Block party, Koepka’s comeback among best moments of 2023 men’s golf majors

And just like that, the 2023 major championship season is over in men’s professional golf.

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka each won another major championship title. World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy didn’t. Wyndham Clark and Brian Harman won majors for the first time.

At least golf fans still have the FedEx Cup playoffs, LIV Golf League team championship and Ryder Cup to look forward to.

The next major championship, the 2024 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, is 258 days away.

“It is always a shame,” Max Homa said. “It’s so long until the next one.”

Here’s a look back at the best and worst from the majors:

Choosing the best player in the majors wasn’t a slam dunk like last season, when Scheffler won the Masters during his epic heater and tied for second in the U.S. Open, or when McIlroy finished in the top 10 in all four.

Scheffler had the best cumulative score, 18 under, among players who made the cut in each of the four majors in 2023. He tied for 10th at the Masters, for second at the PGA Championship, was solo third at the U.S. Open and tied for 23rd at The Open. He was the most consistent player, but his poor putting prevented him from collecting more hardware. He didn’t finish better than 34th in strokes gained: putting in a major, while his ballstriking was out of this world in all of them.

McIlroy stunningly missed the cut at the Masters, but he tied for seventh at the PGA Championship, was solo second at the U.S. Open and tied for sixth at The Open. He’ll head into another offseason trying to figure out how to end a nine-year drought without a major championship.

So, the best player in the 2023 majors is Rahm, who made the cut in all four and finished 15 under collectively. He picked up his second major championship victory at the Masters on what would have been the 66th birthday of his idol, Seve Ballesteros, who won his second green jacket 40 years ago. Rahm also captured the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2021.

Rahm survived a 30-hole marathon on the final day of the Masters after bad weather forced the third round to be suspended. After starting the final round 2 strokes back of Brooks Koepka, he closed with a 3-under 69 to pull 4 shots ahead of Koepka and Phil Mickelson.

“We all dream of things like this as players, and you try to visualize what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like,” Rahm said. “Never thought I was going to cry by winning a golf tournament, but I got very close on that 18th hole.

“And a lot of it because of what it means to me, and to Spanish golf,” he said. “It’s Spain’s 10th major, fourth player to win the Masters. It’s pretty incredible.”

Best performance: Brian Harman at The Open

Harman, a 125-1 underdog to win The Open, produced one of the most dominant performances in recent major history when he posted a 5-under 67 in the second round to open up a 5-stroke lead and never gave it up. He led by 5 after the third round and won by 6 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club to claim his first major championship. He was the first Open Champion winner to lead by 5 strokes or more after each of the final three rounds since Henry Cotton in 1934.

Harman’s 6-stroke margin of victory matches the second largest in Open Championship history by golfers representing the United States; Tiger Woods won the Claret Jug with an 8-stroke margin at St. Andrews in Scotland in 2000. He became only the third left-handed player to win The Open, joining Bob Charles (1963) and Mickelson (2013).

Harman, 36, is the oldest first-time major champion since Spain’s Sergio Garcia, 37, won the Masters in 2017.

The former Georgia star put on a clinic at Royal Liverpool. He led the field in driving accuracy, hitting 75% of fairways, and averaged 285.4 yards off the tee. He hit 66.7% of greens and needed only 1.5 putts per hole, which was second among players who made the cut. Harman hit only two bunkers on a links course peppered with them. He made 59 of 60 putts inside 10 feet and didn’t miss one until the 13th hole on Sunday.

“I’ve always had a self-belief that I could do something like this,” said Harman, who ended a six-year drought without a victory. “It’s just when it takes so much time it’s hard not to let your mind falter, like maybe I’m not winning again. I’m 36 years old. Game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out, hit it a mile, and they’re all ready to win. Like when is it going to be my turn again?”

The United States Golf Association prides itself on staging the most difficult tests in golf, but the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club was hardly an exam for the world’s best players in the opening rounds.

There hadn’t been a 62 record in a round at the U.S. Open in 122 years — until the opening round in June. Fowler and Schauffele both did it within a 30-minute span. Fowler was the first player in U.S. Open history with 10 birdies in a round (Justin Thomas had nine birdies and an eagle at Erin Hills in Wisconsin in 2017).

With a marine layer hanging over the course and keeping conditions soft, the scoring average in the first round was 71.38, the lowest in an opening round of a U.S. Open in the past 90 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information. LACC’s North Course is a par-70 course. The previous low scoring average for the first round was 72.29 at Baltusrol in Springfield Township, New Jersey, in 1993.

In addition to the pair of record scores, there were two 64s, two 65s, seven 67s and 11 68s. There wasn’t a single score in the 80s. It was the first time in the first or second round of the U.S. Open that no player shot worse than 79, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Clark was ranked 313th in the Official World Golf Ranking in late May 2022 and had never finished better than a tie for 75th in a major championship. But in the final round of the 123rd U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club on June 18, he stared down McIlroy, Scheffler and Fowler to capture his first major title.

Clark, one of the longest hitters off the tee on tour, became only the fourth player in the past 100 years to win the U.S. Open the first time after making the cut in the tournament, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The 29-year-old had picked up his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship on May 7. Clark won his first major on Father’s Day, but it was a day he honored his late mother,

Lise, who died on Aug. 2, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. She gave her son words of encouragement shortly before her death.

“She’s like, ‘Hey, play big,'” Clark said. “‘Play for something bigger than yourself. You have a platform to either witness or help or be a role model for so many people.’ And I’ve taken that to heart.”

Most surprising performance: Mickelson at the Masters

Love him or hate him, Mickelson moves the needle, and “Lefty” proved at the Masters that he still has something left in the tank. The then-52-year-old carded a 7-under 65 in the final round to tie for second at 8-under 280, 4 shots behind Rahm.

Mickelson, a six-time major champion, posted the lowest round at the Masters by a player age 50 or older. He also passed Ben Hogan as the oldest player to finish in the top five at Augusta National Golf Club. It was his 12th runner-up finish in a major, which trails only Jack Nicklaus’ 19. Mickelson and Sam Snead are the only players to record a top-five finish at the Masters in four different decades.

More than anything, Mickelson was happy to be back at the Masters, a tournament he has won three times, after skipping the event in 2022. He took a break from competitive golf after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses were published by author Alan Shipnuck.

“I think when you come here to Augusta, you end up having a sense of gratitude,” Mickelson said. “There’s kind of a calm that comes over you; the fact that we get to play and compete in this Masters, and I think we’ve all been very appreciative of that. I know after missing last year, to be here this year, it means a lot to me, and it means a lot to me to be a part of this tournament going forward.

“It’s what I dreamed of as a kid to be a part of, and I’ve got so many great memories wrapped up here at Augusta.”

In the Netflix series, “Full Swing,” golf fans got to see Koepka’s wounded confidence up close. He seemed bruised and battered, wondering aloud if he could still compete with the world’s best players after dislocating and shattering his right kneecap.

Koepka said he fell at home in March 2021 and tried to pop his kneecap back into place. In the process, he shattered it and ruptured his medial patellofemoral ligament. Surgeons told him it would take 18 months to fully recover. His health was one of the reasons he jumped to LIV Golf last year. In 2022, Koepka missed the cut at the Masters and The Open and finished 55th in the PGA Championship and U.S. Open.

“Big-game Brooks” was back this season. After tying for second at the Masters, he captured his third PGA Championship title at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, in May. He became only the third player to win a Wanamaker Trophy at least three times after it became a stroke-play event in 1958; Jack Nicklaus (five) and Tiger Woods (four) were the others.

“To look back to where we were two years ago, I’m so happy right now,” Koepka said. “This is just the coolest thing.”

Best shot: Michael Block’s ace at the PGA Championship

Koepka might have won a Wanamaker Trophy for a second time in May, but it was Michael Block’s week at Oak Hill.

Block, a club pro from Mission Viejo, California, delivered the lasting moment of the tournament when he made an ace on the par-3 15th hole. He hit a flighted 7-iron and his ball soared toward the pin. When the crowd roared, Block figured he must have hit it close.

But then McIlroy, his playing partner, turned around and gave him a hug.

“I’m like, ‘Why is Rory giving me a hug?'” Block said. “Rory gives me a hug for hitting it 3, 4, 5 feet? That’s weird. I’m like, ‘I think I just made it.'”

Block, from Mission Viejo, California, asked McIlroy if he had made a hole-in-one.

“Yeah, it went in the hole,” McIlroy said. “Right in the hole.”

It was the first hole-in-one at the PGA Championship since Byeong Hun An’s ace on the 11th hole in the final round in 2020 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. Block was the first PGA club pro to make a hole-in-one at the PGA Championship since George Bowman in 1996.

Block tied for 15th in the PGA Championship. He received sponsor’s exemptions to play in the Charles Schwab Challenge and RBC Canadian Open, missing the cut in both.

Best amateur: Sam Bennett at the Masters

The 23-year-old senior from Texas A&M qualified for the Masters by winning last year’s U.S. Amateur, but didn’t play like a non-professional in the first two rounds at Augusta National when he posted consecutive 4-under 68s to head into the weekend with sole possession of third place.

History and his nerves caught up with him on the weekend — he carded a 76 on Saturday and 74 on Sunday — but it was good enough to finish in a tie for 16th. He won the Silver Cup as the low amateur and was the first amateur to finish in the top 20 since 2005.

Bennett has a tattoo on his left forearm of something his late father, Mark Bennett, wrote before his death from early-onset Alzheimer’s in June 2021.

“He was the reason why I started playing golf and why I wanted to be good to impress him,” Bennett said. “[Looking at the tattoo] is like a new pre-shot routine that I do now right before I’m about to hit it. I look at it and I’m like, ‘Don’t wait to do something.’ It’s something that will always stick and he means the world to me.”

Best moment: Tom Kim at the PGA Championship

Bad weather had a major impact at the Masters, PGA Championship and The Open. No one knows that more than South Korea’s Tom Kim, who took a mud bath while searching for his errant tee shot on the sixth hole in the opening round at Oak Hill.

Marshals told Kim that his ball had crossed a creek and landed somewhere in the high weeds in a hazard. By the time Kim came back — without his ball — he was covered in mud nearly up to his waist.

“I was told my ball crossed the water,” Kim told ESPN. “It was just in the mud over there, and if I was able to find it [and] I had a good enough lie I was thinking I could chip it over there.”

Kim took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs before beginning his hunt.

“As soon as I went in, it was kind of sketch,” Kim said. “But I mean it’s a major championship. I’m fighting for every single stroke I have.”

He carded a bogey on the hole.

Least inspiring performance: Justin Thomas

You hate to pile on JT, who is really struggling with his game at the moment. But when he stared up in the cold, falling rain after missing the cut at the Masters, it was hard to imagine it would get worse for the former world No. 1 golfer. Somehow, it did.

Thomas missed the cut at Augusta National after carding bogeys on three of the last four holes and posting a 6-over 42 on the second nine in difficult conditions. At the PGA Championship, an event he won the year before at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Thomas tied for 65th.

That wasn’t the bottom. Thomas carded an 11-over 81 in the second round of the U.S. Open and missed the cut with a 36-hole total of 14-over 154. He posted an 11-over 81 in the first round of The Open and missed the cut at 11 over.

It was the first time Thomas missed the cut at more than one major since he turned pro in 2016. He made the cut in all four majors last season.

Thomas left Royal Liverpool trying to get his game in order. He’s in danger of missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time in his career.

“I don’t know if it’s a focus thing or I’m just putting too much pressure on myself or what it is,” Thomas said. “I’m trying to not focus too much on days like yesterday. I’m trying not to dwell on it … but it just sucks when it’s the first round of a major, and you have no chance anymore.”

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