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Old vs. Young on the PGA Tour

On the PGA Tour 40 is the new 30, or so it seems.

On consecutive days this week David Toms, 44, banished his Players Championship demons at Colonial and Davis Love III, 47, was one of eight players who qualified for July’s British Open. That DLIII’s back was spared the full 36-hole treatment by a storm is relevant only to his caddie and physical therapist.

The Tour’s marketing strategy this season has a distinct young vs. old overtone, fueled by a media guide that featured Jim Furyk (oldish at 41) and Rickie Fowler (the 22-year-old face of Generation Y-not), with a dash of Matt Kuchar (the Tour’s resident mid-pro at 32) thrown in. But as of late, age has started to hold its own with beauty in the “wins” column.

Toms’ victory on Sunday at Colonial was the second consecutive for a fortysomething following K.J. Choi’s, 40, victory at The Players’ All-40 finale.

“I'm going to have to go to my barber tomorrow and get something to cover this gray up. It has been a roller coaster,” Toms said following his eventful fortnight.

All total, the over-40 set has four victories this year compared to seven for the twentysomethings, a number padded by Nick Watney’s victory at Doral and Aaron Baddeley’s breakthrough in Los Angeles, both within a month of their 30th birthdays.

In fact, of those seven twentysomethings, none were younger than 26. The point? For all of Ponte Vedra Beach’s hype, golf does not set up well for generational clashes.

With apologies to Boston’s Tim Wakefield, the 44-year-old knuckleballer who held the Chicago Cubs to one run on the same day Toms held on to win his first Tour tilt in more than five years by one stroke, no other sport rewards experience over youthful energy like golf.

What else could explain Tom Watson, see Turnberry, 2009 Open Championship; or Greg Norman, see Royal Birkdale, 2008 Open? Or Fred Couples each spring at Augusta National?

If one doubts the resilience, or relevance, of experience then look no further than this year’s money leaders. 2001 called, it wants its money list back, with both Toms and Choi among this young season’s top 5 cash grabbers.

In some ways Toms’ Thursday and Friday three-ball at TPC Sawgrass was an apropos microcosm of how long in the tooth can clip long off the tee given the right conditions and the right golf course. For the first two rounds at The Players Toms outplayed Jason Day by five strokes and Anthony Kim to the tune of 16 shots, two of the circuit’s young gun poster-players who are a combined 48 years old.

“I watched those two guys hit 3-wood probably 70 percent of the time around the golf course, and that was the way for them to play the golf course,” Toms said on Friday at Sawgrass. “But for me it kind of evens out because if I was aggressive and hit driver and I could get it into the right spot, I was right there with them, so I wasn't way behind the guys all two days.”

In some ways, the threesome was a clinic of sorts for Day and Kim, if not those who wish to rush the next class to the top of the heap without the proper competitive vetting.

“On No. 4 on Thursday he hits this drive down the left side and he’s maybe 10 yards left of where he was aiming and he was like, ‘Bite,’” Day recalled. “I’m like come on. How good is this guy flushing it? He hits that little cut and he’s a silly putter.”

Bomb and gorge may be the future, but a baby cut and hot putter has no expiration date.

Even Tiger Woods, who after four knee surgeries and another extended stay on the disabled list is starting to look every bit his 35 years, took the long view on Tuesday when he was asked about his chances to reach Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships: “It took Jack over what, 24 years, 23 years to do what he did. It takes time. I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward I'm excited about playing major championships and playing golf again. I just want to be healthy and solid, and I feel like I can give it a go.”

The Tour’s desire for new blood – particularly considering Woods’ extended slump, which is now at 20 official Tour events without a trophy presentation, the longest of his career – is certainly understandable. Just don’t expect the old guys to go quietly.
Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC