July 16, 2012 by kujhawk
Is Tiger back or isn’t he?
Who is tired of hearing that sentence over and over? I sure am, and I wish people would put all of that talk to rest. But, with The Open Championship (or British Open as I still like to refer to it) starting up this Thursday, the Tiger talk is back in full swing. Can he win? Will he win this week? What are his chances? Would you take Tiger or the field? The fact that it is Tiger vs “the field” says a lot about the current state of golf on the professional level. Is there really no one else to talk about? Tiger Woods is back. He wins on tour, he contends in majors and isn’t screwing 50 barmaids and call girls a week (we hope). But still, when you talk golf, Woods is the first name you hear and is the focal point of much of the conversation. This isn’t Tiger Woods’s doing. It is the lack of consistency of the other top players and the lack of a “rival” or “rivals” for Woods.
Think of the “golden age” of golf. I’ll go ahead and say from the 1950’s to 1986, when Jack Nicklaus won his last major championship. There was parody at the top. Yes, the golden bear won 18 majors, but he also finished second 19 times, and finished in the top-five 56 times. Those are staggering numbers for one man, but what that really tells me is that during the Nicklaus period (1962-86) there was competition. In the 1950’s you had Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer battling it out. Then the 60’s came and up came Nicklaus, who early in his career still had to battle Palmer, and also had Gary Player coming up as well, another hall of fame player. There wasn’t one star. There wasn’t the guy who you expected to win every tournament or major he played in, there were a handful, and you never really knew what to expect.
Fast forward to 2012. You have the same sort of thing – never knowing what to expect – except now it isn’t in the same manner as back in the 60’s and 70’s. Now you never even know if you are going to have heard of the player who is going to win the next major championship. Guys like Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Lucas Glover. Guys you had never heard of and have really heard nothing from since their respective major wins. It’s not that I don’t want people I have never heard of to win majors, I am just starting to get sick and tired of all the one-trick ponies coming up on the PGA tour. The most disappointing of these one-trick ponies has to be the youngster Rory McIlroy. After blowing a huge Sunday lead at the Masters in 2011, he came back to dazzle the golf world with an out-of-body performance at the U.S Open, shooting 16 under par and winning by eight strokes. But since that win, he has not had even a top-10 finish at a major.
And then there is the other question, why can’t the top ranked players ever win the big one? Englishman Luke Donald is the number one golfer in the world according to the rankings system, but he has never won a major, and his countryman Lee Westwood, is widely considered the best player to have never won a major. These are the types of guys who need to start winning. They need to live up to their rankings and win the big one. In the grand scheme of things, no one will care if someone wins the John Deere Open 10 times, people care about majors, they care about who is the real “champion”, the player who wins the big one, and can continue to do so over the course of his career. Since 1997, when Woods burst on to the pro golf scene with his first of four Masters titles, he has been that guy. Phil Mickelson has won a few majors and been the closest thing Woods has ever had to a real “rival” but he has largely come up short when tournaments have been on the line.
So this week, when I am watching the best in world battle the elements at Royal Lytham, I won’t be concentrating all of my attention on Tiger Woods. Can he win? Of course he can. Is it good for golf if he wins? Of course it is. But what I want to see this week is someone step up. Maybe it’s Westwood, maybe Donald, maybe McIlroy. Or maybe another no-name pulls a rabbit out of their hat and hoists the Claret Jug on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, golf fans have an interesting week ahead.
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