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Majors producing a variety of winner

A peculiar piece of history will be on the line at the British Open.

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson became the 15th player to win the last 15 majors, matching the longest such streak since the Masters began in 1934. There also were 15 consecutive different major champions from the 1994 through 1998.

There are a couple of similarities between the streaks. The first one started with the 1994 PGA Championship when Nick Price won his second straight major that year. The latest streak began with the 2008 PGA Championship when Padraig Harrington won his second straight major.

In both cases, the streak reached 15 different winners at The Olympic Club.

The first streak ended with Masters champion Mark O'Meara winning his second major of the year at the British Open, so maybe that bodes well for Bubba Watson.

More interesting, however, is that Simpson's win made it nine straight first-time major champions. According to research specialist Tom Ierubino, the longest previous streak of first-time major winners was eight, from Steve Jones at the 1996 U.S. Open through O'Meara at the 1998 Masters.

Does this mean that the depth of talent is greater than ever? Possibly.

Then again, Tiger Woods probably has something to do with that. He won 12 out of 35 majors from the 1999 PGA Championship through the 2008 U.S. Open. And it would make sense that with Woods recovering from a myriad of issues — plus the fact he's getting older — there is more opportunity for others.

There are plenty of turning points that kept alive the streak of 15 different winners. Louis Oosthuizen could have just as easily won the Masters this year. Woods gave up a Sunday lead for the first time at Hazeltine in 2009. Phil Mickelson had the look of a winner at Royal St. George's last year until missing a 2-foot putt on the 11th hole.

The streak ends only if one of those 15 major champions — Simpson, Watson, Keegan Bradley, Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Mickelson, Y.E. Yang, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Angel Cabrera or Harrington — wins next month at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

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CASEY RETURNS: Paul Casey, who had to withdraw from the U.S. Open because of an injury, returns this week in Germany for the BMW Championship. He can only hope he will be healthy enough the rest of the year to avoid being left off another Ryder Cup team.

"It was tough having to sit at home watching the U.S. Open on TV when you really want to be playing," he said. "But doctors said my shoulder needed another week's rest. I've been having the shoulder massaged but it's meant also having to cut down my practice sessions."

Casey, who dislocated his right shoulder while snowboarding over the holidays, ended last year at No. 20 in the world. He has slipped to No. 60. Worse yet, he is 30th on the European Ryder Cup world points list, and 56th on the list based on European Tour money.

Only 10 weeks remain to qualify for the team.

"This week will only be my sixth tour event this year, so in many ways, this week really now is the start of my season," Casey said. "The shoulder injury has meant a lot of time away from the game. But I'm coming back, firmly believing that if I can get going I can still qualify and make the European team.

"It's going to be a case of winning golf tournaments and that's all I will focus on, and I refuse to focus on the alternative."

The alternative would be the same one he had last week at the U.S. Open — staying home to watch on television.

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SILVER MEDAL AND A FOOTNOTE: Michael Thompson had the lowest opening round (66) and closing round (67) at the U.S. Open. It was that 75-74 in the middle that cost him at The Olympic Club, although he did earn a footnote in history.

Thompson is the only player to be runner-up at the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open on the same golf course. He lost in the championship match to Colt Knost at Olympic in 2007.

He also earned $695,916, and that's at least a head start toward getting into the next major. The British Open takes the top two players (not already eligible) from a special PGA Tour money list that includes The Players Championship and the five tournaments through The Greenbrier Classic. Thompson leads that list at $718,412, with St. Jude Classic runner-up John Merrick next at $604,800.

Both can be overtaken by someone not already eligible winning the next three weeks.

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TEN-SHOT RULE: USGA executive director Mike Davis often cites the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills when talking about the 10-shot rule in making the cut, which now has been eliminated. That was the year 108 players made the cut, and the final round began shortly before 7 a.m.

But only four times since 1996 has that 10-shot rule even been necessary. Otherwise, the top 60 and ties included everyone within 10 shots of the lead going into the weekend. The exceptions were in 1997 at Congressional, 2001 at Southern Hills, 2005 at Pinehurst No. 2 and 2008 at Torrey Pines.

The highest number of players to make the cut since Oakland Hills was 83 on three occasions — most recently in 2010, when they all finished among the top 60 and ties, anyway. The smallest field was at Bethpage Black in 2009, when 60 players made the cut.

Had the 10-shot rule been used at Olympic Club this year, an additional 22 players would have made it to the weekend, expanding the field to 94 players.

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RETURN OF INKSTER: Juli Inkster is returning to golf a lot sooner than she had planned.

Inkster, who grew up in the Bay Area, was among those in the crowd last week at Olympic Club before ducking out for the weekend to watch her oldest daughter, Hayley, graduate from the University of Santa Clara.

She had elbow surgery that figured to keep her out until August. But she played in the CVS Charity Classic this week in Rhode Island, and she plans to make her return next week at the Northwest Arkansas Championship in Arkansas, before going up to Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., for the U.S. Women's Open.

"I can't believe how the strength has come back," Inkster said. "I'm pretty excited."

She has been mainly chipping and putting for the last month or so, which has held back the 51-year-old Inkster. She advanced to playing full rounds at Los Altos, where husband Brian is the head pro, with a low round of 65.

The one difference when she returns? Inkster has been experimenting with the belly putter.

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DIVOTS: Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood are the only players to have finished in the top 10 at both majors this year. ... Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, who holed a 30-foot birdie putt at Riviera to win the decisive match and give Texas the NCAA title, has signed with IMG and makes his pro debut this week at the BMW International in Germany. ... Jiyai Shin has withdrawn from the U.S. Women's Open in two weeks while recovering from surgery. ... Patrick Cantlay has signed with Excel Sports Management and makes his pro debut this week at the Travelers Championship, where a year ago he shot 60 in the second round.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: In the last two U.S. Opens at The Olympic Club, the winner was the only one who broke par from the last 18 players who teed off.

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FINAL WORD: "If you played anything less than perfect golf, it was extremely penalizing. And I played far from perfect." — Phil Mickelson, who had all four rounds over par in the U.S. Open for only the second time in his career.

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