Fading Stars


Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Have you cast a gaze at the PGA Tour heavens lately?

There’s something wrong.

The stars don’t have their usual luster this season.

It’s not just the Tiger Woods constellation trying to find its dazzling hue.

With the West Coast Swing nearing its end, the PGA Tour’s best and brightest aren’t at their best nor are they particularly bright.

Phil Mickelson’s still searching for his winning form. He arrived at the Northern Trust Open this week looking for his first victory since last year’s Masters.

Defending champion Steve Stricker barely made the cut this week and left Riviera playing the final four holes in 4-over par.

Jim Furyk barely avoided missing his third consecutive cut.

Even at Riviera, a course built in the shadow of Tinseltown, the famed home of stars like Humphrey Bogart, Douglas Fairbanks, Gregory Peck, Dean Martin and Vic Damone, star power couldn’t win out.

Freddie Couples got beat.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is still looking for his first win since the 2010 Masters.
And it’s saying something that Couples, 51, and Vijay Singh, 47, were the biggest names on the weekend leaderboard.

No offense to Aaron Baddeley, he’s a good story, by all accounts a terrific gentleman, but despite the stardom predicted for him as a hotshot kid from Australia, he’s been mostly a supporting actor in the four seasons since his last victory.

Baddeley arrived at Riviera ranked No. 224 in the world.

In that respect, he’s a perfect fit in the PGA Tour winner’s circle this year.

The world rank of the average winner this season is No. 151.

Jonathan Byrd was No. 121 when he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Mark Wilson No. 237 when he won the Sony Open, Jhonny Vegas No. 187 when he won the Bob Hope Classic, Wilson No. 91 at the Waste Management Open and D.A. Points No. 167 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Bubba Watson is the highest ranked winner of a PGA Tour event this season, winning the Farmers Insurance Open with the No. 33 ranking.

I wrote this last week, but my point hasn’t changed. With Woods in a funk, it isn’t that nobody’s dominant today. It’s that nobody’s close.

The current No. 1 in the world (Lee Westwood) has won just once on the European Tour or PGA Tour in the last 16 months and has never won a major.

It’s notable that Frank Chirkinian was named a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee last week. The Emmy winning CBS executive producer for golf will tell you it’s vital the sport has dominant winners to generate excitement in the game.

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, is it’s always looking for a star,” Chirkinian once said. “It’s the only sport where fans will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

At this rate, Mark Wilson might have locked up the 2011 PGA Tour Player of the Year award with his two West Coast titles.

I know, it’s early, but this is a trend dating back through all of last season.

Matt Kuchar was a serious contender for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors with just one victory in 2010.

Last year opened with 13 different PGA Tour winners over the first 13 events.

The PGA Tour’s evolving. There are some potentially dominant figures and dynamic stars knocking on the door. Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jhonny Vegas and Rickie Fowler all have large doses of game or personality to brighten golf’s heavens. Westwood could put it all together in the majors this year. Mickelson may be on the verge of a big run. Woods might find his magic again.

In the meantime, golf’s heavens don’t make you gape in wonder so much.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell