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Major meltdowns: What happened to 2009 champs?

Y.E. Yang
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In October 2009, four men gathered in Bermuda to celebrate reaching a pinnacle in the game. Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang had combined to win the four biggest tournaments and the Grand Slam of Golf served as an informal competition aimed more toward celebrating their crowning achievements.

Three years later, all four have fallen precipitously from their perch. 

Consider the fact that combined, they have played the weekend in less than 50 percent of the tournaments they’ve entered in 2012, and each has yet to record a top-10 finish this year. Three of the four currently find themselves outside the top 150 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and as the regular season concludes this week, all four sit outside the top 125 on the points list.

For three members of the group, the issues have been somewhat injury-related. Lucas Glover – the only one to win a Tour event since taking home his major trophy in 2009 – opened his season by falling awkwardly off a paddleboard in Hawaii. The resulting knee injury forced him to withdraw from the Hyundai TOC in January, and Glover was not able to make his return until the Transitions Championship in March. He has been a shadow of his former self since returning, though; Glover has missed 10 cuts in 15 starts, and his best finish this year is a T-46 at the Memorial. While he ended up 20th in the all-around ranking in 2009, he has slipped this year to 188th. His scoring average of 72.31 places him 186th on Tour, and after ascending to 18th in the world after the 2009 U.S. Open, Glover has now slipped to 153rd.

Y.E. Yang, the 2009 PGA champion, has also battled injury. Neck and shoulder strains have plagued him throughout the last nine months, dating back to his withdrawal from the Dubai World Championship in December. Yang also missed the Memorial with what he described as a neck injury, and his practice was limited due to a similar injury as recently as last month’s British Open. A T-29 finish in Houston represents his best result in a stroke play event on Tour this year, and he ranks 121st on Tour in scoring average. He is outside the top 150 in the all-around ranking (158th), total driving (164th) and GIR percentage (186th). The Korean who defeated Tiger Woods down the stretch at Hazeltine has missed seven cuts in 19 starts this year, and his world ranking – which reached 34 after his PGA win and peaked at 19 in early 2010 – has fallen back to 81.

Like Glover and Yang, former Masters champion Angel Cabrera has faced some health issues this year. Not one to take on an overly taxing schedule – the Argentine has never played more than 19 Tour events in a year – he withdrew from the Zurich Classic in April with a leg injury, followed by another WD at The Players after an opening-round 78, citing “personal issues.” Cabrera has made the cut only five times in 16 Tour starts this year and is still without a top-20 finish. While he ranked 25th in scoring average in 2009, “El Pato” now stands 180th in the category for 2012. He is currently 175th on Tour in GIR percentage, 188th in birdie average and 176th in the all-around ranking. Cabrera reached 18th in the world after slipping on the green jacket, but has now dipped all the way to 233rd in the world.

Perhaps the most surprising decline – and the one least attributable to injury – has been that of former British Open champion Stewart Cink. After spoiling Tom Watson’s bid for a sixth claret jug, Cink was seen as one of the most consistent players in the world. At the end of 2010, though, he split with swing coach Butch Harmon; in the subsequent two seasons, he has recorded only a single top-10 finish (T-9 at the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship). This year, Cink has eight missed cuts in 19 starts and ranks outside the top 150 on Tour in scoring average (156th), ball striking (172nd) and the all-around (184th). Now having fallen to 135th in the FedEx Cup points list, Cink is the only member of this group not in the field at the Wyndham Championship – meaning he will miss the Playoffs for the first time since their inception in 2007. He did not qualify for any WGC events this year, will likely not participate in the Ryder Cup next month for the first time since 1999, and after reaching as high as ninth in the world ranking following Turnberry, Cink has dropped to 210th in the current standings – right between Johan Edfors and Anirban Lahiri.

Even those fortunate enough to peak on golf’s grandest stages are not immune to the humbling stretches experienced by nearly every golfer, professional and amateur alike. More than anything, these tales of hardship serve to emphasize how fleeting glory can be, and perhaps how much it should be appreciated once achieved. Although less than three years have passed since the exhibition that brought these four men together – won, incidentally, by Glover – it often seems as though it’s been much longer since this group was hoisting the game’s most iconic trophies. For these former champions, though, the hope still remains that they can regain their top form – and perhaps earn a return trip to Bermuda someday.