After Woods and Mickelson Come McIlroy and Bradley: Who's the Next Major?
With Tiger Woods seemingly in terminal decline, every golf Major seems to see a new winner. Two of the last three have been one by rising stars—Rory McIlroy and Keegan Bradley. The next could be Rickie Fowler.
In this article we consider future likely winners and one who won't—Lee Westwood.
Why won't Lee Westwood win a major? There are a number of reasons, sadly.
He is 38 and if he hasn't won by now, he never will. It's a young man's game. OK Mark O'Meara was 41 and Darren Clarke 42, but there are other reasons why Lee won't.
He can't putt well enough. He thinks he can and has had putting streaks in the past, but he keeps missing on the right and looks in disbelief after every miss. Why does he need his caddy to give him the lines, unless he can't trust himself.
His confidence has gone. Lee doesn't believe in all that fluffy mind stuff. So when Chubby Chandler is able to persuade him to go and see Dr Bob Rotella, you know he's in trouble.
Worst of all, on the Saturday night of the USPGA he looked close to tears. "I only hit one bad shot today". Sorry Lee, what about all the putts you missed that Jason Dufner sank?
He's one of the best golfers Europe has ever produced but for our first choice we look to a rising US talent.
Rickie Fowler: Style Icon
While Ian Poulter and John Daly are the fashionistas of mens' golf, Camillo Villegas and Rickie Fowler make golf sexy.
While many may recognise Fowler's sunny colours and over-sized cap, he will surely soon be a regular visitor to the winner's tent. In fact some believe Tiger Woods' legacy will be inherited by him and Rory McIlroy.
Rickie was the No. 1 ranked amateur golfer in the world for 36 weeks in 2007 and 2008. He turned pro in 2009 after winning all four matches in his last Walker Cup. In the same year he signed his clothing deal with Puma.
A second place in the Frys.com Open helped him to his 2010 PGA Tour card and he finished that year as a captain's pick in the Ryder Cup aged 21, ranked in the world top 50 and beating Rory McIlroy to rookie of the year.
While he is yet to win a PGA event, he finished fifth in the 2011 British Open at Royal St Georges, followed by second in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Following the PGA Championship, he has risen to 27 in the world.
His temperament, talent and individuality suggest a very bright future in the game.
Luke Donald: Mr. Consistency
Some people say he doesn't have enough length with his drives; after that, many rate him the best in the world, which is what he is. His putting is metronomic; his iron shots sublime; and he has a calm personality to match.
Like Caroline Wozniacki, people ask how he can be world No. 1, having never won a major? The answer is in his grindingly consistent efficiency. Like Rickie Fowler, he was a successful Walker and Eisenhower Cup player. He has the best European Ryder Cup win-loss record ever at 8-2-1.
The golfer he most resembles in many ways is Sir Nick Faldo. Who could forget the English Knight's iron play on the way to a crushing victory over Greg Norman from a six-shot deficit in 1996? Donald's cruise to the top of the world rankings was built on a string of top 10 finishes and his systematic destruction of the field in the WGC-Accenture Matchplay in February 2011.
Ironically this was the tournament in which he injured his wrist two years previously, when in sparkling form and having been in the world top ten for three years. Despite that setback he has clawed his way to golf's summit, and it is surely only a matter of time before he celebrates a major.
Nick Watney: Mr. Nice Guy
You could be forgiven for thinking Nick Watney's time had come when he won the 2011 AT&T National in July. That win took him into the world top 10 for the first time.
Although he had missed the cut in the US Open, he finished 12th in the PGA Championship. With two wins in 2011, he is surely set up for a stellar future.
A three times all-American golfer at Fresno State, he followed his uncle Mike Watney when he turned pro in 2003. A slow burner, it took him four years to notch his first PGA Tour win in 2007. A second victory took him to number 76 in the world by the end of the year.
To date he has four wins under his belt and finished seventh in both the Masters and the British Open in 2010.
2011 has been his most consistent year ever, with two wins and five top 10 finishes. He has led the Fedex Cup standings for the last seven weeks and with a total of ten weeks this year, is currently projected to finish at least second. A win in the playoffs would surely set him up for his first Major triumph in 2012.
Hunter Mahan: A Class Act
Hunter Mahan could be forgiven for not having Graeme McDowell on his Christmas card list. Coming into the 2010 Ryder Cup, he had an unbeaten record. With Zach Johnson he improved that record by beating the Molinari brothers in the foursomes. And then he met McDowell who beat him with Rory McIlroy before winning the epic last singles match.
It may be that the emotional experience of losing the Ryder Cup is the reason for his poor year in 2011. He missed the cut in the first three Majors but showed character to finish 19th in the PGA Championship.
Hunter was deeply upset by his loss to McDowell, despite his teammates and captain, Stewart Cink citing him as a hero. He would surely be a Captain's pick for anyone's team even if he didn't qualify and was a natural choice as anchorman in the memorable singles which brought the US so close to victory.
He had his best year ever running into the Ryder Cup and his time will come again. He has had top 10 finishes in the Masters, the Open and the US Open and remains number 21 in the world.
One day, Hunter Mahan will rise above the rest. Form is temporary, class is permanent.
Jason Day: Winner in Waiting
It was to nobody's surprise that Rory McIlroy won the US Open. As well as Rickie Fowler, he is one of three young golfers who have grabbed the public attention in 2010, for their sheer natural talent. The third is Jason Day.
As Tiger Woods was inspired by Jack Nicklaus, so Jason Day was inspired by the Tiger. From a modest Australian golfing development, he seemed to appear from nowhere, winning the junior Australian Masters aged 13. At 16, he won the 15-17 Division of the Callaway World Junior Championship.
His progress to full PGA status was stuttering. Although he played PGA events immediately after turning pro in 2006, he did not win his card until 2008 and had only conditional status for 2009. Since then, he has grabbed attention with his aggressive play and a string of good results.
Having retained his card for 2010, he became the youngest Australian ever to win a PGA event, thereby qualifying for the British Open. This was followed by a top 10 finish in the PGA Championship, which got him into the Fedex Cup playoffs.
In 2011 he has put down a marker for the future, finishing second in both the Masters and the US Open at the tender age of 23. Now ranked eighth in the world, he will surely contest many future Majors with McIlroy.
Matteo Manassero: A Prodigy?
People are running out of superlatives for Matteo Manassero. In 2009, he was being mentioned in the same breath as Danny Lee, the youngest ever winner of the US Amateur Championship. But while Lee's form has slipped badly, Matteo goes from strength to strength.
At 16 he was the youngest ever winner of the British Amateur Championship and was top of the world rankings for 18 weeks before turning professional in 2010. Not surprising really, as he had just become the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters, also at 16! Within five months he was the youngest player to win a European Tour event.
Although not qualified to play in any of the Majors again until the 2011 US Open, he has made two out of the last three cuts, finishing 37th in the PGA Championship. Meanwhile, he has also recorded his second European Tour win in April.
As well as his prodigious talent, he shares one characteristic with the other golfers mentioned in this article—his temperament. Surely he will join McIlroy, Fowler and Jason Day as Major contenders for many years to come.