Golf's new Golden Age

By Jason SobelDecember 5, 2011, 6:00 pm

A seismic shift occurred under the tectonic plates of the golf world on Sunday. Tiger Woods winning his first tournament in more than two years? Well, that’s part of it, but hardly the entire story.

No, this had more to do with a major alteration of the space-time continuum.

The season-long ebbs and flows of professional golf have always been determined by the annual calendar. The game blooms along with the azaleas in Augusta every April; it heats up again at the U.S. Open in June; it blows onto the radar at the Open Championship in July; it oozes one last shot of glory at the PGA Championship in August.

The major championships remain the standard bearers for which all other tournaments are measured – and rest assured, the other ones pale in comparison. That doesn’t mean, though, that other parts of the calendar are absolved of any potential drama. 

And therein lies the seismic shift.

Hoggard: Tiger emotional in victory

The end of the year was for so long golf’s opportunity to lounge in front of the cozy fireplace and hibernate until the next season. Sure, the good-natured hit-and-giggle fests comprised a Silly Season that kept elite players’ wallets fattened and diehard fans amused, but the heart of the scheduled lineup had long since taken its cuts, riding the bench until their numbers were called again.

The shift to late-season events becoming important was less swift than gradual, but there were a few key moments in its arrival. First was the Nedbank Golf Challenge, comprised of a 12-player field in South Africa, receiving Official World Golf Ranking points for its participants in 2006, followed three years later by a similar arrangement for the 18-man Chevron World Challenge, which coincided with the inaugural Race to Dubai, garnering greater importance for the end of the European Tour schedule.

Like a perfect offseason storm, all three converged to make Dec. 4 one of the most important dates of this year’s golf calendar, as unlikely as that sounds. In succession, three of the game’s biggest stars catapulted themselves into the headlines during a time previously reserved for pursuits other than popular pros purloining headlines. Rory McIlroy won the Euro Tour’s penultimate event in Hong Kong. Lee Westwood triumphed at the Nedbank. Woods prevailed at the Chevron.

If it wasn’t before, it’s official now: The Silly Season isn’t very silly any longer.

The 49th week of the year – and the 49th week in which multiple major tours hosted events – wasn’t only meaningful because of its trio of champions. Its relevancy will extend into the 2012 campaign as one of the most anticipated golf seasons in recent memory.

We have to go back to 2001, when Woods owned three major championship trophies and was pursuing the so-called “Tiger Slam,” to find a time when golf had created such a palpable buzz entering the year. The timeliness of such reverberations is magnified by the fact that the outgoing season was one known more for parity than anything else. Three different players staked a claim to the No. 1 ranking, four different players won the major championships and no player claimed more than two PGA Tour titles.

If there’s one man who can create a buzz, it’s Woods. His one-stroke victory over Zach Johnson turned a traditional NFL Sunday in this country into a Golf Sunday, with fanatic and casual observers alike glued to their television sets throughout his journey toward the long-lost winner’s circle.

For the first 14 years of his professional career, Woods was always the prohibitive favorite anytime he teed it up. So dominant was the 14-time major winner that legitimate queries about “Tiger or the field?” permeated conversations prior to many of those tournaments.

During the 749-day period between Woods’ victories, though, the game’s landscape changed. Rather than one preeminent figure reigning over the opponents, others have stepped in to fill that void, cultivating a culture of excitement and even greater anticipation.

As we witnessed on Sunday, McIlroy and Westwood – the world’s second- and third-ranked players, respectively – are competing at an elite level. Luke Donald is the game’s most consistent performer. Twenty-something major winners Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Keegan Bradley own star potential, as do fellow twenty-somethings Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

The list of players who can challenge Tiger – and will be challenged by Tiger – for supremacy on a weekly basis stretches much further than the aforementioned names, all of which breeds plenty of promise for the upcoming campaign.

In fact, speculation can extend well beyond 2012. For so many years, Woods single-handedly brought golf to the masses. If he can return to his former level – and yes, that remains an “if,” even after his recent win – and others continue on their apparent paths toward success, the next half-decade could be ripe for a golden age within the game’s highest level.

If nothing else, it leaves the golf world on the collective edge of its seat going into next season. These are the types of things we now learn on a day like Dec. 4, that seismic shift proving that anticipation and drama can’t be contained within the walls of the traditional calendar.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."