Seems Like Old Times


WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – Fifty years ago, three generations clashed in Doral’s debut as a PGA Tour event.

Billy Casper, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus helped make the Blue Monster one of golf’s grand new stages with their Sunday duel.

Nicklaus, a 22-year-old rookie, made a serious run at winning his first event as a professional.

The 49-year-old Hogan mounted a final-round charge.

But 30-year-old Billy Casper held them off along with a little-known rookie, Paul Bondeson, to win the inaugural Doral Country Club Open Invitational.

The game was on the verge of a seismic shift back then.

Nicklaus was less than three months away from toppling the giant Arnold Palmer in Palmer’s backyard in the U.S. Open at Oakmont in Pennsylvania.

With the game amid yet another seismic shift, another generational clash appears in the works at this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

There’s Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk looking to show that in their 40s they’re still going to be factors in this new battle for the No. 1 world ranking.

There’s Tiger Woods, who at 35 is looking to shake a slump and regain his winning form.

There’s Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson among the thirty-somethings within striking distance of the top ranking.

And there’s a legion of twenty-somethings led by No. 1 Martin Kaymer poised to usher in a new era. Kaymer’s just 26.

“It's nice to see that the twenty-somethings are actually producing now,” said Els, a two-time winner at Doral and the defending champ. “They have started winning majors now, and they are winning tournaments. It's basically almost their time to shine and for us to do what we can.”

It’s been a long time since professional golf’s seemed so wide open, since back before Woods became dominant. It’s been a long time since the possibilities within the game have ranged as wildly as they do this week.

Woods built a lead in the world rankings that was the Mount Everest of points. The distance in points between Woods and No. 2 Phil Mickelson late in 2007 was roughly the same as the difference between No. 1 Kaymer and No. 998 Vicente Blazquez is today.

“I look at the world rankings quite a lot now,” says Rory McIlroy, among the twenty-somethings in this generational clash. “It’s definitely a big motivating factor for me.”

Count McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler among youth with the advantage of sporting none of the scars their aging counterparts sport from so many wounds sustained when Woods was at the height of his powers.

“I played for 10 years when that guy dominated, so it's tough to get a different mindset on things,” Els said of the wide open battle for No. 1. “Tiger was the dominant player. He won 14 majors. Think about it, 14 majors, in such a short period of time. Who is ever going to do that again? So for us, myself, Phil, Vijay [Singh], Davis [Love III], Fred Couples, guys like that, to have played under a guy who was that good, we took a beating, not only from him, but from you [media], too. It was a tough 10, 12 years for us.

“So to see kind of the new world out there, with these young players coming through, Martin at No. 1 . . . The youngsters have got something going for them. They didn't have to play under a guy that was so dominant. I don't think they will ever appreciate how good Tiger was back then. He could do it again, who knows. He's just got to sort out the new swing again. He's so mentally strong that he could well dominate again.”

The pairings this week heighten the nature of today’s battle for dominion.

No. 1 Kaymer, No. 2 Westwood and No. 3 Donald will play the first two rounds together. Also playing together are No. 4 McDowell, No. 5 Woods and No. 6 Mickelson.

“I’m not downplaying any Thursday morning on any given week, but you never really have all guns blazing from the word go to win the tournament,” McDowell said. “I think that focus will be there right away.”

Typically, pros don’t like to make a big deal of their first- and second-round pairings. Most will tell you they’re playing the golf course, getting in position to win on the weekend, and they don’t want to get caught up competing with players in their group.

McDowell said his pairing intensifies the action right from the first shot.

“It’s one of those things where you know if you can stay ahead of those two guys, you have a pretty decent chance of winning this golf tournament,” McDowell said. “You are not out there playing match play, but if you can stay ahead of those guys, you are probably in pretty good shape. If the scoring’s good, I’ll be trying to hang with whoever’s going low.”

Who knows which generation the low scores are going to come from? Maybe all three, just like that first year at Doral.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell