Record-Low Scoring Has Become the New Normal to Win Golf's Major Tournaments

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistAugust 17, 2015

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In today's golf climate, it's not enough just to be good or even great. In order to win a major championship, you need to have a legendary performance.

Jason Day proved that once again on Sunday at Whistling Straits, where he won the 2015 PGA Championship in record fashion to grab his first major title. 

Day triumphed by finishing at 20 under par, the lowest aggregate score at any major championship in the entire history of golf, according to PGATour.com's Brian Wacker.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Yes, you read that right. Nobody in the history of golf—not prime Tiger Woods, not prime Jack Nicklaus—had ever shot 20 under par at a major.

The runner-up, Jordan Spieth, shot 17 under par, a score that would have been good enough to win the PGA Championship in all but three years since 1958, when the tournament became a stroke-play championship.

But don't feel bad for Spieth. The 22-year-old American got a couple of nice consolation prizes.

Not only did Spieth earn the No. 1 ranking for his solo second-place finish, but thanks in part to his win this year at the Masters—where he set the Masters scoring record at 18 under par—PGATour.com's Bill Cooney reported that he also finished the year with an aggregate major score of 54 under par, the lowest in the history of the game.

Tiger has won three majors in a year, while Spieth only won two. However, CBS Sports' Kyle Porter indicated that Tiger has never made it through a year of majors in as few strokes as Spieth did this year:

Because of history-making performances like the ones Day and Spieth have put together this season, the rest of the field has been left out to dry despite playing the type of golf that would have earned championships in previous years.

Take Justin Rose, for example. Rose, who won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, with a score of one over par, scored 14 under par at the Masters and PGA Championship this year.

At the Masters, which is played on the same course at Augusta National every year, a 14-under round would have won all but seven of the 79 Masters tournaments. This year, he finished four strokes back from Spieth and tied for second.

At the PGA Championship, a 14-under would have won him all but seven of the last 58 tournaments. This year, it was only enough for fourth place. He didn't hide his surprise.

"Coming into this week, I thought 14 under par would be great," Rose told reporters after his round on Sunday. "Actually it's ironic that's what I finished on, but I thought that would be a winning score. Even today again I was surprised."

Even his peer, 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, thinks that is ridiculous:

The guys at the top of the game right now are so incredibly good that there is absolutely no room for error. Just ask Dustin Johnson, who infamously three-putted on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open this year to lose to Spieth.

Johnson was in the lead after shooting a six-under 66 on Thursday. On Friday, one so-so rounda one-over 73essentially took him out of contention despite a 68 on Saturday and 69 on Sunday.

Jae Hong/Associated Press

On Sunday, Johnson's round included two eagles and six birdies but was derailed by one hole—a quadruple bogey on the first.

Johnson is one of the guys who, like Day, has been knocking on the door for some time. But unlike Day, he still hasn't been able to turn the knob from great to historic.

That's the problem—if you can even call it that—in today's game. It is so filled with young, powerful talent that everyone keeps one-upping one another and pushing the game to greater heights. If you're not going forward, you're going backward.

As Karen Crouse of the New York Times pointed out, since so many players in this generation were inspired by Woods, they're facing tougher competition than ever.

"When Woods was in his mid-20s, he had no one in his peer group to push him," she wrote. "Spieth, McIlroy and Day are but the tip of an iceberg of a globe-spanning generation, inspired by Woods to take up the game, that could end up being golf’s greatest."

Just think about it. A few years ago, it was Rory McIlroy coming up and putting the PGA Tour on notice with record-smashing scores.

He set a scoring record of 16 under par on his way to winning the 2011 U.S. Open, his first major, by eight strokes at the age of 22.

BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 19:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after his eight-stroke victory on the 18th green alongside runner-up Jason Day of Australia (L) and leading amateur Patrick Cantlay (R) during the 111th U.S. Open at Congressi
David Cannon/Getty Images

Only three years later, Martin Kaymer wasn't able to touch McIlroy's scoring record, but he did tie McIlroy's ridiculous margin of victory, winning the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort by eight strokes.

The German scored nine under par on a course where birdies were predicted to be essentially nonexistent.

There have only been 23 wire-to-wire champions in the history of major golf, with the first coming back in 1912. Three of those have come in the past two years—Kaymer at the 2014 U.S. Open, McIlroy at the 2014 British Open and Spieth at the Masters this year.

Thanks to the power of today's game, the improved technology and the increased level of competition influenced by Tiger and record-setting purses, it seems that no scoring record is safe.

In the past, even as recently as a few years ago, having one legendary day might be enough to win a major. Putting together four solid rounds could possibly get it done. Scoring double digits under par for the championship would have you feeling good.

Not anymore. In order to win a golf major these days, you're not only facing your peers. You're battling history. You can either set the record yourself or watch someone else do it.

On Sunday at Whistling Straits, Day finally got the memo.

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