Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson battling in extra holes in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final, and Patrick Reed outplaying Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Cadillac Championship at Doral, didn't merely create great drama. These performances heralded the arrival of a new generation of Tour players. And how the Tour's veterans respond to this challenge will be the defining story of the year.
When it comes to today's young players—guys like Day, 26, Reed, 23, Dubuisson, 24, Russell Henley, 25, Jordan Spieth, 20, and their peers—the operative word is "fearless." (As a two-time major winner, Rory McIlroy, 25, has already attained a level of greatness, but he shares many traits with his generation.) Patrick Reed wore a Tiger-like red shirt and black pants at Doral, which no one would have dared to do 10 years ago. Reed and his peers aren't disrespectful, just confident. It's not bragging if you back it up.
It's clear that the Tiger intimidation factor doesn't exist for these young upstarts. If Woods begins winning majors again, it could return, but if not, expect to see a lot more red shirts on Sunday. Everybody is justifiably worried about Tiger's physical condition and his abysmal final-round play early in 2014. The Masters will reveal a lot about the 14-time major winner, and about Phil Mickelson, who has shown flashes of brilliance but has not played up to his own standards, especially with his chipping and putting.
For Tiger, his health is the biggest concern. For Phil and Ernie Els, the test will be to show that they still have the will to compete. I'm not suggesting that Mickelson and Els don't still desire to win. They both remain ultra-competitive, and that will never change. But is it enough? The older you are, the harder you need to work. That means more hours in the gym and more hours at the range. For two family-focused guys in their 40s, the question is: Can you fully commit to being hubby and daddy and still maintain the intensity that today's PGA Tour demands?
Sandwiched between Tiger, Phil, and Ernie and the emerging younger players is another cadre of stars to be reckoned with—the thirtysomethings such as Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, who have gone from promising young players to seasoned veterans. They're no longer just chasing the legends; now they have to deal with their "kid brothers" coming up from the rear. Still, this generation has begun to shine. Sergio is playing well again, both Scott and Rose are major champions, and Adam is making a real charge at the No. 1 ranking.
Who will prevail? I believe that Tiger, Phil and Ernie will redouble their commitment and work harder than ever to compete, while Rose and Scott have established themselves as elite players who will be threats to win at every major. Players in all three of these groups are responding to the challenge, and that's how golf evolves. Ben Hogan set the bar and Jack Nicklaus responded. Nicklaus set the bar even higher, and Tiger responded. Now Woods has set the bar and Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Jason Day are responding. We're in for a special time on Tour. Let's enjoy the generational warfare.