You can’t help but think that Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and so many others who found their Major careers steamrollered by the juggernaut that was Tiger Woods at his peak, are now smiling to themselves.
“We don’t fear Tiger like you did,” the young kids of today told them. “We’re not as intimidated by him as you were.” The reason was that they’d not faced Woods at his best in a Major. But now they have. And Woods won. And, suddenly, we’re back in the days before the iPhone or Facebook, and all the conversations going into a Major are about Woods.
The talk about Woods being the favourite for this week’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York started long before his yacht docked in Long Island harbour two weeks ago – it started the moment he slipped on that green jacket after his 15th Major win.
Woods returns to a Bethpage Black course where he won the 2002 US Open for his eighth Major title. He has finished tied sixth, second and first in his past three Majors. New Yorkers are loud by nature, but there’s no doubt Woods is the one making the biggest noise going into the second Major of the year.
Brooks Koepka returns as the defending champion and the man who held off Woods to win last year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive. Woods returned the favour when he relegated Koepka to second place at the Masters this year.
Koepka’s making some noise himself on his way to New York. Much of it is directed at still trying to convince his critics that he’s one of the current greats of the game. He was recently involved in a public spat with a leading golf commentator who declared he wasn’t in the mix of golfers capable of challenging Woods.
As he’s shown, though, Koepka plays well when he has a point to prove. And he’s the winner of three of the past seven Majors.
World number one Dustin Johnson shared second place behind Woods at the Masters. That was his third top-10 finish in the past five Majors. But that one Major victory back in 2016 is now starting to become a question mark regarding when one of the most gifted athletes golf has ever seen will win again.
As for some of the other “kids”, Rory McIlroy had the best PGA Tour start of his career. Until the Masters, when he didn’t contend at all against Woods. And Jordan Spieth appears to have left the playground, dropping to 39th in the world.
The South African contingent of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Dylan Frittelli, Justin Harding, Shaun Norris, Richard Sterne, Brandon Stone and Erik van Rooyen will also be at Bethpage.
But, win or lose in this Major, the conversation is once again all about Woods. And that’s something a whole new generation of golfers are now learning to deal with. – Michael Vlismas Media