Some may argue it was the end of this era a long time ago, but as we are approaching a US Open without Tiger Woods, could it be fair to say that the end of the “Big Five” era is officially upon us?
I remember when the Big Five dominated golf. It was an exciting time as Tiger Woods claimed major after major, chased regularly by the other four competitors. It was a time when they dominated the world rankings, moving up and down the top-five and saying to the world: “Catch us if you can.”
Well, has the world caught up? Their dominance has slowly dwindled, and their persistent presence of challenging for majors has fallen away. I suppose this was inevitable as age eventually catches up with even the best of sportsmen, but in a way it is sad that this exciting period of golf has come to an end.
One only has to see their current world rankings to see this is the case. At the present time, Mickelson (4th) still occupies a place in the top five. Woods (15th), Els (23rd) and Goosen (26th) have still maintained some level of consistency. Singh has dropped the most as he currently lies at 59, but it is to be expected as he is the oldest of the group.
That isn’t to say that golf today isn’t exciting; a whole host of talented young golfers are emerging, the fall of Woods has made for an exciting tussle at the top of the rankings, and Majors now seem as wide open as ever.
Don't take this to mean that these golfers are through in this game forever. For all we know, Goosen could pick up his third US Open title come Sunday, or Phil could finally break his US Open drought. Anything can happen in sports. This is more of a way of looking back and saying goodbye to their collective period of dominance.
Here is a look at some of the memorable major duels between these five great golfers:
Result: (Singh -10, Els -7)
The first Masters of the millennium featured two of the best non-American golfers in Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, battling it out on Sunday for the title.
Singh held a 3-shot lead going into the final round over David Duval. Els did his best to overcome a four-shot deficit at the start of the day by posting 68, but Singh was just too good as he strolled to his first Masters title by 3-shots.
Result: (Woods -3, Mickelson E)
Woods lead this competition from the first round, and it was never really in doubt that he would win.
A four-shot lead after the third round enabled him to stroll to a 3-shot victory over compatriot Mickelson, who had to be content with another second place finish.
Whilst not as dramatic as his 15-shot victory two years earlier at Pebble Beach, it was impressive nonetheless.
Result: (Woods -12, Goosen -9, Mickelson -8)
This was probably the most exciting major challenged by the Big Five as all of them at some stage of the tournament lurked near the top of the leaderboard.
After 52 holes, Goosen and Woods led the field, followed closely by Singh, Els and Mickelson. All players were within four shots, making it one of the most exciting finales of its time.
Woods eventually triumphed on Sunday as he posted a consistent 71 and with no real challenge from the rest, putting on his third Green Jacket in the process.
Result: (Woods -12, Els +3)
Whilst not a “classic” duel in the sense of intense competition, the 2000 US Open will forever be remembered for Woods’ historic 15-shot rout of the rest of the field.
Woods sat at -8 going into a the final day’s play, with a ten shot lead over his nearest competitor Ernie Els (+2). Els and the rest of the field were forced to be spectators as the world marveled at the most impressive performance ever seen in a Major tournament.
Result: (Goosen -4, Mickelson -2)
The 2004 US Open will be remembered for its dramatic final holes that saw Goosen and Mickelson battling it out for the title. The crowds cheered and clearly wanted Phil to win the US Open (an event he’d never won before).
Phil had overhauled the “Goose” by scoring consecutive birdies on 15 and 16, only to post a double-bogey on the Par-3 17th. Goosen was a figure of calmness and resolve, quietly going about his business by making crucial putts, including a decisive putt on the 16th to extend his lead.
In the end Goosen triumphed by 2-shots over home favourite Mickelson, winning his second US Open.
Result: (Mickelson -9, Els -8)
It was another case of “so close yet so far” for Els as this was the closest he has come to claiming the Green Jacket.
Mickelson was tied for the lead going into the final day, but it was Els who came out firing, posting a 67 to take the lead. He then had to sit and wait to see if he had done enough to secure victory.
However, his wait for glory would be postponed indefinitely as Mickelson shot 5 birdies on the back nine, including a dramatic 20-foot putt on the 18th.
Mickelson’s long wait for that elusive Major had finally come to an end, whilst Els’ wait for a Green Jacket would be continued.