One gets the sense over the past few months that there has been a gradual changing of the guard with the world’s top players.
The game’s two biggest draws over the last 20 years have been Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, neither of whom has recorded a Top 10 finish on the PGA Tour in 2014.
It seems as though Mickelson’s win at last years’ Open Championship was a victory in the twilight of a fabulous career. While the ultra-streaky, “Lefty”, can still challenge any course and post low scores he has not be able to do so for four consecutive rounds this year and his velvety putting stroke has all but deserted him. These are a Tour pro’s signs of wear and tear and the inevitable march of Father Time. In a microcosm of his year to date, at this week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational, Mickelson would play three very average rounds before putting everything together in an 8–under, 62, par finale.
At the onset of the century, Tiger Woods owned Bridgestone witnessed by an 8 year stretch in which he finished in the Top 5 every year including being the Champion 4 times. The Woods of today is nothing like the Woods of those wonder years.
Perhaps it is the product of all the surgeries that he has had, or the fact that he has completely changed his swing three times in his professional career, or maybe the pressure that Woods has put on himself to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Major Championships. It may be a combination of all those things or something more personal, but most agree that we have seen the best of the phenomenon that was Tiger. Woods would re-injure his recently repaired lower back early on in Sunday’s round and be forced to withdraw after playing only 8 holes.
The one most obvious contender to the throne is Rory McIlroy who won his third different Major two weeks ago at Hoylake in dominating style http://www.birdgolf.com/third-four/ .
But McIlroy has teased us with this possibility in the last few years by demolishing fields in both the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship before retreating and losing his form. At 25, McIlroy is the youngest of the new superstars but he is not alone. Martin Kaymer at 29 is already a two-time Major Champion after his brilliant win at this year’s U.S. Open.
And then there are the 30-somethings in the next echelon who must be joined in the discussion, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia. Riding the impetus of a 9-under par, 61 in the second round, Garcia took a 3-shot lead at 14-under par into Sunday’s final round-3 ahead of McIlroy.
That lead would vanish after the opening-3 holes on Sunday as McIlroy made three consecutive birdies to start his final round. Firestone Country Club is a very difficult course on which to score and every fairway is guarded by the towering trees that line them on each side.
This week would showcase McIlroy at his prodigious ball-striking best, as he threaded one needle after the other (at one time between the second and fourth rounds he had hit 19 consecutive drives of 300+ yards) taming the iconic Akron layout.
His closing 4-under par, 66 would be two better overall than Garcia whose 1-over par 71, rendered him a bridesmaid once more and gave McIlroy his first win in a WGC Championship.
McIlroy however would ascend again to the pinnacle of the world of golf and claim the #1 ranking from Scott. We have always known that it was his to claim, we just don’t know how long it will be his. Time and tide suggest that it is infinite; logic dictates that as with all things supreme, it will be fleeting.
Golf has been waiting for you Rory. Transfixed and bewitched, we have watched, breathless, as you gave glimpses of what could be. While celebrating your ascendancy we are also hoping for its continuance.