Woods' fading star allows others to shine

By Doug FergusonNovember 30, 2011, 12:32 am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The pool of young talent in golf has never looked deeper.

Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open at age 22, the second-youngest player to win a major since The Masters began in 1934. Jason Day, the 24-year-old Australian, was a runner-up in two majors this year. Rickie Fowler, 22, won his first pro event in South Korea and is responsible for all those bright orange Puma hats in just about any gallery.

Matteo Manassero won twice on the European Tour before he was 18. Ryo Ishikawa had 10 wins in Japan before he was 19.

The list gets even longer with budding stars in their 20s – Martin Kaymer, Charl SchwartzelDustin JohnsonKeegan BradleyWebb Simpson and Anthony Kim.

Attribute that depth to Tiger Woods.

It’s not because he set the bar so high and made everyone try to get better. It’s because he no longer wins so many tournaments. So maybe the pool only looks deeper because it no longer has such a big fish.

For the second straight year, nobody won more than three times on the PGA TourLuke Donald was among seven players with two wins this year, while Jim Furyk won his third event last year in his final start at the Tour Championship.

The five previous years, Woods won at least six times in all but one year. The exception was 2008, when he missed the second half of the year with knee surgery. He won four times in six starts.

It’s one thing to talk about this great parity in golf, particularly on the biggest tour. But two questions should be asked: Would that perception of parity exist if Woods had not gone away the last two years? Is it possible that just as many great young players were around over the last decade, only to be overlooked by the overwhelming presence of the game’s biggest star?

Sergio Garcia nearly won the PGA Championship at 19 except that he went up against Woods that day in Medinah. Adam Scott was 23 when he won The Players ChampionshipJustin Leonard was 25 when he won the British Open. Phil Mickelson won as an amateur.

“The talk like there’s parity on Tour is slightly flawed, because there’s always been parity,” Geoff Ogilvy said in a recent interview. “It’s just that there was one guy who made no one notice. The last 15 years you’ve had Phil Mickelson, Ernie ElsDavid Duval, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia. You had arguably more proven players – lots of them – over the last 15 years. Now it’s the same.

“You have new names, but we notice them now. The media notices them. Fans notice them.”

They used to be looked upon as possible challengers to Woods. Now they are seen as potential replacements.

Woods has gone two years since his last win, which for so many years seemed unimaginable until his personal life unraveled, until he chose to go through yet another swing change, then effectively went four months without being able to practice due to injury. Through it all, his confidence eroded with each setback.

Thirteen players have won the last 13 majors, dating to Padraig Harrington at the 2008 PGA Championship. There was a time when Woods won seven out of 11 majors early in his career, and six out of 14 majors right before reconstructive knee surgery.

If he had kept winning at the rate he did for 14 years, would anyone have noticed this crop of young players?

“Rory McIlroy would still be up there,” Hunter Mahan said Tuesday. “But Tiger played a practice round and it made news. He’s chasing records whenever he plays. How are you not going to write about that? No offense to the young guys.”

Nick Watney also suggested that McIlroy, based on his sheer talent and eight-shot win at the U.S. Open, would get his fair share of attention even if Woods had kept winning a major a year, along with a half-dozen other titles.

“But he would be like Sergio was, like Adam Scott was, like whoever the media tabbed – Charles Howell, at one point,” Watney said.

The question is whether Woods can get back.

The Chevron World Challenge, for an 18-man field in which everyone but the host – Woods – is among the top 50, figures to be a good benchmark. Woods has gone 26 official events without winning. He is coming off two strong weeks in Australia during which he hit the ball where he was aiming for nine rounds in windy conditions.

To win at Sherwood – or even to be in contention – would send expectations for 2012 higher than they have been in two years. But the road back doesn’t start until he’s posing with a trophy.

What happens then?

Only three players at Sherwood are older than Woods (Steve Stricker, Furyk, K.J. Choi), so the challengers he faces around the world are all younger than they used to be. And while none of these guys has won more than three times in a year, they feel a lot better about themselves because no one else has won that much more.

That’s the Tiger effect.

“Golf is a very confidence-driven game,” Ogilvy said. “A lot of these players now have more confidence than if he was winning eight times a year. Because if a guy is winning eight times a year, even if you win three times, you don’t feel like you’re as good of a player because there’s someone who’s so much better than you.”

Donald is No. 1 by a wide margin, courtesy of his work ethic, consistently being in the top 10 and four wins around the world. But it’s not domination that golf saw for the better part of a dozen years.

Golf always has had its share of rising stars. It only looks as if there are more now because no one is that much better than anyone else.

Catch live coverage of the Chevron World Challenge on Golf Channel and NBC: Thursday and Friday – 2:30PM ET on Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday – 12:30PM ET on Golf Channel, 3PM ET on NBC.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.