The Big Four

July 29, 2012

Just an interesting topic to ponder amongst our readership.

Last week, the big easy earned his second British Open title, taking home the Claret jug. This marks Ernie’s fourth major. While many are lauding his performance–and feeling quite sorry for one Adam Scott–I took a moment to pause and remember the time when golf seemed more exciting than any, and, looking back, what that time in history has led to.

When was it we started calling them “The Big Four?” 2004? 2005? To think it’s been 7 or 8 years since that time frame makes it seem like we’re getting old. Nonetheless, in the historic career of one Tiger Woods, the period of “The Big Four” was one of probably his greatest areas of achievement.

Colloquially, The Big Four meant Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh, who typically were consistent contenders and always ranked in the top 6 or 7 in the world rankings. Their attendance at tournaments drove the public eye, and sponsorship money for the Tour site of the week rose and fell with their decisions to compete or not. These men are, by and large, the reason that PGA Tour prize money is now consistently over $1MM per tournament for the winner, with each tournament seeking to draw the best in the world.

In May, the Devil Ball Golf Blog (,241789) opined that Mickelson was the only of The Big Four to currently be in contention. I guess things change. Tiger has held at least a share of the lead in each major since, and Ernie Els…well…won the Open.

When we were in the heat of The Big Four, however, it felt like a “Big One”–with Tiger Woods essentially dominating. Even though Phil, Ernie, and Vijay all placed well, the consistent performer was Tiger Woods. He won two majors in 05, two in 06, one in 07, and one in 08. Mickelson broke through for a major in each of 04, 05, and 06, but nothing compared to Tiger’s dominance. Els and Vijay…well…Vijay won the 2004 PGA but seemed to never really hold on to his putting.

What’s interesting to review, though, is what’s happened since. When you look at the numbers, Tiger Woods won 6 majors during that time period and 14 overall. But Phil added another major. So did Els. And when we look back, we see that two of The Big Four have won four majors (Phil and Ernie) while one owns three titles (Vijay). Collectively, these men account for 25 major championships won.

Compare that to the current streak of now 15 majors without a repeat winner (last being Padraig Harrington, 2008 PGA after the 2008 British Open), and it really puts the performance in a span of history. Els’s recent win was the first time in ten majors that the winner was not a first-time major championship.

In other words, what these players did was utterly unbelievable. They dominated the game in a way that we likely will never see again. While it appeared at the time that Tiger was the dominant force (and he probably was), think about what these men achieved. All of them will likely be in the World Golf Hall of Fame as soon as eligible (Phil already is!). And, what’s more amazing–they’re still competing at a high level almost a decade later. While the current state of golf is something to debate, looking back at the history we’ve seen, this just might have been the greatest generation of the game.

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