By Thomas Dodd
- 2016 Open Championship demonstrates Golf is not all about the young generation
- Four of last six Open winners have been forty and over
- Should be encouraging for sidelines former world number one Tiger Woods
Last week’s Open championship had pretty much everyone watching at home on the edge of their seats as Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson traded blows from the first tee to the last green in what has been dubbed ‘High Noon at Troon’.
After a somewhat turbulent few months for Golf following the rules fiasco at the US Open and the withdrawal of several high profile names from the sport’s return to the Olympics in Rio in August, seeing two heavyweights duel it out was exactly what fans needed to see.
But someone else who should have sat up and took notice of Sunday – and indeed the whole week’s events at Troon – was Tiger Woods.
The former world number one hasn’t played competitively since last August, and recently announced he would not be returning at next week’s PGA Championship, meaning for the first time in his career he will miss all four majors in a calendar year.
When the 14-time major winner will return is anyone’s guess, though it is likely his only meaningful appearance on a golf course this season will come as a Vice-Captain to Davis Love III at September’s Ryder Cup.
But the Open should give Tiger hope that, when he does finally come back, success is still very much possible.
Woods should have been delighted to see two 40-somethings lap the field on the Ayrshire Coast, drawing on every ounce of their experience to plot their way round a tough golf course in brutal conditions to pull clear of the rest and bring all kinds of scoring records and history into play in the process.
There has been so much talk of the new young generation taking a stranglehold on the game in the last two years but at Troon the simple fact was this. Three of the top four were in their forties with Stenson (40) and Mickelson (46) joined by 49-year-old Steve Stricker.
There was even room in the top twenty for the seemingly timeless Miguel Angel Jimenez, who at 52, is these days a regular Senior Tour member.
In fact, with Darren Clarke in 2011 (42), Ernie Els in 2012 (42) and Mickelson a year later (43), Stenson’s success on the links last weekend means four of the last six winners of the game’s oldest major have been in their fifth decade.
Back in 2016 and 46-year-old Jim Furyk posted a runner-up finish at the US Open in June, while Greg Chalmers has also reached the PGA Tour winners’ circle at the ripe of old age of 42.
The ability to perform to such a high level week-in week-out (something Woods could do with such ease in his pomp) does definitely diminish with age – Stricker plays a reduced schedule, while Mickelson and Furyk have mixed in good results with a series of missed cuts too – but it is not a question of new technology or a swing change that has brought about these strong results, rather an innate talent to compete and dig in when the going gets tough.
This runs in conjunction of course with an exceptional natural talent for the game of Golf, something Woods has had perhaps more than any other player in history, and that will never leave him so long as the body can cope.
The man himself has even admitted if he were to come back and not win again he would be satisfied with his career, and perhaps knowing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships is more out of reach than ever has helped Woods to take stock and re-evaluate all he has achieved.
Or perhaps he’ll be inspired by Jack’s eighteenth and final major coming at the 1986 Masters, when the Golden Bear was 46 and had been written off as a force in the game.
Even after the marital infidelities revelations of 2009 time was not against Tiger Woods, but whenever he does decide to tee it up competitively again time will have moved on and any potential win would have to be cherished, and not simply crossed off his most high-profile of checklists.
Winning would be possible, he need only look at Troon to see that, and it would only take one more triumph to make Tiger Woods great again.
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