Among the early risers was Jason Day, the 19-year-old from Australia, which was symbolic in one respect. The youngest player on the PGA TOUR is the latest in line with aspirations of challenging Tiger Woods.
'I'm sure I can take him down,' he told Australian reporters in November.
He certainly has some strong credentials. Day made the cut in five out of the seven tour events he played last year, with his best result a tie for 11th in the Reno-Tahoe Open. He won a Nationwide Tour event, the youngest player to win on the junior circuit. He is said to be blessed with enormous talent, especially the short game, and that kind of skill seems scarce these days.
Whether he takes down Woods is impossible to predict because it hasn't happened.
In the 10 years since Woods rose to No. 1 in the world, the only newcomer to offer even a remote challenge is Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard took him to the wire at Medinah in the PGA Championship as a 19-year-old. Garcia has won six times on the PGA TOUR, nine times around the world and played on four Ryder Cup teams while still trying to win his first major.
Since then, Woods has won 50 times on the PGA TOUR, six times around the world and has 11 majors.
Charles Howell III didn't need Q-school to get his card and aspired to be No. 1, a worthy goal of any player. But his victory at Riviera last year was only his second in seven full seasons on tour.
Adam Scott was supposed to be the next Tiger, and his swing was a carbon copy when both worked with Butch Harmon. Scott has climbed as high as No. 3 in the world, but at age 27, he still only has five PGA TOUR victories and four top 10s in a major.
Justin Rose won his first Order of Merit on the European Tour last year and has given himself a couple of chances in the majors, but he has yet to win on the PGA TOUR. Ditto for Paul Casey, another Englishman with explosive skills.
Day is aware of Woods' career, perhaps not to the extent that he has posted a timeline on his bedroom wall as Woods once did with Jack Nicklaus. Even so, Day was quick to note that Woods never won a pro tournament at age 19.
'I'm just trying to mark myself up against him,' Day said. 'When I'm on the TOUR, somehow I've got to win two tournaments because that's what he won and I want to try and keep up with him.'
Day is setting the bar high, which has left some veterans puzzled.
'They just put added pressure on themselves,' Robert Allenby said Tuesday. 'It's fair to have confidence, but I'm not sure why you need to say anything. Just go do it.'
That seems to be the culture of youth.
Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, the two greatest LPGA players of their generation, never talked about No. 1 until they got there. Both dreamed only of winning a tournament and were thrilled when it happened. Woods wanted to get his PGA Tour card so he didn't have to face Q-school, and he wound up getting into the Tour Championship by winning two of his first seven tournaments as a pro.
Then again, Woods didn't face such a tangible benchmark. His was the majors won by Nicklaus, who was 56 when Woods turned pro.
Woods' level of play has created unfair standards for those behind him as Garcia, Scott, Howell and every one else has learned, and perhaps what Day is about to discover.
Garcia turns 28 on Wednesday and has a career superior to anyone else in his 30s. But when Woods was that age, he already had won 39 times on TOUR, including eight majors.
Day has earned everything coming his way. His father died of cancer at age 12. As a kid, he had to shop at a used clothing store where for $5 he could stuff as much as he could into one bag.
No matter how he plays, the one thing Day will quickly learn is that Woods is not in neutral. That explains Mark Calcavecchia's answer last week when asked who was best equipped to challenge the world's No. 1 player.
'It's hard to say who's the next great No. 2 player in the world,' he said.
After the laughter subsided, Calcavecchia continued.
'That's the way it's going to be,' he said.
Calcavecchia wonders if there's a teenager somewhere in the world who has yet to be discovered. He remember being in Sun City, South Africa, one year and hearing about a tall, lanky 16-year-old that everyone was raving about as the next great player in the world. He took one look at Ernie Els and said, 'Yeah, right.'
'I'm sure there's some 16-, 17- or 18-year-old right now that's going to be the next one we know about,' Calcavecchia said.
Maybe it will be Day, a pleasant kid with mighty aspirations who is not afraid to share them.
He was asked during his conference call with Australian writers if he thought Woods was aware of him.
'I can't say for sure, but I think he is,' Day says. 'If I was him, I would be. I watch everyone. He watches a lot of golf. He has so much time. He played 16 events -- what does he do with his time? He'd be aware of me. He'd be saying, 'Here's another kid coming up.''
But only because Woods has seen them before.
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