Archive for Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Despite trend, PGA still young men’s tour

October 1, 2003


— The 40-and-older gang made it a clean sweep in September on the PGA Tour.

Bob Tway, 44, has been around so long that he won the '86 PGA Championship when Tiger Woods was still in grade school. The lanky Oklahoman showed plenty of game by winning the Canadian Open in a playoff.

Vijay Singh, 40, followed that with an easy victory in the John Deere Classic, his third of the year. The runner-up was J.L. Lewis, 43, who was so inspired that he closed with a 62 the next week to win the 84 Lumber Classic.

The latest winner was the most amazing of all.

Tommy Armour III, seemingly washed up at age 42 and playing the tour on conditional status the last two years, opened with a 64 at the Texas Open and never let up. He finished with a seven-stroke victory (over Tway and 48-year-old Loren Roberts), and a place in the record books with the lowest 72-hole score in PGA Tour history.

These guys are good, even if they supposedly are past their prime.

What's going on?

"I don't have an answer to that," Tway said. "One (reason) might just be coincidence. The other might be people can still play. They stay in shape, and there's a lot of knowledge you gain from playing on tour for 20 years."

Roberts mentioned technology, although Sam Snead won 17 times after turning 40 with a wooden driver and a rubber ball.

The September sweep made it 13 victories this year by players in their 40s.

Just don't look for that trend to continue this week at the American Express Championship.

Before anyone gets too wrapped up in the fortysomethings ruling the PGA Tour, consider the tournaments they won.

Woods and Ernie Els, the top two golfers in the world rankings, played in only one of those 13 events. That was at the Memorial, which always gets a strong field. It was won by Kenny Perry, in the middle of his hottest streak ever.

Craig Stadler, 50, won on the Champions Tour and PGA Tour in consecutive weeks, although the B.C. Open was held the same week as the British Open.

Kirk Triplett, 41, won at the Reno-Tahoe Open. There were no players in top 50 there because they were at Firestone for the NEC Invitational.

Yes, the older guys are winning -- but not when it matters.

The dearth of 40-and-over winners is especially pronounced in the majors. Payne Stewart was 42 when he won the 1999 U.S. Open, but there hasn't been another winner in his 40s since then, a stretch of 18 majors.

Over the last 20 years, only nine players in their 40s have won majors. The average age of major champions during that span is 27.2, although Woods skews that having won eight majors by the time he turned 27.

"If you look over the past 20 years, it's really tough to win in your 40s in the major championships," Woods said Tuesday. "It just goes to show how much more stress there is in the majors. Your abilities may have eroded just a touch -- just enough, one shot here throughout 72 holes -- that it costs you a tournament."

Strength of field cannot be discounted.

The Players Championship and PGA Championship not only have the best fields, but they attract players from all over the world. Ditto for the World Golf Championships, where no one older than 37 has won since the series began in 1999.

"Majors get the best collection of players," Woods said. "You can't say that at every single tour stop."

You couldn't say that about the Milwaukee, Hartford or Houston stops.

Ditto for the last four weeks, when most of the top players were taking time off.

"You take the Memorial, and you take the Byron Nelson, Colonial ... and then you take the 84 Lumber and the John Deere. It's two different tours, isn't it?" Els said. "Take nothing away from these guys. They shoot the numbers and they win the golf tournaments.

"But there's a difference there, and I think we know what it is."

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