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The Next Generation of Golfers Is Ready to Make Its Mark at the 2014 Masters

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The Next Generation of Golfers Is Ready to Make Its Mark at the 2014 Masters
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Patrick Reed is one of several next-generation golfers ready to strike at the Masters.

So there is no Tiger Woods in this year's Masters, and there are some lingering questions about some of the other usual favorites in the field.

Get over it.

Others on the PGA Tour certainly seem to have done it, and it's opening the window on an exciting new era of professional golf for the world to see. If you haven't faced reality yet, it's time to brace yourself for the post-Tiger, post-Phil Mickelson era and embrace those who are walking up the PGA's lush fairways right on their heels, even at august Augusta National Golf Club.

The current FedEx standings feature Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed at the top. Walker has won three times already this season and Reed has won twice—and they fear no other living golfer. This will be the first Masters for both.

Never heard of them? Then you aren't paying attention.

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These two stand in stark contrast to each other: Walker as the older guy who has emerged from seemingly nowhere (but actually the Dallas-Fort Worth area) to be a force this season, and Reed as the young stud with unlimited potential.

Both are considered possible favorites to contend when the Tiger-less Masters opens on Thursday, along with other Masters rookies such Jordan Spieth, Harris English and a host of others the casual golf fan has yet to come to know and enjoy.

Other up-and-comers with breakout star potential such as Jason Day and Russell Henley also figure to be in the wide-open Masters mix. They each claimed wins earlier this season that were the second of their careers and have the kinds of games that should permit them to contend at many majors in the years to come.

Walker, meanwhile, is no young gun but is still part of this next generation of golfers poised to strike. He celebrated his 35th birthday in January and first turned pro in 2001.

An amateur astronomer, according to the Miami Herald, Walker has spent as much or more time gazing upon the stars as playing golf with them. Yet now he has become one.

And Walker is the perfect example of a guy who is taking advantage of the sudden void in American professional golf.

There is no Tiger to intimidate anyone, and there won't be even if and when the new and likely unimproved version of Tiger finally returns from back surgery. The Tiger intimidation factor is a phenomenon of the past, and no one has stepped up to fill the empty vacuum.

That doesn't mean some aren't scrambling to do so.

Guys who have hovered on the edges for years, such as Walker, John Senden (age 43), Ryan Moore (32), Matt Every (31) and Australian Steven Bowditch (31), have emerged to win PGA tournaments this year for the first time.

Joining them on the ever-expanding list of first-time winners are a younger, pre-30 crowd that includes English, Chris Kirk, Scott Stallings and Chesson Hadley and Kevin Stadler, the son of 13-time PGA Tour winner Craig Stadler.

All seem poised to climb through the window of opportunity.

Uncredited
Success on the PGA Tour was a long time coming for Jimmy Walker, but now it's here.

Reed, who seems to be the second coming of John Daly with all the good—and bad—that comes with it, appears to be poised on that stardom precipice. He's only 23 years old, brash and brimming with the kind of self-confidence and, well, arrogance that used to be associated with one Tiger Woods.

Reed wore red on Sunday in the final round of his victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, for goodness' sake, and says he'll do it again in the Masters.

He's not doing it as a tribute to Tiger, trust us.

He's doing it because he thinks he's the next Tiger, and there is a major difference. "It's worked for Mr. Woods, and it's working for me," Reed said, via ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor, of his planned red shirt Sunday attire, assuming he makes the Masters cut. 

Reed is no stranger to Augusta—the town, not the more famous course—having transferred to Augusta State five years ago when his coach at Georgia, Chris Haack, could not put up with him any longer.

While at Georgia, Reed got arrested for underage drinking and possessing a fake ID and constantly tested the patience of Haack, who told Augusta State coach Josh Gregory, "You're going to have your hands full. Patrick can really play, but he needs constant monitoring," via O'Connor. 

Keep your eyes on the young man at the Masters, where Reed's scores likely will be monitored closely on the daily leaderboard.

Meanwhile, there also is the much quieter but seemingly no less confident Walker. He earned the grand total of $605,213 in PGA Tour prize money from 2001 to 2008, has won nearly $4 million in 13 events this season.

It took him 13 years to win the first PGA tournament of his career, the season-opening Frys.com Open last October that clinched his first Masters appearance. It took him another two months to win his second at the Sony Open in Honolulu and then only three weeks more for career win No. 3 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Walker thus joined none other than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval in an elite group as the only golfers to win three of a season's first eight PGA Tour events in the last 20 years.

The last Masters rookie to capture the green jacket was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, the year Walker was born. But you know what? He doesn't care about that.

"I'm here to have a chance," he told the Miami Herald. "Why couldn't a rookie win again?"

With no old Tiger in sight and the current landscape of professional golf seemingly stripped of so many of the usual psychological traps, he's absolutely right. Why not?

 

Joe Menzer hacks his way around golf courses wherever he can when he's not busy writing about golf, college basketball, NASCAR and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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