We might be witnessing the end of an era on the PGA Tour. Through 13 events, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, maybe the most dominant pair of players since Nicklaus and Palmer, have won exactly zero tournaments.
Mickelson has been doing better than Woods, to say the very least. In six events played, Mickelson has posted two top 10 finishes, including a second place finish. This is during the time of the year that he has historically owned.
Of his 38 wins on Tour, 15 of them have come before the end of February. That's 39.4 percent of his victories in the first two months of a nine month long season. If you go up to and include the Masters, which historically ends on the second Sunday in April, he has taken 25 of his 38 wins (65.8 percent) during the first third of the year.
Woods has been basically a non-factor on the course since the scandal that rocked the golf world began in November 2009.
Admittedly, Tiger was never one to play in a lot of tournaments, but he seems to have cut his schedule even more while he works on his swing.
In three events this year, Woods has a single top 10 finish at the WGC Cadillac Championship. He lost in the first round of the WGC Match Play, and was never a factor in the Farmer's Insurance Open. Interestingly, the Farmer's Insurance Open was played on Torrey Pines, the same course where Tiger won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open.
Both men are playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, but neither man will win. Going into the final round, Mickelson is nine shots back (T20) and Tiger is 10 shots back (T29).
Historically, Woods does not play in the week before a major, so we will probably not see him until the start of the Masters (Apr. 7). Phil usually likes to play before major events, but if he does play the upcoming Shell Houston Open before the Masters, could fatigue be factor at Augusta? He will have played three weeks in a row and Augusta National is not a flat course.
Meanwhile, the Tour is being overrun by players no one has ever heard of. I have caught myself, on several occasions this year, wondering, "Who the hell is that guy?"
The highest World Golf Ranking of any player who has won a tournament this year is 24th (Johnson Wagner and Michael Bradley). There have been three guys who have won their first tournament on Tour this year (Jhonattan Vegas, D.A. Points, and Gary Woodland).
Mark Wilson is the only multiple winner on Tour this year. He won the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. That gives him a grand total of four wins on Tour for his career.
Of the men who have won this year, would you like to take a guess who has the most career victories and how many he has?
If you said Rory Sabbatini, give yourself a gold star. His win at the Honda Classic gave him six career PGA Tour wins.
Clearly, the big guns have yet to fire this season.
And that raises some questions.
Are we seeing the decline of two of the best players on Tour of this generation, along with their contemporaries like Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, and Retief Goosen?
Or is this just the natural broadening of the talent pool as the young guys get on Tour with more competitive experience thanks to mini-tours and collegiate golf programs?
To be sure, the young guys don't seem to be intimidated by Tiger's 14 majors, or Phil's prodigious length and amazing short game.
And why should they be? Tiger hasn't won a major in nearly two years, and Phil is tied ninth on Tour in driving distance despite the fact that he is averaging nearly 292 yards off the tee (measured on all tee shots).
It would seem, as with most things, the answer is never as simple as we would like. There are many shades of gray; many layers that need to be peeled away and examined.
First, there is the fact that everyone is getting older. It is very, very hard to win on Tour as players get older. Phil will be 40 this year and Tiger has just turned 35. The young guys have the length to blast the ball a mile and the nerves to knock in those four-footers for par that some of the older guys just can't get in the hole.
Second, as I mentioned before, the young guys have a lot of experience by the time they get on Tour. They have played in college. They have played the mini-tours. They are used to being on camera because so many events are televised now. There is no anxiety at playing with the "name" guys because where they come from, they are all "name" guys.
Third is injuries and plain, old life. Woods made several bad decisions in the months leading up to the car wreck that turned his life into a train wreck. Even before that, however, he had already missed significant time with a broken leg after his 2008 U.S. Open win.
Mickelson, it was recently reported, has been diagnosed with arthritis. I don't have arthritis, but I can imagine it would play hell with a golf swing, especially if one gets it in their wrists or elbows. Phil has also had to deal with both his mother and his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer in recent years. One has to wonder if these situations are taking a mental, as well as physical, toll on these great players.
Fourth is the equipment that is available now. In the days of Nicklaus, Player, and Palmer, equipment was not as good and there were fewer choices of what sticks and rocks (clubs and balls, to the uninitiated) a player was going to use.
Jack was extraordinary and probably could have won a couple majors with a broomstick and some wadded up newspaper, but in the early days of the Tour, if a player wasn't a star he did not have the benefit of equipment built to his specifications.
Nowadays, every player can have his equipment custom build just for his body and swing type, and can tweak his equipment to produce a specific kind of shot repeatedly.
This has the effect of leveling the playing field since flaws in a swing can be hidden more easily. Of course, the player still has to make a decent swing and think his way around the golf course, but equipment quality and customization are not as big of issues as they once were. At that level, if your equipment isn't working the way you like, club and ball manufacturers are lined up to help you out.
It seems to me that we might be seeing the end of the ride for some of the best players of our generation. Phil is still fun to watch and probably has a run at a major or two left in him. Tiger certainly has some majors left if he can get his swing, and his life, back under control. I have to admit, though, based on their most recent play, it will be very hard to pick either of them as a favorite to win the Masters.
It might be time to stop asking, "Who's that guy," and start getting to know these young guys better.
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