Everyone who plays this game for a living was recently given a new status on the tour: “Major Contender.” The moment Tiger Woods announced his plans to sit out the rest of the season, dozens if not hundreds of players around the world were given a new life.
You see, before Tiger, tournament golf was approaching equilibrium in ability levels. Sure, a player would step out and play superbly for a few tournaments, but it was simply too difficult to dominate. There were too many good players in each field. Any player who got hot and had a bit of luck could win on any given week.
With Tiger on the scene, the premise that anyone could win was still true in theory, but the record books tell a different story. If a player was hot and Tiger was a bit off, then it was close, with Tiger still winning more times than not. If Tiger was playing his best, no one could even come close.
This has been a bitter pill for the other fine players to swallow: Another guy was just a better golfer. Each of these players was at one time the best player in his school, the best player in his state, and often the best player in his country before turning pro. At no point did any of them have to admit that someone else was just better. Their opponents might be playing better or scoring better, but they weren’t really better players. They knew they were likely to win if they were at the top of their games.
With Tiger wreaking havoc, these players had to change their outlook. The new thinking was, “Hey, I could win this tournament ... as long as Tiger doesn’t get too hot.”
At this week's Tiger-less PGA Championship, we’re back to the mindset that these players grew up with, the one that says, “I can win if I have a solid week.” The top 20 players going into the weekend represent all levels of success on the Tour, from top-ranked players to rookies. Each of these guys is simply two solid rounds from victory, and nowhere in the field is a player they can’t handle.
This change in perception might just yield a champion that surprises us. But with the giant sleeping, the winning player won't be surprised, even it he’s a rookie!