PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The future of golf never looked stronger than when two young players on different continents won tournaments that had their colleagues raving two days later.
Rory McIlroy shot a 62 at Quail Hollow to break the course record by two shots. Ryo Ishikawa shot a 58 to break the record of any course on a major tour and win The Crowns in Japan.
McIlroy turned 21 on Tuesday. Ishikawa, 18, graduated from high school two months ago. And to keep with the timing, 16-year-old Matteo Manassero is making his professional debut this week in the Italian Open. He made the cut at the Masters.
Adam Scott wasn’t sure which amazed him more.
“I wouldn’t have broken 90 at Augusta when I was 16,” he said. “I’m not just saying that as a throwaway line. I mean that. I wasn’t anywhere near that level at his age.”
Scott wasn’t too shabby, however. He turned pro when he was 20 and earned his European Tour card in eight starts. Over the next decade, he reached as high as No. 3 in the world and has won 15 times around the world, one of those The Players Championship when he became its youngest champion in 2004 at age 23.
Scott was born the same year as Sergio Garcia, who reached No. 2 in the world and counts The Players among his 18 wins worldwide.
McIlroy, Ishikawa and perhaps Manassero might be the next crops of kiddies, and Scott sees a trend.
“Every generation learns from the one before,” he said. “Tiger won early and Sergio learned from that, and he did it early. I was doing it at a fairly early age. Now you have Rory and Ryo. They’ve learned from guys like Tiger. Look at Ryo. He’s 18 and he’s been doing this for three years. He’s already played a Presidents Cup. That’s hard to get your head around.”
That begs the question: Who did Woods learn from?
Scott recalls Woods playing Augusta National as an amateur with Greg Norman, not to mention Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
“I think he learned from the best of his time,” Scott said. “He’s a special athlete who always had an extra sense. From what I remember hearing from Butch Harmon, Tiger soaked up information from everybody.”
CHANGING SIDES: Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot in the water on the island-green 17th at Sawgrass during a practice round Tuesday.
Not to be alarmed. He was hitting right-handed, and this time, there wasn’t a tree in his way.
Mickelson practiced with two-time Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson, and they decided to switch clubs when they got to the most famous hole at The Players Championship.
“He and I had a little contest,” Mickelson said. “He was going to hit it lefty, I was going to hit it righty, and neither one of us hit the green. I at least reached the water. Dustin struggled with that.”
ISLAND SOD: Because of the harsh winter in Florida, the condition of the Players Stadium course is not as good as it has been. The fairways and greens are running well, although there are splotches of green.
On the famous island green at No. 17, there is a patch of sod from where the grass did not come in. That means the back left hole location might not be used this week.
“A couple more chances for a hole-in-one, I guess,” Jim Furyk said.
He was referring to the front of the green, where players can land the ball in the ridge and allow it to funnel back to the cup. The back left location is considered the toughest, as players must make sure they hit it beyond the ridge without going too far into the water.
“It’s enticing,” Furyk said. “It makes you want to fire at it, even though you shouldn’t. I actually won’t miss it, to be dead honest.”
The other area of concern is chipping from around the greens, where the lie can be bare. J.J. Henry was behind the 13th hole when he chose to bump a 2-iron instead of chipping.
Phil Mickelson has opted for the putter.
“It reminded me a lot of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in 2005 when there was a very bare area around the green and a lot of sand, and you weren’t able to get a wedge underneath it,” Mickelson said. “I found myself putting a lot from off the green, which I expect to do here just because you just can’t get a wedge underneath the ball.”
TIGER TIMES: As expected, Tiger Woods will be teeing off Thursday afternoon from the first hole. That’s only significant because it means he will start on No. 10 on Friday morning (8:18 a.m.).
The 17th hole is the rowdiest at The Players Championship, especially on Friday afternoon when fans have had plenty to drink and are at their most vocal. When Woods gets to that hole Friday, it will be just before 11 a.m.
He had the early-late rotation last week at Quail Hollow.
Over the last 10 years at The Players Championship, this is only the third time Woods has had the late-early rotation. He will be playing with Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan.
POULTER ON THE MEND: Ian Poulter says he is back at full strength after injuring his knee playing basketball.
“Happy days,” Poulter said Tuesday on the range at the TPC Sawgrass. “The knee is good, the fluid is fully dissipated, full strength. There are no issues.”
Poulter, who won the Match Play Championship in February for his first American victory, pulled out of New Orleans because of his knee. He had been playing basketball with his son in the driveway when a few friends showed up, and they went at it for an hour.
“Guys in the NBA only play 48 minutes,” said Poulter, a regular at Orlando Magic games. “What was I thinking?”
DIVOTS: This is the first time Tiger Woods has played the week after missing the cut. … Camilo Villegas and his younger brother, Manny, will be playing together on the PGA Tour for the first time in the St. Jude Classic. Manny Villegas has received a sponsor’s exemption. … Bob Estes showed up Tuesday wearing trousers that look as though they were made from his grandmother’s quilt. He got them from John Daly, the “Loudmouth” variety. “If John can’t be here, someone should wear them,” Estes said with a laugh. But he won’t wear them during the tournament rounds. … Tiger Woods has never held the lead at The Players Championship except for after the final round in 2001, the only time he won.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rory McIlroy (No. 13) was the highest-ranked player to win a tournament where Tiger Woods missed the cut.
FINAL WORD: “The first time I won here was the first year that I stopped trying to make a 2 on that hole and just accepted 3 as being a good score, even though I’ve got a wedge in my hand.” – Phil Mickelson, on the island-green 17th at the TPC Sawgrass.