Was anyone else worried that an almost entirely Tiger-less 2010 PGA Tour season would be bland and run-of-the-mill?
Sadly, I was one of these people.
I was quick to succumb to media whispers that without Woods' monumental impact, not only would TV ratings suffer, but there would be a total lack of suspense, fervor, and intrigue for golf fans worldwide.
However, if this season has taught me anything thus far, it's that being proven wrong can sometimes feel pretty darn good.
This season's champions encompass an array of golfers across the spectrum.
From youthful first-timers to sweet-swinging veterans and long-overdue contenders, which of these talented golfers is most likely to build on their victory?
While I can only guess at that, I can tell you one thing for sure: don't underestimate how thrilling the current world of golf is.
He's due to win a major and if his game is any indication, you can put aside all those doubts and worries.
Prior to this season, Els’ game resembled that of an ebb-and-flow amateur restructuring his swing, rather than a 40-year-old professional with three majors under his belt and countless worldwide wins. Critics scrutinized his nerves under pressure and speculated that his age and injuries would undoubtedly limit his future success.
But this old dog is back to his old tricks.
With two overpowering wins this season (CA Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill) Els has proven his best years are not behind him.
Ernie is a reliable putter, a must for a major champion. His smooth, succinct stroke stands with the best of them, from Brad Faxon to Woods. Els' swing may appear fluid and mellifluous, but he powerfully whips his hips through each and every shot, which explains his prodigious drives off the tee (averaging 289 yards this season), paired with his masterful iron play (ranked 19th in Greens in Regulation).
But what distinguishes Els from the bunch is, quite simply, experience.
You're talking about a guy, who not only has been in contention five times in ten events this season, but an 18-time winner on the PGA Tour and 25-time European Tour champion (7th all-time).
If his success wasn't enough, think about the disappointment he has undergone as well. In the four majors alone, Els has placed 2nd six times, and in the top five 20 separate times.
He has tasted the sweet, unparalleled success of a major championship and with three more opportunities, will once more be victorious this season.
By the end of the 2010 season, Hunter Mahan will be in the top ten of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Mahan has a silent but deadly approach to the game. He strolls modestly through the golf course, quietly pounding drives off the tee and draining birdies.
There is nothing pretentious about him and viewers will never see his temper get the best of him.
It's his indelible strength of mind intertwined with a voracious appetite for success that has propelled him to the PGA elite.
In his last ten events, Mahan has only finished outside of the top 30 three times. Some may not be impressed by that statistic, which illustrates his consistency, but consider this one: he is ranked No. 1 in Total Driving performance, which adds together individual rank for average driving distance and driving accuracy percentage.
Leading in that particular stat means Mahan consistently puts himself in a position to make birdies. Also, confidence off the tee translates to poise in all other aspects of his game.
If Hunter can continue his aggressive play, he will climb the rankings and enter the top ten.
- No. 1 in Scoring Average in the PGA Tour.
- No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
- Has made 8 cuts in 8 events in 2010.
- No. 2 in Birdie Average.
- No. 3 in Par Breakers (percent of the time a player is under par for a hole).
Shall I go on?
This is not the same snotty, egotistical kid that thought he had the PGA Tour figured out as a rookie in 2006.
Kim has now won as a member of the Ryder Cup, President's Cup, four times on Tour, and who can forget his historic round at the Master's two years ago (which included 11 birdies), and his third place finish at this year's Master's.
Though he has been plagued by injuries that have reappeared at the most inopportune times, it's not far-fetched to assume Kim could win multiple times this season or next.
When Kim plays, he exudes the heart, willpower, and spirit of a champion. As a junior and amateur, Kim grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, who was in the midst of redefining the game of golf by his cutthroat approach.
Kim has shown glimpses of Tiger-esque play, but he still has a long way to go.
Though we have witnessed a resurgence in Scott's game throughout 2010, as his driving has been more accurate and his approaches to the green consistently closer, his win at the Valero Texas Open will be his only win for some time to come.
Simply put, his game is in transition.
While Scott was once among golf's elite, he still struggles to produce under pressure. His putting stats irrefutably illustrate the void in his game.
At 190th in Putts Per Round and 179th in Putting Average, Scott has lost his touch with the flat stick. No one knows whether it's his form, equipment, or possibly a case of the yips, but whatever it is, he has a long way to go before returning to the winner's circle.
Though there has recently been a surge of talented youth performing excellently week in and week out on the PGA Tour, Rory McIlroy is the leader of the pack.
My favorite winner among the 2010 crowd, Rory McIlroy battled back on Sunday at the Quail Hollow Championship to beat the likes of former major winners Phil Mickleson and Angel Cabrera.
McIlroy is only 21 years old.
The fact that he is so young and talented means that his game will only continue to improve, his mind will become more shrewd, and he will gain the experience necessary to become a major contender down the road.
McIlroy's miraculous performance Sunday at Quail Hollow, where he blistered the course with a record round of 62, demonstrated his capacity to compete at the highest level, in the toughest conditions, among the best of the best.
I don't believe Rory will win a major this year, but I think that he has the overwhelming ability, both mentally and physically, to overpower a golf course and the field, ultimately making him a contender every time he enters an event.
Does everybody realize what Jason Day did to win his first PGA Tour event, the HP Byron Nelson Championship?
He didn't do anything but screw up; it was just that Blake Adams screwed up bigger!
Sure, Day rolled home a putt on the 18th green to secure the victory, but that was only after dunking his approach shot in the drink, the epitome of a choke.
Jason's talent is obvious and I certainly don't mean to doubt his capacity to compete with the best in the game. But I highly question his ability to compete, much less thrive under pressure.
And that's usually the distinguishing factor between the winner and the field.