The 2013 season has been a notable year for golfers who have been in search of a major breakthrough.
Three of the four majors went to first-time champions in golf's biggest events. The only major winner who had been there before was Phil Mickelson, who captured the fifth major of his career when he had a remarkable 66 in the final round of the British Open. That earned him the championship of golf's oldest event at Muirfield.
But the Masters went to Australian Adam Scott, while the U.S. Open was claimed by England's Justin Rose. Hard-charging Jason Dufner wore a mask of concentration throughout the PGA Championship, and he edged out Jim Furyk for the Wanamaker Trophy.
All of the first-time winners are special players, and we'll look at each one before saying which one has the brightest future on the tour.
It has been a remarkable year for the 33-year-old Scott, who earned his first major with a memorable playoff win over Angel Cabrera at Augusta. Scott was remarkably consistent at Augusta, firing a 69 in the opening round, before putting a pedestrian 72 on the board on Friday. However, he bounced back to form with back-to-back rounds of 69 on moving day and in the final round.
Scott earned the title when he birdied the second extra hole to get the edge over the game and the worthy Cabrera.
Scott is known as an excellent tee-to-green player. He has power and generally keeps the ball straight, as well. He ranks 21st with an average of 299.0 yards per drive, and he finds the fairway on 61.33 percent of his tee shots.
He hits his irons crisply and is also quite dependable around the green. When Scott is sharp with his putter, he has a chance to contend in the most important tournaments of the year. That was certainly the case in three of the four majors.
While Scott did not have a good showing at the U.S. Open where he tied for 45th, he was solid with a third-place finish at the British Open and a fifth-place showing in the PGA championship.
"I'm peaking at the right times," Scott told Brian Wacker of PGATour.com. "It's hard to stay there for four days and have the lead the whole time, but I feel like I'm improving still. I'm doing something right."
Scott has seven top 10s, including a win and two second-place finishes, over the last three years at the majors.
Rose knew he was going to be tested at the U.S. Open at Merion, and he was determined to show that he belonged in the competition with the big boys like Tiger Woods, Mickelson and Scott.
Playing well in the U.S. Open requires overwhelming accuracy. More than any other tournament, the U.S. Open punishes golfers who find the rough and the hazards. Accuracy is the hallmark of Rose's game, and he demonstrated it with a four-round total of 281. His one-over total demonstrated his tenacity and his ability to play the short game quite well.
Rose, 33, edged out Mickelson for the championship, something he knew was a heartbreaker for Lefty. "Beating Phil at the U.S. Open, obviously with his record there, obviously I was delighted to win, but you have to feel for Phil in that situation, too," Rose told Helen Ross of PGATour.com. "So I was also happy for him to win The Open Championship.
Rose finds the fairway on 65 percent of his tee shots and reaches 68.61 percent of his greens in regulation, a figure that ranks 14th on the tour. His putting can be shoddy—he ranks 147th in strokes gained putting—but he was on his game at Merion.
For the year, Rose has a second-place finish in addition to his U.S. Open triumph and five top-10 performances. Rose has made 11-of-13 cuts and has earned more than $3.1 million this year.
Dufner is clearly a late bloomer on the PGA Tour. The PGA Championship represents his third career tour victory, with the other two coming in 2012.
Dufner is all business on the golf course. His expression never seems to change, and it's difficult to tell whether he has just hit a 210-yard iron stiff to the pin or whether he has has pulled his drive into the hazard.
That's what has allowed Dufner to raise his game. The 36-year-old from Cleveland, who now resides in Auburn, Ala., does not allow the highs and lows of the game to impact him. He simply moves on to the next shot.
There's no looking back and thinking what might have been, and he doesn't waste his time congratulating himself either. As he came down the stretch with third-round leader Jim Furyk, you never got the feeling that Dufner was overwhelmed by the moment of playing for a major title. He just wanted to take one step at a time, and he did it brilliantly.
Dufner got off to a solid start with a 68 in the first round but then served notice that he was going to have one of his best showings ever when he fired a 63 in the second round. He came back to the pack with a 71 on Saturday, but he closed with a winning 68 at the challenging Oak Hill Country Club.
Like Scott and Rose, Dufner tends to struggle with his putter. He ranks 163rd in strokes gained putting. However, that was not an issue at Oak Hill.
Dufner is not a huge hitter, but he is accurate. He ranks 38th in driving accuracy and 29th in greens in regulation, which more than makes up for his 286.6 yard average off the tee (112th).
Overall, the three first-time winners have the kind of nerve and accuracy under pressure that should lead to more opportunities to win the majors. However, Scott seems to thrive in the majors more than the other two, and his game is also a bit more well-rounded. Scott seems to have a small but decisive edge over Rose and Dufner in the immediate future.