If you must know, Grand Guru of golf Trends, I'm feeling a little used right now. The last major has been played, and who won? Some guy who's 35 years old (although he's about 80 in practice-range years). In the three big ones before the PGA, the scrappy Lee Janzen, 33, gutted one out, while the other two were stolen by Mark O'Meara, who's 41 for crying out loud. The average age of the winners in the most important championships of the year: 37�
I can hear you asking, Oh, Oversized One: So what? Doesn't experience usually overcome youth? Yes, but that's my beef. This year I predicted things would be different. I said, before all the world, that 1998 would be the year of the twentysomethings. A changing of the guard. Power, passion and precocity. The most exciting golf ever played.
Everything was in place after last year, when the average age of the winners of the majors was 26�. The blueprint for '98 was clear: Tiger Woods would again rearrange Augusta's features, then embark on a second assault on the Grand Slam. If he didn't make it, his peers—David Duval, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard or Phil Mickelson—would be there to scoop up the leftovers.
But after seducing me with their 1997 feats, the kids really let me down. Duval had a three-stroke lead with three to go at Augusta and couldn't hold it. Woods was four under after the first eight holes at Olympic but then had another of his puzzling four-putts. He took the first-round lead in the British Open and the PGA and then basically spun his wheels. Els, Leonard and Mickelson never threatened at all.
What's that, Your Supination? You say that as a group the kids have actually been more consistent this year than last? Seven top 10 finishes in the majors as opposed to six in '97? With all due respect, whoop-de-do. Permit me to hold their well-heeled feet to the fire. Let's start with Els, since he has the two U.S. Open titles. The big lug couldn't do better than 16th in a major. Huh? The guy's back is tender? Had to ease his ball around since before Olympic? Could be chronic, even career threatening? Geez, O.K. The Big Easy gets a pass.
What about Duval? Remember how that three-putt at the 16th at the Masters opened the door for O'Meara. What's that? You say the old guy kicked it down with three birdies over the last four. I'll give you that, but what about the 76-78 to miss the cut at Sahalee? An aberration, you say, considering Duval's worst finish in the other majors was an 11th? And he's still the Tour's leading money winner? Can't buy a major, though, can he?
Then there's Leonard. With his 70-77 at Sahalee, he has missed six cuts in 22 starts. Other than winning the Players Championship, he's been invisible. Yes, that one win came in the richest—and most important, outside of the majors—event of the year. I suppose there have been worse slumps.
Surely, though, there's no excuse for Mickelson. What's his problem, Oh, Most Elevated Green? I was positive that Lefty would bag his first major this year. He was right there at the Masters until a closing 74. Another 74, this time on Saturday, killed him at the U.S. Open, as did a Dalyesque 85 at the British. At Sahalee, a 78 on Saturday rendered Sunday's 67 meaningless. Yes, I know that Mickelson has 13 career victories. Maybe I can help by calling him the King of the B's. Look what that did for O'Meara.
As usual, the buck stops with Woods. Something's out of whack. When Tiger hits the ball well, he can't putt. When he putts well, he hits it everywhere. Even with Butch Harmon constantly under the hood, Tiger needs more tune-ups than my old Fiat. I'm beginning to wonder if his not-quite-good-enough play is some sort of unconscious attempt to escape the spotlight.
Yes, I know the PGA was Woods's third top 10 in a major this year, but didn't I hear him once say that second sucks? I realize he's the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Are you trying to tell me he's human?