Have We Witnessed A Changing Of The Guard?

John Hopkins, golf writer for the Times Online says that we may have witnessed a watershed event this past weekend at the 2008 Masters:

We saw the future at the Masters yesterday and it looked good. Trevor Immelman, the third-round leader, Brandt Snedeker, who was two strokes behind, and Paul Casey, who trailed Immelman by four strokes, are all younger than Tiger Woods. What is more, they were three of the four men who were leading Woods after 54 holes of the year’s first major championship.

There is some historical significance in this. There has not been a major championship in recent memory in which so many of the leaders and so many of the men who have been ahead of Woods were younger than the world No 1. Usually Woods, who was born on December 30, 1975, is surrounded by rivals who are grizzled in golfing terms, men such as Woody Austin, who was 43 when he finished runner-up to Woods in the 2007 US PGA Championship.

In Woods’s 13 major championship victories, only four times has he been older than his closest challenger after 54 or 72 holes. Sergio García, who was born in 1980, finished one stroke behind Woods at the 1999 US PGA Championship, trailed the American by four strokes after three rounds of the 2002 US Open Championship and was one stroke behind Woods at the 2006 Open after 54 holes. Luke Donald, who was born in 1977, was level with Woods after 54 holes of the 2006 US PGA Championship.

Of course, mathematically, it’s only logical that as Tiger gets older, more of his competitors will be younger. But there was a time not too long ago when the more hysterical among the golf media were wondering if anyone would EVER appear to challenge the Great Striped One. It was nonsense, of course, and fueled by people who have no sense of history or perspective.

But Hopkins may be right about this: that there is now a core of young talent skilled enough—and aggressive enough—to pull major victories out from under Tiger. In addition to Immelman, Snedeker, Donald, and Casey, there also are Sean O’Hair, Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, and of course, last year’s Masters winner, Zach Johnson. I’m sure I’m leaving a lot out, but you get the point. The talent is out there, and they’re going to win sooner, rather than later.

Here’s a radical thought: Is it possible that Tiger doesn’t win ANY majors this year?

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9 thoughts on “Have We Witnessed A Changing Of The Guard?”

  1. Many of your recent posts seem decidedly anti-Tiger.  Is that the case or is it more anit-Tiger-hype?  If it’s the latter, I agree. 

    But, let’s not get a head of ourselves here.  Tiger played poorly (by his standards) yesterday, last year at the Masters and at the U.S. Open (his wife had just been admitted to the hospital the night before)and still finished second. 

    Look, I get it.  The media makes a living off hyperbole and speculation.  But how does playing poorly and finishing SECOND move you from winning all four majors to a “changing of the guard”?  It may be upon us, but let’s not get a head of ourselves either way. 

    Remember the last time Tiger was in a slump?  He changed his swing, he didn’t win a major for a while and blah, blah, blah. 

    He’s 32 and if he stays healthy there will be 10 more years of Tiger in the prime of his career.  Will younger golfer’s challenge him?  Yes.  Will he win all the majors?  No.  But I be no one would bet their paycheck against him.

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  2. I actually don’t really have any feelings about Tiger one way or another. He’s not my favorite player because he doesn’t seem to enjoy the game, but I don’t dislike him either.

    Mostly, I have a problem with the media. Like many, I’m tired of the constant Tiger Tiger Tiger. If he wins a couple of tournaments, media people start speculating that he’ll go undefeated, or at least win the Grand Slam. And then when he loses, the same media starts speculating on the changing of the guard (like John Hopkins in the example above).

    The truth is, he’s not going to win every tournament. And as he gets older, the people who DO win them increasingly will be younger.

    I just wish the obsession with him would end.

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  3. >>Here’s a radical thought: Is it possible that Tiger doesn’t win ANY majors this year? <<

    Crazy talk like that will get you in trouble! 

    Like I said before, I think Tiger will win a Grand Slam, either next year or the year after.  But it is entirely possible he won’t win a major, possible- not probable.  I just can’t see him losing the British.  Oh, and he will win the FedEx cup this year too.

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  4. It’s not really a surprise. There is a crop of younger players coming along who are more ‘athlete’* than ‘golfer’. Tiger is the progenitor, but others are savvy enough to pick that up and build on it.

    *Reportedly, Butch Harmon bragged about one young student he has who’s about 6’4” and can drive the ball 350 yards. Natural athlete – never played golf before.

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  5. I read once that the problem with these young athletes is that they strike the ball very well, but have little or no feel on the greens. Not sure if that’s entirely true, but generally speaking, putting is one of Tiger’s (many)strong points

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  6. I watched the whole tournament and Tiger Woods seemed unable to find the keys to winning this years Masters.  He seemed, at times, off his normal focus. For those of you who believe Tiger is really being challenged by some of the younger and upcoming good players I believe you’re viewing his play through dark colored glasses. Tiger generally gave a poor showing, yes, for him, but he finished second nonetheless. He may well come back more determined than ever.

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  7. That’s relatively true. I forgot who mentioned it, but many also cannot shape their shots either. If there’s a lot of complaint about bomb-and-gouge now…

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