JU­NIOR THOUGHTS

Af­ter be­ing re­cently cleared by doc­tors to re­turn to golf with­out re­stric­tion, spec­u­la­tion is once again ablaze as to whether Tiger Woods will as­cend back to the top of the game and re­claim his throne.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Spec­u­la­tion is once again ablaze as to whether Tiger Woods will as­cend back to the top of the game.

The al­most to­tal dom­i­na­tion

he showed at his peak has been un­matched since, and per­haps never will be. In re­cent years, a crop of twenty-some­things have shown that play­ers can com­pete younger, train harder and win in just as spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion as Tiger. But the ques­tion re­mains, will there ever be an­other player like him?

Justin Thomas, 2016/17 Player of the Year, 6-time win­ner, ma­jor cham­pion and FedEx Cup Cham­pion at just 24 has cer­tainly thrown his hat into the ring as a force to be reck­oned with. Also just 24, Thomas' good friend Jor­dan Spi­eth has had equally im­pres­sive suc­cess in a rel­a­tively short time pe­riod, and now has 3 legs of the ca­reer grand slam un­der his belt. An­other ex­cit­ing prospect is 22-year old Spa­niard Jon Rahm, who man­aged his first ca­reer win dur­ing the 2016/17 sea­son. The cur­rent crop of young play­ers is burst­ing with tal­ent, as is the highly com­pet­i­tive Web.com Tour which pro­duces a num­ber of PGA Tour grad­u­ates each year.

Per­haps this is the main dif­fer­ence be­tween the state of the Tour now com­pared to when Tiger was at his dom­i­nant best. Ev­ery week, prac­ti­cally ev­ery player in the field has the po­ten­tial to play their best golf and take home the ti­tle. Even look­ing past the younger group, play­ers like 41-year old jour­ney­man Pat Perez have shown that any­one is a chance, with Perez tak­ing out the sea­son-open­ing CIMB Clas­sic just a few weeks ago.

How­ever, at his best, Tiger seemed sim­ply un­beat­able. The clos­est I feel we've seen to this was Spi­eth's 2015 sea­son, which in­cluded Masters and US Open vic­to­ries, top-5 fin­ishes in the other two ma­jors, and vic­tory in the Tour Cham­pi­onship and FedEx Cup. In al­most ev­ery ma­jor tour­na­ment of the year, Spi­eth was ei­ther on top or well and truly in the mix. Hen­rik Sten­son seemed al­most shell-shocked as he watched him pour in cru­cial long putts through­out the fi­nal round of the Tour Cham­pi­onship. This was the tour­na­ment that he showed he could grind out a vic­tory with­out nec­es­sar­ily play­ing his best golf. That abil­ity to “win ugly” and close out a tour­na­ment is cru­cial to be­com­ing a world beater for an ex­tended pe­riod, and Spi­eth seems to have that nailed (2016 Masters aside!).

I cer­tainly feel that Spi­eth and Thomas could kick on to be­come greats of the game, per­haps along with one or two oth­ers in the mould of the “Big Three” of Palmer, Nick­laus and Player. There's never a dull mo­ment when some­one heats up, and per­haps the most ex­cit­ing part is that it could come from any one at any time. While watch­ing Tiger tear fields apart was great, I'm more ex­cited about the prospect of a group of dom­i­nant play­ers emerg­ing, bat­tling it out week af­ter week to be the very best.

It truly is a great time to be a golf fan, with the PGA and Euro­pean Tours both ooz­ing tal­ent. The ex­cit­ing thing is, a new player could emerge from the shad­ows as a world beater, that's just how many in­cred­i­ble play­ers there are on the world stage cur­rently. They're are hit­ting the ball fur­ther and straighter than ever, and re­main cool un­der pres­sure thanks to the huge com­pe­ti­tion they've had to face to earn their spots on Tour. In the words of the PGA Tour mar­ket­ing cam­paign of a few years back, these guys are good.

↑ Tiger Woods and Jor­dan Spi­eth laugh on the prac­tice range dur­ing the Hero World Chal­lenge at Al­bany, The Ba­hamas in Nas­sau, Ba­hamas.

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