Raise your hand if you had Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed and Scott Stallings winning the last three events on the PGA Tour. Yeah, neither did we. The Tour's slogan has long been These guys are good. In this new age of parity it might be time to go with Who are these guys? The answer is, good, experienced players who are getting a chance to shine now that the erstwhile Big Four have entered various stages of the twilight of their careers.
Over the last two decades Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh combined to win 174 Tour events. (Woods, 38, is the baby of the bunch, while Singh, 50, is the oldest.) They remain dangerous at the major championships, but only Woods can still be considered a week-in, week-out force, and even that, it appears, is no longer a sure thing.
Tiger's short off-season included a vacation to France to watch his girlfriend ski and plenty of time chasing after his two kids, and when he arrived at Torrey Pines for his 2014 debut he looked a bit heavier. His old coach Hank Haney, who parted ways with Woods in 2010, reported a drop-off in his student's vaunted work ethic during their time together, and, really, who can blame Woods for easing off? He has been in the spotlight for 35 years now, going back to The Mike Douglas Show.
He certainly looked rusty at Torrey, failing to make the 54-hole secondary cut after a stunning Saturday 79 that included a seven-hole stretch in which he made five bogeys and two doubles. Almost as bad for the Woods mystique was the 63 that 20-year-old playing partner Jordan Spieth dropped on him the day before. Afterward he copped to having "idolized" Woods as a kid, but Spieth was quick to add, "I wasn't intimidated by any means."
Reed, 23, and Stallings, 28, are part of the same generation of go-getters who cut their teeth on big-time amateur events and are maximizing their potential with more sophisticated coaching, equipment and work in the gym. The young guns marched on at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson, an arthritic 43-year-old, had to withdraw on Friday night with a balky back. Two days later Stallings wrapped up the tournament with a Mickelsonian shot on the 72nd hole, a full-blooded 4-iron that barely cleared the greenside pond, setting up the birdie that would leave him a shot clear of five others. "As a player, all you ever want is chances [to win]," Stallings said afterward. From the look of things, the chances are going to be more plentiful going forward.