Big 5 are Now Big Questions

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They were part of the group known by the particularly catchy phrase (not!) of Big Five when this year started. There was Tiger Woods ' of course you remember him - and the other four: Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.
 
Only Tiger has held up his end of the bargain. Singh has sputtered along, playing not badly but certainly not great. Mickelson was brilliant the first half of the year, very average since the U.S. Open. Goosen and Els ' well, neither has performed like someone in the top 10 in the world rankings.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has once again put everyone else in the golfing background.
This week, Woods, Goosen and Els will play in the HSBC World Match Play tournament near London. Mickelson, as befits his usual status, has pretty well put up the clubs for the duration of the year, though of course he will play the Ryder Cup next week. Singh plays the PGA TOURs 84 Lumber Classic.
 
Whats happened this year to the quartet who was supposed to battle Tiger toe-to-tie, trophy-to-trophy? Well, theyve went south.
 
Start with Singh, who was No. 2 in the world back when the year started. Singh, remember, was No. 1 back at the start of last year after he won nine times in 2004. And he won four times in 2005.
 
This year? He has just one win, at the Barclays Classic at Westchester. He lost in a playoff at the first tournament of the year, the Mercedes, to Stuart Appleby ' a tournament in which Woods didnt play, incidentally. And, he beat everyone except Tiger at the Deutsche Bank.
 
But Singh missed the cut in two majors this year ' the British Open and the PGA Championship. He has had a year which would have been good for the rank-and-file player, but not so good for Vijay Singh. He hinted that maybe he lost a little confidence in his 43rd year.
 
Once you don't have confidence, I think the whole swing goes haywire if you lose it, he said. You see a lot of things wrong with your golf swing, when in actual fact there's nothing. But I did not feel very comfortable on the tee box.
 
And I think that my game, if I'm not driving the ball the way I want to drive it, then I don't enjoy playing the game. And funny, I've been putting so well in the last few months, but I've been striking the ball so poorly it never showed up. It didn't matter how good you putt; if you're not on the greens, you're making pars rather than birdies.
 
Mickelson is the real mystery at the moment. Everyone thought he had finally put the inconsistent golf behind him after he won the BellSouth, and particularly when he stopped Woods at the Masters, earlier this year. He rose to No. 2 in the rankings and he looked as though he was ready to push Woods for No. 1.
 
Alas, he has slipped back to No. 3. Its been a struggle for him since he melted down while holding a one-shot lead on the tee of the 72nd hole at the U.S. Open. Since then, his finishes have looked like this: 65th at the Cialis Western; T22 at British Open; MC at International; T16 at PGA; T54 at WGC-Bridgestone.
 
Els apparently hasnt fully recovered from the damage done by a knee operation in mid-year last season. True, he got into a playoff ' and lost to Tiger ' early in the year at Dubai. But he still hasnt won yet on the PGA TOUR, and hes 101st in the putting stats, which seems to be his problem.
 
My putting, for some reason, hasn't been quite up to my standard, he said. My ball-striking has been OK. I wouldn't say I've been playing terrible golf. I haven't been totally off the map. But I just haven't quite been to that level where I was maybe two, three years ago.
 
You know, I think here and there I've tried to push a little too hard in some rounds where I could have just let the round be. So I've been pushing a little bit here and there. I definitely think not making a lot of putts has been working on my patience a little bit.
 
Goosens fall-off has been the most perplexing. He stands 102nd on the TOUR in greens hit in regulation, and, for the first time in six years, he doesnt have a victory. His last top-10 on the PGA TOUR was a tie for third in the Masters way back in April, although he did finish tied for second last week when he lost a playoff in the European Tour's BMW.
 
I'm not hitting it well, not putting well, said Goosen.
 
For me it's more of a setup thing. A bit of bad habits tends to creep in with your setup, and if your setup is not correct, the rest of your swing is struggling to be correct. I'm very much a feel player, so I'm not very technical at all what happens through the club. I just feel my way through the swing.
 
Altogether, that foursome has won a total of only three times this year. Jim Furyk and Adam Scott have weaseled into the top 5 now. Goosen has been bumped down to No. 6 and Els to No. 7. Woods has again made the rankings laughable with his big lead.
 
The Big Five, alas, has turned into the Big Mystery.
 
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