Good for golf and the fans. Ahead of the Masters, six consecutive PGA Tour events were won by Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott and Jason Day, all major and now familiar figures.
The wait for Tiger Woods in February and March grew long. He told a group at a Ryder Cup dinner, “Everyone thinks I’m dead.” He isn’t, and after a stretch of tournaments which only increased anticipation for the Masters, neither is golf. The question always arises whether the sport requires one transcendental player, a Tiger, a Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, or whether it does well enough with several names jockeying for position. The special golfer gives a special boost. Still, there’s nothing wrong with list of rivals.
Scott and Day, major players, were the only two-time winners on the PGA Tour from January through April 1st. The press, cognizant of the multitude of first place finishers, headlined, “There’s no one face of golf right now. No one age, either.” No disadvantage for the tours, either. A few new individuals in the winner’s circle, Fabian Gomez, Vaughn Taylor, but mainly established, recognizable golfers easily identified. Maybe a Scott, Day, Rose, Fowler, Spieth or McIlroy will begin to assert himself, although the way McIlroy was closing tournaments you wondered if ever he would win again, which he will. However, the era of one player dominating such as Woods probably is a thing of the past.
For a while it seemed one of better players of that past, Phil Mickelson, approaching his 46th birthday, also was a thing of the past. Then he made a run at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, missing a tie by a birdie putt that didn’t fall at the 72nd hole, another name into the mix, and a three-time Masters champion at that. “It’s fun now,” said Mickelson a couple weeks before Augusta, “because I know I’m going to hit it well. I know the thing is going to be there. It’s just a very enjoyable experience. I feel like I’m going to be in contention and have a chance.”
Spieth, Day and McIlroy are in their 20s, and while the hype about the game’s next generation has not been out of order, they had seven majors among them before Augusta. But it’s obvious, Scott, Schwartzel (31), Watson (37), Oostuizen and Jason Dufner (39), who won the Career Builder Classic, the onetime Bob Hope Desert Classic, are not to be diminished.
Tim Finchem – the PGA Tour commissioner who will step down at the end of the season – forever emphasizes the future, which others had predicted that without Woods would be bleak for golf. TV ratings did decline when Tiger was not entered, but almost magically the viewers and interest have returned. Spieth’s back to back victories last year in the Masters and U.S. Open were a tonic. There was a time when if someone other than Woods won a tournament, observers would ask, “What went wrong?” Then we had months of asking “Where’s Tiger?” It would be a joy if Tiger comes back and is competitive, yet if he doesn’t, as Finchem forecast, pro golf will have other stars. All that’s needed is talent, personality and not least of all patience.
“Ten years ago,” reminded Scott, “I didn’t know how to think or to think a course like Augusta National is hard and everyone is going to have his struggles.” He knows now, as Day, Bubba, Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler and so many others, including Danny Willett, the surprise winner. ASP