Some people are calling the 2011 PGA Tour season the Year of Parity. I like to think of it as the Year of the New Wave. We saw a lot of really good young players who didn't get much exposure when Tiger was on the scene, and the fans have really embraced them. Keegan Bradley won a major and was one of several surprising players to win twice on Tour, a list that includes Bubba Watson, Nick Watney, Webb Simpson and Mark Wilson. Before the season started, how many of those guys would you have predicted would win twice? Maybe Watney, and that's it.
Of course, as these new faces emerge on Tour, we might be saying good-bye to some older players. Phil Mickelson has a putting problem, and he, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are all struggling to find consistent form. Hey, it happens. I'm not predicting the imminent demise of any of these guys, but it does look like a changing of the guard.
The X factor, of course, is Tiger. The 2011 season was a lost year for him. He hasn't won in the United States since the 2009 BMW Championship, and returning to the top is only going to be harder in 2012. The reason is the new wave of players who seized the stage this year. No one man has emerged as Frazier to his Ali. Instead, Woods has an even tougher task: fending off a mob of talent—all of whom developed as players while he was on the sidelines, and none of whom fear him. In fact, they all share his mindset.
But for me, the most unexpected thing about 2011 wasn't Tiger struggling, it was Rickie Fowler failing to win a PGA Tour event. I thought Fowler made steady progress in 2010, and those four straight birdies he made in singles at last year's Ryder Cup showed real toughness. He continued to improve this year, but he hadn't played a competitive (and meaningful) final round until winning the Korea Open in October. Let's hope that was a sign that he's finally figured out how to seal the deal. Fowler is a great kid and he's got a chance to be one of the Tour's brightest stars.