The Year So Far: Lefty's Phil-Good Win, Wiger's Woes

Now we exhale. A most memorable Masters is in our rearview mirror. We look at the golf calendar, and we see that the “Big Stage” campaign is already one-third completed. How can that be?
Peering ahead, in less than a month the strongest field in men’s golf will convene at The Players. Five weeks after that it’s the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. A month after that is the Open Championship at St. Andrews. In August, the PGA Championship goes to scenic Whistling Straits. Quicker than you can say “Dylan Thomas” the two Ryder Cup sides will be assembling in Wales the first of October.
The 2010 season is about to be a blur. So let’s pause for 850 words and try and figure out what we’ve learned about the people and the game so far this year. And let’s start (where else?) with Tiger Woods.
We have learned that the longer Elin Nordegren Woods stays private and quiet, the more she says about the future of her children and their life with the man who is currently her husband. The silence is deafening. Nordegren (philandering spouse) and Amy Mickelson (breast cancer) are Nos. 1 and 1A in golf’s list of sympathetic figures. It is impossible not to root for the best for them and admire their grace under a pressure you will never find on a course.
As for their husbands: The number of people who question the public sincerity of Woods seems to increase by the day. When Billy Payne and Jim Nantz start calling you out in public, it’s time to consider the notion that your actions on and around the course aren’t quite matching up to your words of apology. We have learned that if we ever are going to get back the Tiger Woods we once knew, it is going to take time. He will likely win a tournament, or four, before he wins back our trust.
Phil Mickelson, by stark contrast, has grown on us as a person and as a player. Once upon a time he was viewed as too often transparent – in the bad sense – away from golf, and collapsible on a course. He still overthinks at times. But on the heels of his portside legerdemain last week we have learned that he may yet find a place among the top 10 players of all time. His emotional and pulsating victory at Augusta served to file his flight plan. Now he has to land the plane. He turns 40 next month, but there are a ton of miles left on Lefty.
Ernie Els marked his own 40th birthday last October. And he celebrated in March by winning twice in Florida on the PGA Tour. He had become the Big Uneasy for a long stretch. Now a string of nagging injuries appear to be behind him and he is breathing more easily. We have learned that, despite a disappointing weekend at this Masters, there is still room for a fourth major for the man possessed of the most effortlessly powerful swing in golf.
The so-called Young Guns?
American Anthony Kim is still inconsistent but brilliant in full flight. Young Italian Matteo Manassero is Seve Ballesteros with training wheels. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is overgolfed and overtraveled at the moment but no one doubts his future. South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel is a revelation and a two-time winner already on the Euro Tour in 2010. The USA’s bright Rickie Fowler is impossible to ignore.
On the women’s side, we have learned that Lorena Ochoa, married now and a mother to stepchildren, is not as focused on golf as she once was. And that is not a bad thing. Ochoa, winless so far in 2010, may be the single most genuine and effortlessly charming player – male or female – in the world. We need to be learning that as long as she is around the game, in any capacity, we should be glad.
The British Invasion is here to stay and it has been accompanied by a downturn Down Under. Lee Westwood (No. 4), Ian Poulter (5), Paul Casey (7), Luke Donald (23) and Ross Fisher (30) are all Englishmen and are all ensconced in the world’s top 30. Meanwhile, the once-powerful Aussies have only Geoff Ogilvy (14) and Robert Allenby (17) in that same grouping.
Earlier this year, Mickelson found himself smack dab in the middle of a tempest in golf’s teapot called “Square Grooves.” The controversy lingers around the game’s edges. But for the most part, the world’s best have adjusted to the limitations on their irons. None of this will affect the rest of us for another 15 years. It’s a non-issue.
And the golf industry, we are learning, is making a slow recovery thanks, at least in part, to pent-up demand for product. But the design and construction of new courses has ground to a screeching halt. Talented architects such as Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Tom Fazio are too good at what they do to have so much time to exhale. Here’s the painful math: With two-thirds of the 2010 golf season remaining, their glasses are half empty.


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