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U.S. Open – Catching Lightning in a Bottle (Twice)

Posted on June 15, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Andy North won only three PGA Tour events, but two of them were U.S. Open Championships.

Andy North won only three PGA Tour events, but two of them were U.S. Open Championships.

If you need any other illustration of how crazy the world of sports can be, all you need to look at is the history of the U.S. Open golf tournament. It is a tournament where two of the greatest champions of all-time, Phil Mickelson and Sam Snead, have a combined total of 10 runner-up finishes without never hoisting the tournament trophy, while there are 5 players over the last 50 years who have won the U.S. Open multiple times without winning any of the other three major titles.

Here is a look at the careers of those five champions who “got lucky” multiple times:

Hale Irwin – 1974, 1979, 1990 – Of the players whose only grand slam championships are at the U.S. Open, Irwin was the most successful in the other tournaments. He had at least one top five finish in each of the other three major championships, including a tie for second place at the British Open in 1983, and a total of 10 top 5 finishes and 20 top 10 finishes in majors. After winning his first U.S. Open in 1974, Irwin finished in the top 10 in each of the four majors in 1975. However, it would not be until 1979 when he claimed his second U.S. Open at the Iverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Between 1980 and 1984, Irwin had four top 8 finishes at majors. However, he finished no higher than 14th in a major for the remainder of the decade. So, it was quite a surprise when at the age of 45, he defeated Mike Donald in a playoff to become the oldest U.S. Open Champion. His final run at a major title was in 1993 when he finished tied for 6th at the PGA Championship at the age of 48.

Andy North – 1978, 1985 – Anyone who watches golf analysis on ESPN is familiar with Andy North. He has been part of their golf coverage for more than two decades. North played college golf at the University of Florida before turning pro in 1972. In 1975 he registered his first top 5 finish at a major with a fourth place showing at the PGA Championship. In 1977 he won his first PGA Tour title capturing the American Express Westchester Classic. The following year he claimed the U.S. Open title by a single stroke over J.C. Snead and Dave Stockton. Though he finished in the top 10 at the U.S. Open in 1980 and 1983, he had very little success in other major tournaments prior to the 1985 U.S. Open. He overcame a four-shot deficit during the final round to win the tournament by a single stroke and claim his second U.S. Open title. He made only a handful of cuts at major championships over the remainder of his career.

Curtis Strange – 1988, 1989 – Another former champion who is now a familiar television personality, Curtis Strange is one of only six men to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years. Prior to his back-to-back titles, the last time the tournament was won by the same golfer two years in a row was by Ben Hogan in 1950 and 1951. Before claiming his first major, Strange was on the list of best golfers without a major title having won 14 PGA Tournament and five top 10 finishes at majors while leading the PGA money list in 1985 and 1987. His closest brush prior to 1988 had been in 1985 when he finished second at the Masters. He finished third at the 1984 U.S. Open and tied for fourth in 1987. At the 1988 U.S. Open, he defeated Nick Faldo in a playoff to win his first major. The next year he edged a trio of golfers by a single stroke to repeat as champion. He nearly won the PGA Championship later in the year, finishing in second place. Though he was only 34 years old, Strange would never win another PGA tournament. He had three top 10 finishes in majors in the 1990s with his best being a fourth place finish at the 1994 U.S. Open.

Lee Janzen shot all four rounds in the 60s at the 1993 U.S. Open Championship.

Lee Janzen shot all four rounds in the 60s at the 1993 U.S. Open Championship.

Lee Janzen – 1993, 1998 – A college golf star at Division II Florida Southern College, Lee Janzen had never finished better in majors than a tie for 21st at the 1992 PGA Championship before winning the 1993 U.S. Open. In fact, it marked the first time he had made the cut in three U.S. Open appearances. Playing at Baltusrol in New Jersey, Janzen registered scores in the 60s each round and matched the then U.S. Open record of eight under par for the tournament. He finished tied for 10th at the 1996 U.S. Open and had top 10 finishes at the PGA Championships in 1996 and 1997. He was five strokes off the pace at the 1998 U.S. Open, but fired a final round score of 68 to defeat Payne Stewart by a single stroke. That proved to be his final run at a major title as Janzen never again finished higher than 13th at a major tournament.

Retief Goosen – 2001, 2004 – Though he has only two major championship titles, Retief Goosen was a regular title contender for more than a decade with 16 top 10 finishes at major tournaments. He finished tied for 10th at both the 1997 and 1999 British Opens. After finishing tied for 12th at the 2000 U.S. Open, he broke through the following year by defeating Mark Brooks in a playoff. He finished second at the 2002 Masters and placed in the top 10 at the 2002 and 2003 British Opens. In 2004, he handed Phil Mickelson the third of his six second place finishes at the U.S. Open as Goosen won by two strokes. Though he didn’t win a major in 2005, it was arguably his finest season as Goosen tied for third at the Masters, tied for 11th at the U.S. Open, tied for fifth at the British Open and tied for 6th at the PGA Championship. He finished tied for third at the 2006 Masters and tied for second a year later.

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