the fifth round of seven-under or better in US Open history on Thursday, but struggled to make a similar impact on day two with a 73. Three birdies in a row from 14 saw Fowler to 10-under, and there he stayed to remain firmly in contention.
Fowler is considered by, well, pretty much everyone to be the best player currently on tour yet to win a major – including a website not a million miles from here.
“I take it as a compliment,” Fowler admits. “There are a lot of really good players out here who haven’t won a major, but it would be nice to get rid of that at some point.”
While moving day was a lot of fun, and with all due respect to Thomas, Fleetwood, Koepka, Harman, Si Woo Kim, Patrick Reed, Russell Henley, Charley Hoffman, Brandt Snedeker and Xander Schauffele, it’s hardly a who’s who of major contenders atop the leaderboard.
Thomas’s record reads one top 20 in seven attempts. Fleetwood can claim just one top 30 and six missed cuts. Harman isn’t much better, with two top 40s and five missed cuts.
And that’s why Fowler and Koepka’s names stands out. For Fowler, six major championship top 10s, including 2015 when he finished T5, T2, T2 and T3 on golf’s four biggest stages. For Koepka, four top 10s in 14 attempts.
Harman, Thomas and Fleetwood can take solace in the fact that none of the other two competed at a major, while Koepka’s lack of experience may cost him.
But Fowler is every bit the major champion – he just doesn’t have the major championship to go with it. And that will play on the mind of those ahead of him.
Strap yourself in for the final round. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.
And you thought you’d miss Tiger Woods…