TIGER AND PHIL; SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES
Golf fans rejoice. The season’s best, and most compelling, major has been saved for last, and it seems like old times. It’s not unusual for the PGA Championship to be the most compelling of the majors in any season. It’s become a proving ground for a number of first time major winners and this year there is an intriquing lineup of golfers who have the game to step into their first major championship, with Hunter Mahan, who claimed his first PGA title right here in Cromwell in 2007, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood, currently holder of the title, “Best golfer not to win a major”, topping that list. What makes the PGA Championship such a proving ground for first time major winners is that it combines players with the ability with their last chance to do so in any given season. It’s not just the competition in the field that makes the story lines of a major championship so rich, it’s often the competition with the course itself, and, with it’s lightning greens, Oak Hill, just outside Rochester, New York, will be a major player. The last time a major was played there the winning score was four under par. In all of it’s history with major tournaments, Oak Hill has relinquished sub par scores to just eight golfers. There are all the usual story lines going in that make the 95th PGA Championship so compelling, but there’s a wrinkle to that compelling nature that clearly makes this one the best of this year’s majors. This weekend the hands of time spin backward in golf. 16 years ago Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson confronted each other on the golf course for the first time. Many times over those 16 years they have been ranked #1 and #2 in the world, but it’s been a few years since they’ve commanded the top of the world rankings at the same time. For all the times they were the top two golfers in the world, it was always Tiger on top. But the dynamics of this long time rivalry have changed considerably in the last five years and two months, the length of time since Tiger claimed his last major championship. In that span Phil has won four. In the last five years, whenever Tiger and Phil have been paired in a Sunday round, Phil had the better score. It’s been a long time since Tiger has been in his head. It’s been eight years since the two have gone head to head in the final round of a major. #1 rankings have changed hands over the past 17 years, as have #2 rankings, and a plethora of young guns have come and made their mark, but all, even the man most poised to assume the position of the darling of the sport, Rory McIlroy, have been forced to step aside as the two most dominant names of the last two decades in golf are dominant once again. The question of who’s having the best year comes down to just two golfers, Tiger, with the #1 ranking, and Phil, at #2, and that’s an issue still to be decided. Tiger has five wins, including last week’s Bridgestone Invitational. Phil has three, but one of them is another major, the last major, July’s Open Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, one of his two wins in the last month. There is no clear cut answer. It’s on Tiger and Phil that all eyes are focused as the PGA Championship tees off, Tiger’s last chance to keep his drought in majors from stretching to six years. It seems like old times as the golf clock turns back a decade and a half on a course that promises to take it’s own licks at the two current biggest names in the sport. The best has, indeed, been saved for last. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.