More players shine in Tiger’s absence
As far as William Hill is concerned, all bets are off.
At least when it comes to Tiger Woods and the U.S. Open.
Not long after Woods decided to sit out the next major and rest
his ailing left leg, the British bookmaker announced Tuesday it was
refunding all wagers that had been placed on Woods at
The joint favorites now are Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Phil
Mickelson at 12-to-1. One of them is No. 1 in the world, the other
one used to be No. 1 and the third is the most talented player of
that bunch, with four majors and five runner-up finishes in the
”Without him,” Hill spokesman Rupert Adams said of Woods,
”the field looks very open.”
Golf has looked like that just about every week over the last 18
months, even when Woods was playing.
There was some concern going into the start of the 2010 season –
when Woods disappeared to try to repair a personal life that was in
shambles – that golf was in deep trouble without its biggest star.
But dating to his last win in November 2009 at the Australian
Masters, a new generation of players is starting to emerge.
Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open last year, setting off a
streak of four first-time major champions. Rory McIlroy won at
Quail Hollow last year with a 62 in the final round, just two days
before he turned 21. Matteo Manassero won his second European Tour
event two days before his 18th birthday.
If not for being impatient at Pebble Beach and unaware he was in
a bunker at Whistling Straits, 26-year-old Dustin Johnson might
have won two majors last year. Martin Kaymer won the PGA
Championship at 25 and became the youngest player since Woods to be
No. 1 in the world. Bubba Watson has won three times on the PGA
Tour in the last year. Rickie Fowler was the first PGA Tour rookie
to play in the Ryder Cup, where he birdied the last four holes.
The list is long.
And maybe the absence of Woods – if not from the game, from his
game – has something to do with that.
Jim Furyk took exception to the notion that this latest crop of
talent has more good players than the previous generation. Furyk
came along in the era of Mickelson, Westwood, Ernie Els, David
Duval, Justin Leonard, Darren Clarke. Not until they won majors or
became No. 1 in the world did they get the same amount of attention
as this generation because every conversation started with Tiger
As for what seems to be greater parity in golf?
”We’ve always had it,” Furyk said. ”Take Tiger out of there,
and it was an open ball game. If he doesn’t win 14 majors, it’s an
open ball game. And now that he hasn’t been playing, it’s wide
Imagine if Woods had never climbed down from a high chair and
started swinging a golf club.
Donald joined some exclusive company when he won at Wentworth to
become only the 15th player to be No. 1 in the 25 years of the
world ranking. To put the achievement into perspective, 62 players
have won majors since the world ranking began in April 1986.
That number is skewed, of course, because Woods has hogged the
top spot for nearly 12 years. If not for Woods, turnover in the
world ranking would not be unusual, and the hype over No. 1 might
not have been so great.
Among those who would have been No. 1 if Woods were not around –
Mickelson, Furyk, Colin Montgomerie, Davis Love III, Steve
Stricker, Sergio Garcia and Mark O’Meara.
”It’s funny how people quickly categorize a player for winning
one, two or three tournaments as a great player,” O’Meara said.
”I don’t get that. I won 16 times, and I think I’m a good player,
I’ve had a wonderful career for me. Where do you draw the
Stewart Cink has been in Woods’ shadow since he was a teenager.
He recalls one year being at a junior tournament, and when his
round was over, he noticed his mother headed back onto the golf
course because she wanted to watch Woods.
”Maybe he’s won so many tournaments that there were less
available to win,” Cink said. ”He was definitely the lightning
rod of golf, and still is for different reasons. I think he set the
standard higher, so that Jim, me or anyone in our age group, if we
had the same career and you take away Tiger, we might have got more
respect than we got.”
It looks as though a new generation is ready to take over
because Woods is not around. Had his personal life and health
crumbled five years ago, there might have been just as many players
ready to thrive.
Remember, there was a time when Montgomerie said what made the
majors so difficult to win is that Woods usually won two of them,
Els, Singh and Mickelson captured another and that left only one
major for everyone else.
Ten players have won the last 10 majors.
Three players have been No. 1 in the world over the last two
”It seems like there’s a huge transition going on, only because
No. 1 is wide open,” Curtis Strange said. ”We’re going to have
that until Tiger comes back. There will be a revolving door for No.
1 in the world. But if Tiger came back tomorrow and played like he
used to – or not even as good as he used to – he’d dominate this
game. Will he do that? I don’t know.”
There were questions whether Woods could get his game back when
he was playing. It’s even tougher to answer when he’s not.