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PGA Opens Up Some Tough Questions

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2003 PGA ChampionshipIm really trying to be careful here. Shaun Micheel, after all, is a professional golfer. So is Chad Campbell. Ditto Tim Clark and Alex Cejka. So the problem ' if you think there is a problem - isnt with any of those gents.
 
But where were the men you expect to be lurking around the top at the majors? Something somewhere is wrong when people such as Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, Thomas Bjorn or Sergio Garcia cant even make the cut. Tiger Woods never contended. Neither did David Toms, Kenny Perry, or Jim Furyk. Phil Mickelson was in it the first day, Ernie Els hung around within shouting distance all four days. Mike Weir was definitely a factor until Sunday.
 
But in the end, Micheel ' God bless em, but he wasnt even among the top 150 players in the world when the week began ' was the victor. For the second straight major, the Official World Rankings had it all wrong. Ben Curtis, remember - the worlds No. 396th player before he played in England - was the winner at the British Open (incidentally, he didnt come close to making the cut at the PGA, either).
 
Either somebody is trying to tell us something about the way Oak Hill and Royal St. Georges was set up ' or you can forget about the form charts from here into the unforeseen future.
 
Do you feel that B is the correct answer? Then you have to believe Micheel, Campbell, Tim Clark and Cejka were the four best players in the world last week. If you feel A would be more appropriate, then you would have to take a look at the two venues.
 
Lets say that Micheel was the best golfer in the world last week. That is certainly possible. He is a solid veteran who is capable, apparently, of jumping up and winning a major championship. But the last six tournaments prior to the PGA, he had missed the cut three times, finished in a tie for 10th at Hartford, and had two other finishes of a tie for 24th and a tie for 60th.
 
The stuff of a major winner? Yes, possibly. You can see one red-hot week and ' boom! ' Micheel wakes up with the Wannamaker Trophy.
 
Lets look at Campbell. Hes a very quiet, very unsung player. Hes in his second year on the tour, he had finished in the top two twice this year prior to the PGA. I guess he could wind up second at the PGA and the whole world wouldnt cave in. Clark is a little more of a stretch ' he has missed the cut in eight of 18 events prior to the PGA. But, OK, I guess you could visualize Clark having a career week and finishing third.
 
Cejka? He had a tie for second in the B.C. Open the week of the British. But other than that, his big claim to fame was the WCG-Accenture back at the end of February, where he beat Colin Montgomerie and Angel Cabrera in match play but lost to Toms.
 
Do these four guys finishing 1-2-3-4 suggest something else is at work here? Yep.
 
Woods said Oak Hill was the hardest, fairest golf course Ive ever played. OK. Oak Hill was fair, says the No. 1 player in the world.
 
And theres nothing wrong with those four guys finishing in the top four spots, says the worlds No. 1 player. You hit the nail on the head, said Woods. The depth of the tour is getting that much deeper. The guys, their techniques are better, they are more consistent, our equipment is better, more forgiving.
 
And what does this mean for the popularity of the game? Plenty. If Woods is not winning one or two majors a year, the popularity is back down where it was pre-1997 before Woods won his first Masters.
 
Is this really a peek into the future? Will we have 20 different winners the next 20 majors? Are the tours really this even?
 
If you dont accept that Royal St. Georges and Oak Hill were set up cock-eyed to make it possible for virtually anyone to win, then you have to think so. If you honestly believe that 150 players can win a major, then this is what has happened. If you believe that Shaun Micheel, who has now won a major, is better than Phil Mickelson, who hasnt - then this is what you get.
 
Mickelson, too, didnt think it was the course that was responsible for the unlikely high finishers.
 
I dont think the course was too hard ' I think its a very fair test, he said. When the greens are receptive, its a very fair test I really enjoy the course.
 
So maybe the Age of Tiger is over, here when it just barely got going. We shouldnt be at all surprised to see a Brendan Pappas, Heath Slocum, Brandt Jobe or J.L. Lewis win one. They all were right around Micheels position of 73rd on the money list before the PGA. Tim Petrovic, Geoff Ogilvie, Carl Pettersson ' yep, those guys, too.
 
Tiger may win one every once in a while ' maybe. He isnt in a slump ' remember? ' and this is apparently about what was expected. But if Tiger isnt going to win one of these exercises more than just once every couple of years, then this game is headed back down in popularity.
 
Of course, the preferred way to look at it would be to marvel at the quality of golf being played by these other gentlemen. Thats how the PGA Tour and these four major championships hope you will view it.
 
The real world, however, will view it quite differently. If this is the end of an era, if Shaun Micheel or Ben Curtis is as likely to win one of these as Tiger Woods or Ernie Els, then Im afraid golf is going back to page 8 on the sports pages. The sporting public will never accept that there are 150 guys who are of the same approximate skill level.
 
I probably wont, either, for a couple of years. But if its true, then more power to Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel!
 
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