The world of professional golf is fine-tuning its sights toward Augusta, Ga., for the annual rite of spring, the Masters.
That little get-together has always been thought of as the quarter pole in the PGA Tour season, the first of the four majors, and a time when players take stock of how the early part of the season has gone.
It also gives us a chance to think about what golf his given us thus far and what lessons we've learned from what we've seen.
There is golf without Tiger Woods.
Even at age 38, there is this feeling the game cannot and will not be able to survive without Woods. It's true that Woods is still the straw that stirs the PGA Tour's drink, but things are not what they used to be.
The tour is not going to shrivel up and die when Woods gets off to the worst start of his 18-year career like he has this year. And it's a pretty sure bet, even with Woods hobbled with significant back issues, the rest of the season will go on. Major champions will be crowned, money titles will be won, new stars will emerge and fans will continue to watch.
These guys are good.
Remember that marketing slogan the PGA Tour used a few years ago? It was intended to showcase the upper echelon players, and that was accomplished. But what we've learned this year so far is that there are really good players deep into the field of every PGA Tour event.
How about the winners on the Florida swing? Russell Henley (Honda Classic), Patrick Reed (World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship), John Senden (Valspar Championship), Matt Every (Arnold Palmer Invitational).
Not a lot of household names there, are there?
But it shows just how deep the PGA Tour is now. And that's one reason why it's going to be so difficult for someone to dominate like Woods did for so many years.
Maybe there's hope for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club yet.
It was announced this week the R and A was going to encourage its members to allow women to join the club, which has been all male for, believe it or not, 260 years.
Augusta National Golf Club finally caught up with the times in 2013 when it admitted two women, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, and now maybe the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and its 2,400 members might finally do so as well.
The lesson learned here is that giving lip service to growing the game and being concerned about the future of the game but being exclusionary don't go together.
If you're an exclusive club with no aspirations of hosting major championships that will be watched by more than just males, that's one thing. Hosting Masters and British Opens is certainly something else.
Listen to what the kids say.
Twenty-three-year-old Patrick Reed sent a lightning bolt through the golf world after winning his third PGA Tour title, the WGC-Doral Championship.
"I don't see a lot of guys that have done that besides Tiger Woods and the legends of the game," Reed said in a story on ESPN.com. "I believe in myself, especially with how hard I've worked. I'm one of the top five players in the world. I feel like I've proven myself."
We'll see how that works out as the season goes along. Reed beat a high-quality field but will need to do that in majors to validate his boast.
Lesson learned is that past greats of the game rarely spoke in boastful terms about themselves. But that was then, this is now. I think we better get used to it.
Wide Open Masters
I can't remember the last time the best players in the world were this close to the Masters and all of them were struggling.
Tiger Woods is off to the worst start to a year in his career, and now back issues have made him questionable. Adam Scott had a chance to solidify his standing in the world but failed to close out the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Henrik Stenson started 2014 slowly and has shown signs of how he played last year but isn't back to that yet. Jason Day has played well, but a thumb injury has nagged him. And Phil Mickelson is somewhere, but he's hardly in championship form.
The lesson here is getting to the top is a whole lot easier than staying there.
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