Immortality in golf is tough to come by. Oh, sure, you can get your name inscribed on some trophy tucked into a corner of an ornate clubhouse, where generations of golfers not yet born will walk past it without a second glance. But real, lasting fame in golf? The kind where your name becomes an adjective, a benchmark? That usually takes a generation to build.
Unless you're Rory McIlroy, in which case you could knock it out by Sunday.
McIlroy stands ready to make history this weekend, honest, legitimate, they'll-be-writing-about-this-in-the-22nd-century history. He's four good days of golf away from breaking ground where nobody -- not Jack Nicklaus, not Arnold Palmer, not Tiger Woods, nobody -- has ever gone.
The British Open, the oldest of the four majors by several decades, dates to 1860. Over that century-and-a-half, 204 players have won a major and 76 have won more than one. And since golf began playing four majors in a year, take a wild guess at how many golfers have won their second major immediately after their first.
None. Zero. Not a single player in the four-major era has won consecutive times to kick off his major-winning career.
Now, there are caveats. Craig Wood won his only two majors in a row in 1941, taking down the Masters and the U.S. Open in order. But, as you'll note by the date, much of the rest of the world was occupied with other matters; the Open Championship wasn't even held that year. Before Wood, you have to go back to the late 19th century, a time when the only major as we know it today was the Open Championship. A few cats, including the Tom Morrises Young and Old, started their careers winning consecutive Opens, but let's not even count that.
OK, so, fine, the golf immortals didn't win their first two majors in order. But they didn't take long to get into multiples, right? You'd be surprised. Let's take a look at some recent notable multiple major winners, and how long it took them to capture that second major:
• Tiger Woods: 2+ years (1997 Masters-1999 PGA)
• Phil Mickelson: 1+ year (2004 Masters-2005 PGA)
• Ernie Els: 3 years (1994 U.S. Open-1997 U.S. Open)
• Padraig Harrington: 1 year (2007 British Open-2008 British Open)
• Vijay Singh: 1+ year (1998 PGA-2000 Masters)
Yep, it took Woods nearly three years to win that second major. For comparison's sake, it took Arnold Palmer two years to win his second (1958 to 1960 Masters), and Jack Nicklaus 10 months (1962 U.S. Open to 1963 Masters). Of note: Both Mark O'Meara (1998 Masters, 1998 Open Championship) and Seve Ballesteros (1979 Open, 1980 Masters) won their second major within two events after their first.
Still, the difficulty of capturing that second major certainly factors in to Nicklaus' recent comments on McIlroy: "Don't anoint him as the crown prince yet," the Golden Bear told the BBC. "He has won one major. When he starts to win two, three, four, then you can say he's the guy we've got to watch, period."
Now, let's throw out a few more numbers...specifically, the odds to win this week's Open Championship, via Bodog:
• Rory McIlroy: 13/2
• Luke Donald: 11/1
• Lee Westwood: 11/1
• Martin Kaymer: 22/1
• Sergio Garcia: 28/1
• Steve Stricker: 28/1
• Graeme McDowell: 28/1
Yes, McIlroy is nearly twice the favorite to win as his nearest competition. Certainly, odds aren't necessarily a statistically legitimate way of measuring the likelihood of winning; the idea is to tease action on both sides of the line. But it's indisputable that McIlroy is riding higher than anyone in the game at this point. (It's also indisputable that some strange business is going on in the golf world if Sergio Garcia, who barely even made the tournament, is the fourth-best pick on the board.)
McIlroy absolutely can win this week. But if he doesn't, and history overwhelmingly says he won't, there's no need to panic. His phenom credentials won't expire for several years; he'd be keeping pace with Woods even if he doesn't win another major until 2013.
Still, if he does win? He might just be the immortal people already assume he is. Going where no golfer has ever gone will do that for you.
Jay Busbee is the editor of Yahoo! Sports' Devil Ball Golf. He also edits Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR blog From The Marbles and is the author of the new novel Bluff City. Follow him online on Facebook, on Twitter at @jaybusbee, and now on Google+, and email him your thoughts, comments and so forth at email@example.com.
- Tiger Woods
- Jack Nicklaus
- Rory McIlroy
- Arnold Palmer