AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Dustin Johnson already knows plenty of heartache in the majors.
He just doesn’t know Craig Wood.
Johnson stared blankly when asked if he had ever heard the name, which is understandable. It has been 75 years since Wood won the Masters. His name also gets mentioned on the rare occasion when someone wins the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. Woods did it in 1941. Only five others are on the list.
Wood was known as the “Blonde Bomber” for his wavy locks and prodigious length off the tee. The son of a timber foreman in the Adirondacks, Wood developed his broad shoulders and strong grip by learning to swing an axe has a boy.
He had style. He had swagger.
When it came to the majors, he just didn’t have much luck.
That’s why Wood should remain relevant today — not for the majors he won, but for the majors he didn’t.
Johnson, as powerful as anyone in the game, has reason to think he should have won a major by now. He lost a three-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and shot 82. He had that famous gaffe in the bunker at Whistling Straits that cost him a spot in a playoff at the PGA Championship. There was the 2-iron that sailed out-of-bounds at Royal St. George’s, the three-putt at Chambers Bay. At 31, he already has compiled some scar tissue from the majors.
Sergio Garcia blamed the golfing gods for conspiring against him at Carnoustie in the 2007 British Open when his tee shot hit the pin during a playoff. He also had the bad fortune of having Tiger Woods in his way whenever the Spaniard had a chance in the majors. Phil Mickelson? He was beaten on par putts by Payne Stewart (U.S. Open) and David Toms (PGA Championship) before he broke through at age 34.
None compare with what Wood endured.
He was the footnote in history for the “shot heard ‘round the world” in 1935 at Augusta National. Wood was in the clubhouse at 6-under 282. Only one other player on the course had a chance to catch him and that was Gene Sarazen, three shots behind. The crowd was congratulating him. His name already was on the winner’s check. And then Sarazen holed out with a 4-wood on the par-5 15th hole for an albatross 2.
Wood’s wife, Jacqueline, was in the clubhouse when word spread about Sarazen’s shot. One of the players’ wives told her, “You’ll get used to this, dear.”
By then, the major misery had already started.
Two years earlier at St. Andrews, Wood was in a 36-hole playoff with Denny Shute at the British Open. On the first hole of the 36-hole playoff, Wood drove into the Swilcan Burn and tried to play the shot out of the water. He made double bogey. He made another double bogey on the next hole. He lost by five.
The next year at the PGA Championship, then match play, Wood avenged his loss by beating Shute in the semifinals and faced Paul Runyan for the championship. Runyan was known as “Little Poison” because what he lacked in length he made up for with a stout short game.
They were tied after 36 holes, and Wood looked like a winner when he hit his second shot on a par 5 to just inside 10 feet for an eagle putt. Runyan hooked his shot toward the rough, but the ball hit the tire of a Movietone truck and kicked back into the fairway. He hit wedge to a foot for birdie, Wood missed his eagle putt, and Runyan won on the next hole.
And then came the Masters. And he still wasn’t done.
The 1939 U.S. Open is remembered as much for Sam Snead making triple bogey on the last hole as Byron Nelson winning. Often overlooked is that Nelson went to a playoff with Wood and Shute. Nelson and Wood each shot 68 in the 18-hole playoff (Shute shot 76). According to Golf World, the USGA asked Wood and Nelson if they wanted a sudden-death playoff. They chose another 18-hole round. On the fourth hole, Nelson holed out with a 1-iron. He won by three.
In a span of seven years, Wood suffered four overtime losses in the majors.
No one suffered like that, not even Greg Norman. The Shark is the only other player to have lost every major in a playoff, but by then he had already won a major at the 1986 British Open.
So when players contemplate the agony over close calls in the majors, they should consider Craig Wood.
“Adversity didn’t bother him,” Jack Burke Jr. once told Golf World. “Weather didn’t bother him. Ailing didn’t bother him. And he didn’t talk about his wounds. He was one hell of a dude, I’ll you that.”
And 75 years ago at the Masters, he finally got his due.