If golf has had a déjà vu look to it recently the feeling was certainly well earned, with a Korean taking top honors at the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run and the PGA Tour teaming with a dot.com to sponsor its secondary circuit.
It seems the only thing missing was a Y2K scare.
But if Na Yeon Choi’s victory in Kohler, Wis., and the Web.com Tour made folks nostalgic, an ever-changing reality at the game’s highest levels brought the weekend proceedings into sharp contrast.
For the first time as professionals Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both missed the cut in the same event. In 1993 both failed to advance to the weekend at the Byron Nelson Championship, but Woods was an amateur.
From a competitive standpoint it is important not to overstate the significance of the marquee’s missed weekend.
Woods, fresh off a commanding victory at the AT&T National and a winner of three of his last eight starts, never looked comfortable on the Old White greens.
“I didn't quite have it,” said Woods, who missed his second cut in a single season for just the second time in his career. “I drove it really good today and I just did not have the right feel for the distances. The ball was just going forever. I know we're at altitude but I just couldn't get the ball pin high no matter what I did, and subsequently I made some bogeys.”
As encouraging as Woods’ play has been of late, he continues to lack the consistency that was the hallmark of his career prior to 2009. He has not posted back-to-back top-10 finishes since he closed 2009 with a win (BMW Championship) and a runner-up showing (Tour Championship).
But if there is no need for alarms in South Florida as Woods continues his on-the-job adjustment to a new swing on an often-injured left knee, Lefty’s swoon has transitioned from a competitive hiccup to an outright slump.
Since his opening 79 at the Memorial, Mickelson has failed to break par for the first time in his Hall of Fame career in seven consecutive rounds and he has slipped to 16th in the Official World Golf Ranking and is in danger of dropping outside the top 20 for the first time.
“I really have been (off)," he said. "I don't know what to say about that. It hasn't been great. The parts don't feel that far off, but I haven't been putting them together. It doesn't feel bad off the tee, it doesn't feel bad with the iron play, it doesn't feel bad chipping or putting.
“But I'm making some loose drives here or there, some loose iron shots here or there, missing some short putts here or there, and just haven't been putting it all together.”
In macro terms, what’s missing is golf’s one-two punch. For the first time in more than a decade the game’s alpha and omega were not part of the conversation on a Tour Sunday. Whether that reality is a sign of the times or a temporary shift remains to be seen.
At 42, Mickelson has shown an astonishing resilience to age and injury when properly motivated, and as long as Woods’ 36-year-old body remains willing it is clear the mind is still fully capable of remarkable feats.
Perhaps last week’s double miss at the Greenbrier was little more than a statistical anomaly. The odds were going to catch up with the game’s dynamic duo eventually and even the best are entitled to the occasional bad putting week.
A critical analysis of their records suggests both have plenty of tread on the tires, but the Grand Slam scorecard – more so than last week’s missed weekend – suggests that, at least in the majors, golf’s power twosome is being slowly replaced by parity.
The last nine major champions have been first-time Grand Slam winners and Mickelson (2010 Masters) owns the twosome’s last major bottle cap.
Last week’s missed cut at the Greenbrier for Woods and Mickelson may have been an aberration, a statistical certainty born from ridiculously consistent play over the last 15 odd years. But a closer examination of the scorecard suggests that change is afoot. The only question is how the game’s ultimate rivalry adapts to these changing times.
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