We've been waiting for six or seven years for someone to come out and give Tiger Woods a little competition. Since he wasn't receiving any challenges on Tour, we kept saying it would be some kid who was just verging on puberty and dreaming of playing like the mighty Tiger, some kid none of us had yet heard of.
This is the safest prediction in sports, similar to a weatherman predicting another warm year in the Sahara. No matter how lackluster the competition is today, somebody new will be along in the future.
That date may have arrived. While fans and the media were wondering where Tiger’s game went, the next wave of kids has arrived, injecting the kind of excitement into the staid old game that golf hasn’t seen for a long, long time.
When 29-year-old Justin Rose won the Memorial on Sunday, he became the 10th golfer under 30 to win this year. He’s the oldest of them. The youngest was Rory McIlroy, who won in North Carolina just before he turned 21.
Although Rose took home the hardware, the star of Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament was 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, who showed up for work Sunday looking as if he was on a work detail from the county jail. Dressed from head to toe in bright orange and sporting Danny Noonan’s haircut, Fowler is clearly hoping that someone will focus a camera on him. And with his game, that’s not a hard wish to fulfill.
The kid doesn’t seem to have any nerves at all. Even when a double-bogey pretty much killed his chances of winning, he kept making great shots. He didn’t choke the lead away. He simply had a bad hole.
Then there is Jordan Spieth, a 16-year-old kid who played hooky from high school long enough to get on the leaderboard at the Byron Nelson Tournament last month. He had the audacity to tell the media he wasn’t just happy to be there; he wanted to win.
Spieth did not win, but 22-year-old Jason Day did. Then there’s Anthony Kim, another winner this year, who is just 24, 10 years younger than Woods. And coming soon from Italy is Matteo Manassero, the 16-year-old amateur who made the cut at the Masters.
All of these kids grew up idolizing Woods and copying his practice and workout habits. They’re tough and muscular and they hit the ball so hard their drives have to file flight plans. None of them are terrified of the big bad Tiger the way Woods’ contemporaries were for the past decade.
We all know what happened. On Thanksgiving, his soon-to-be ex-wife went through his text messages. Then she went through the ceiling and his career went off the rails.
That was five months ago, plenty of time for Woods to reconstruct his game, but it has yet to happen. It’s not that he’s finished. You can’t ever say that about someone who’s just 34 and apparently healthy. But ever since he went off to addiction camp and started making I’m-not-worthy speeches, he’s been missing the arrogant swagger that characterized him for nearly 15 years.
There was a lot not to like about that guy who dominated the game. He did what he wanted when he wanted and made no apologies for walking over people on the way to where he wanted to go.
It was annoying, but his job was to play golf, and he did that better than anyone. If he lacked some social graces, so what? He wasn’t paid to high-five fans on the way to the first tee. He was paid to win, and he did that supremely well.
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