Phil Mickelson hasn’t won a tournament since last years Masters. Tiger’s winless streak extends even longer – approaching a year and half. Aside from Mickelson’s second place finish at the Buick, neither has been a factor on the PGA Tour in 2011. In fact, they’ve played some pretty mediocre golf. When was the last time neither Tiger or Phil hoisted a trophy in 11 months? Is the Tiger-Phil era nearing its end?
The leaderboard this weekend at Doral looked like a preview of golf’s future. Tournament winner, Nick Watney, has finished in the top 10 in his last seven events. He belongs to the next wave of talent. And littered behind him were some of the top young players in the game. Dustin Johnson, with his distance and demeanor; Luke Donald – owner of golf’s most picturesque swing – who suddenly ranks third in the world after a match-play title; Matt Kuchar – solid and steady – may be the next Furyk; Hunter Mahan, who slipped on the weekend, factors into nearly every tournament he enters; if not for clanking the flagstick on the 70th hole, he could have won the US Open at Bethpage. And the guy who might have the most talent of all – Rory McIlroy – shot a final round 62 to win in Charlotte last year, the week of his 21st birthday. Oh, and there’s also Martin Kaymer, who won golfs last major, and happens to be the top ranked player in the world- at just 26. That’s just a sampling, which neglects a tantamount group of others. Neither Tiger or Phil were a factor at Doral, nor have they been, really, since last year’s US Open.
By no means should Tiger and Phil be written off. Both of them have majors left in them, if not several. After all, Phil was a non-factor leading up to his win at Augusta last year. Both players have had their share of personal difficulties in the last two seasons: Phil’s wife and mother’s battle with cancer, and his own bout with psoriatic arthritis, which could have ended his career. Tiger’s household difficulties were less grave; but enormously humbling, and enormously public.
With this in mind, its quite understandable for them not to have the mojo at the average PGA stop, especially at this juncture of their career. Although they wouldn’t say so directly, everything is about the majors for them now – everything. The days of Tiger and Phil winning five or six tournaments a year appear to be over; they’re up against more talent and deeper fields, with less intrinsically at stake in non-majors. It’s not that they don’t want to win or don’t care; that they aren’t trying their best and aren’t frustrated by bad results; it’s more that they have little to prove at tournament’s whose title’s adorn sponsors. It’s not that they aren’t hungry. They are. Others are just hungrier, sharper, and with few cares in the world.
The next generation of talent is out to prove itself each week on the tour. Terrific young players, a list which grows increasingly robust. There’s Kim, and Fowler, and Ishikawa, who exude style and confidence. Quiros, Watson, Holmes; obliterators of the golf ball. There’s Jason Day, there’s Justin Rose, there’s Sean O’Hair. There’s a bigger, stronger, but no less rhythmic, second generation Haas. The Casey’s and Ogilvy’s and Poulter’s becoming the still-young veterans. And still quite a few others, who by failing to mention does injustice to their talent.
Heck, I’ve written an entire article without mention of Lee Westwood, arguably the best ball striker on the planet.
But whats fun about this is, we could see Tiger and Phil competing in majors until they’re fifty – maybe older. Do you think either won’t believe they can win at that point? I’m willing to bet that both of them win a major after the age of 45. Kenny Perry should have won a Masters two years ago. Tom Watson was a pedestrian up and down from a British Open two years ago. Tom Watson!
We know that the gaze of the games two preeminent stars is fixed on Augusta – and subsequently each major following. To them, there are four opportunities each year. Every other event is just a precursor, preparation; putting the pieces together prior to the main events- the measuring sticks by which they, and we, will evaluate their careers – their golf legacies.
But the days of Tiger and Phil sauntering on to golf courses with B games and competing for titles are over. Tiger won’t win with broken confidence, or a broken leg. Phil won’t win with an uncooperative body, or without an unfettered mind.
Tiger and Phil remain golf’s dominant figures. But no longer are they dominant players.
We knew a new era of golf was on its way. Who ever thought it would arrive so soon?
About the Author
Written by Brandon Marcus
I am 25 year old native New Yorker. I went to the University of Florida where I got my degree Sports Management. I am a die hard fan of the New York Giants, Knicks, Mets and the movie, Die Hard. I'll be covering the Portland Trail Blazers, but also will keep my eye on the league as a whole, and will drop in from time to time with some random thoughts.