Golf's Five Most Thrilling Duels: Veterans vs. Emerging Stars

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2010

What if the five most dominant veterans and five emerging stars on the PGA Tour could face-off? It could be an all-out, one-on-one, cut-throat bout?

Would youth make a difference in golf? Or would the experience factor be the game changer?

As Tiger Woods' triumphant reign over the PGA Tour continues to subside, fresh faces and past winners alike have risen to the occasion. The 2010 PGA Tour season has been reinvigorated by thrilling comebacks by fallen stars like Ernie Els and witnessed other superstars, like Phil Mickelson, continue their ascent towards becoming the world's best.

But just when these older guys were feeling confident in their rise to dominance, an ambitious group of youngsters catapulted onto the scene. Some were able to grab their first professional victory, like Rory McIlroy, while others have consistently played themselves into contention, but watched glory nearly slip away, like Rickie Fowler.

Wouldn't it be a thrilling spectacle to watch these young guns challenge the older vets of the Tour in a round of 18?

Who might win these duels?

Tiger Woods (34) vs. Anthony Kim (25)

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Considering Tiger is undergoing major refinement in his mental and physical game, whereas Kim is currently rehabilitating from thumb surgery, each of their game's are not where they'd like them to be.

But let's go back a year from today and wonder how a match would've gone.

Tiger would've already won three times on Tour (The Arnold Palmer, the Memorial, and the AT&T National) whereas Kim was without a win and possessed just two Top-10's.

What's intriguing about this match-up is that both players are extremely long off the tee, aggressive iron players and meticulous around the greens. Kim is far more accurate than Woods with the driver, but as the world well knows, Tiger has a knack for ensuring that he is a constant threat to his opponents.

Kim may hit more fairways, but Woods will make more clutch putts and ultimately take the victory.

Phil Mickelson (40) vs. Dustin Johnson (25)

What initially is intriguing about this duel is the momentous power and length that both Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson share. In 2010, both have consistently hit the ball over 300 yards and yet neither is even in the top-150 in driving accuracy on Tour.

Looks like it will come down to short game, and well, sorry Dustin.

Phil Mickelson has redefined the short game department of golf. Whether it's carrying four wedges in his bag, flop shots from just off the green, or draining five foot, slick, down-hill putts to clinch the win--Mickelson has become an archetype for the short game.

Johnson definitely has the potential to breakthrough as a consistently intimidating presence on Tour, but no matter how far he can pummel the golf ball, he has a long way to go.

Ernie Els (41) vs. Rory McIlroy (21)

The young Northern Irishmen may be able to out drive the Big Easy, but Els will rarely miss greens and constantly put himself in position for birdies.

Els's swing is a reflection of golf's fluid, tranquil nature, but McIlroy is no slouch. Both players have a picture-perfect swing in rhythm with their flawless fundamentals.

Els has been solid throughout the 2010 campaign, carding two victories and seven Top-10 finishes in 11 events. In Rory's six events, he has one win, and just one top-10.

If this were last season, Rory would've have been on a tear and had the leg-up on Els, who was in the midst of reconstructing his game. But, considering Ernie has clearly found his rhythm on Tour this season, he would manhandle McIlroy.

Jim Furyk (40) vs. Rickie Fowler (21)

It's not just the fact that each of these players have weird swings, which attracted me to this matchup. Instead, this contest seems the most even in the present moment.

Though Furyk has won twice on Tour this year and has the overwhelming experience as a multiple major winner, Fowler remains a force to be reckoned with. In just his first year on Tour, Fowler has earned five top-10's, two of which were second place finishes that flirted with victory.

Furyk may have more accuracy off the tee, but Fowler would beat him in length and greens in regulation categories. But just when Fowler may have had the edge, Furyk is a truly skilled putter and could save many pars and notch just enough birdies to keep up with Fowler.

When the last putt has dropped, this match will go to Fowler. Rickie has the uncanny ability to rally down the stretch and play aggressive golf, which would overtake Furyk's slow and steady approach.

Steve Stricker (43) vs. Ryo Ishikawa (18)

Now this would just be fun to watch.

One of the world's youngest and most talented players, Ishikawa, competing against one of the world's most consistent players, Stricker.

The truth is, we really have no idea how Ishikawa plays because we haven't seen enough of him. In 2010, he has competed in seven PGA Tour events, made four cuts, posting his best finish, a T9, at the World Golf Championships--Accenture Match Play. The only thing that is certain about Ryo is that he has the potential to become one of golf's elite players in the future.

Stricker is by far one of the best putters on Tour and over the last few years has elevated his game to compete with the likes of Woods, Mickelson, and Els. With four top-10's on the year and a win at the Northern Trust Open, Stricker continues to play his simple, reliable game.

Whereas Ishikawa is still learning about himself, Stricker knows his strengths and weaknesses and makes the conscious effort to highlight his best attributes.

Stricker wins without a doubt.

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