Archive for Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Young guns drawing bead on Woods

August 17, 2010


The coffee club chit-chat in your local office probably got a little more caffeinated when the discussion turned to golf Monday morning.

The ticky-tacky call against Dustin Johnson for grounding his club in a bunker during the PGA Championship reeks of a small-minded geek squad stealing the moment from a kid who deserved better. Next up: PGA officials also send 8-year-old to juvenile detention for not coloring inside the lines. Rules are rules!

Fine then. If the PGA is going to play that card, then the golf marshals at Whistling Straits shouldn’t have let people traipse on their precious bunkers for four days like everybody was back at Woodstock, rushing to see Country Joe and the Fish.

The smell of elitists in stuffy suits still permeates the air. The apologists will insist it’s a “gentlemen’s game” while anyone with a lick of common sense will tell you that Johnson got hosed.

The good news for professional golf is that these animated conversations have nothing to do with Tiger Woods.

He was long gone by the time the drama hit at Whistling Straits, back in his Buick (does he still get one of those?) and somewhat satisfied that he finished tied for 28th. Strange times, indeed.

The bunker at Whistling Straits is a metaphor for the future of professional golf. It is unrecognizable, cluttered with all sorts of questions.

Will Tiger ever get his mojo back, or will he continue his spiral documenting one of the greatest freefalls in sports history?

Do the “young guns” like Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Waston and Martin Kaymer have enough juice to bump Woods off the charts, both in popularity and the money list?

Will the viewing public come back to embrace the sport without the presence of pre-car-crash Tiger?

Don’t pretend you know the answers. I don’t think that even Tiger knows how this is going to play out.

As we’ve seen over the last few months, the game, like Tiger himself, is trying to regroup and reinvent itself.

Johnson has emerged as a younger version of Phil Mickelson, ready to implode at a moment’s notice. Johnson, 26, had a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open earlier this year, before collapsing and shooting a plus-9 on the final day.

Then came Sunday’s drama. Even so, he has finished in the Top 5 in three of four majors. He is an appealing combination of cool and crazy.

And then there’s Kaymer , who pushed up to third in the Ryder Cup standings for Europe and moved to a career-best No. 5 in the world after wining Sunday. He’s only 25.

McIlroy, only 21, just missed out at a shot to become the youngest major champion of the modern era when he missed a birdie putt on the 72nd hole Sunday. At some point, he will raise his profile beyond the comparisons to Danny Noonan in “Caddyshack.”

It will be fun to watch the convergence of these guys gaining confidence and maturing, coupled with the continued trials and tribulations of Tiger, and whether he will ever find his way back.

My guess is that he will, and that the “young guns” will be left somewhere on a wayward bunker, looking lost and confused.

Woods is obviously not the same guy who has been No. 1 in the world rankings for the past five years, but he is trying to reprogram himself, with or without the occasional goatee. The process will continue in the Ryder Cup, as a logical captain’s pick by Corey Pavin.

Opportunity awaits for the young guns. It’s best not to dawdle.

When the sleeping Tiger awakens, somebody is going to be lunch meat.


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