Phil Mickelson wasn’t going to win the BMW Championship before he bailed on the final two rounds at Cherry Hills, but his exit formalized what, thanks to injury and ugly golf — or both — has been in view for weeks. With Mickelson’s early exit from Colorado, although it probably won’t be a priority for spectators disappointed not to see him this weekend, an era is officially over.
Each season from 1993 through 2013, either Mickelson or Tiger Woods — or both — won a PGA Tour event. That is 21 years, a generation, a lot of success for the two men who have defined this span of golf that began in one century and continued into another.
Seventy-nine wins for Woods in the period, 41 for Mickelson (whose other tour win, as an amateur at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, predates it). A total of 120 victories that are the statistical lumber of their roles over two decades that have been dominating, captivating, mystifying, aggravating — sometimes all at once.
Without a victory by either golfer in the hyphenated 2013-14 PGA Tour season, during which the two stars were primarily frustrated by their ineffectiveness, the streak is over. It says Mickelson is 44 and Woods is 38 and that nothing is forever. It says they have been superb and tenacious golfers and we have been fortunate to watch them go, styles as different as right and left, disparate except for their appetite to be clutching silver or crystal after 72 holes.
Their tango at the top — Woods leading — compares favorably to previous duos who have won tournaments over long stretches. Over the past century four other winning pairs who were part of such enduringly successful streaks come to mind, every one of the golfers a legend.
Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, from 1918 through 1938, matched the 21 straight years of Mickelson and Woods. The next power twosome, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, had an even longer run if you throw out 1943, the heart of World War II. Excluding that season, when neither won, the Snead-Hogan run went from 1936 through 1961, 25 straight seasons. (The only years Snead didn’t have a victory in that period were 1947 and 1959.)
As Snead and Hogan were winding down, the two other eras were beginning.
When Mickey Wright won the 1956 Jacksonville Open, that started 23 consecutive years of winning on the LPGA Tour by she or Kathy Whitworth that concluded with Whitworth’s victory at the 1978 National Jewish Hospital Open. Whitworth would win a record 88 titles, Wright 82.
Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus did the women one better on the PGA Tour, a 24-year stretch that started with Palmer’s 1955 Canadian Open triumph and ended with Nicklaus’ 1978 IVB-Philadelphia Classic title. Palmer (1955-71), Nicklaus (1962-78) and Whitworth (1962-78) have the longest individual streaks on the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour with at least one victory a year, 17. Those records figure to last a long time as surely will Gary Player’s 28 consecutive years (1955-82) of winning a tournament somewhere around the globe.
We’ll see in a few months whether Woods and Mickelson have the stuff to resume winning, to start a new streak to follow the old one, which began with Mickelson’s victory at the 1993 Buick Invitational of California and ended when Woods won the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
It won’t be easy for either of them, at or loitering at the top for so long. Golf years are not quite dog years. The very best keep their bark before we notice, or sometimes accept, their bite is gone. But with both Woods and Mickelson being shut out this season, age cannot be ignored. Win or lose, as for a generation, many will be watching.