An era has ended. The Time of the Tiger has been terminated by a 40-year-old Fijian and a new age begun by a cluster of young Americans who have hitherto played bit parts.
In Europe, the great concord that has produced Ryder Cup success, great players and a flourishing Tour has been soured by silliness in a self-aggrandising money-spinning event of no consequence.
One swallow does not make a summer and one Tiger Woods defeat does not signal his eclipse. But Tiger Woods did not only lose the Arnold Palmer Trophy and the US Tour Championship at the Champions Club at Houston this weekend, he also lost the crown that he has worn for the last five years as leading money winner in America.
Vijay Singh heads the list of earners after taking his 10th top-10 finish in 11 starts, while Woods came 26th in a field of 31.
What is possibly of greater significance is that this event was played on a championship course proper. The Champions Course is magnificent and mature, the greens large and subtle. It rewards the long straight drive and bold second shot, but it also requires a strong will and absolute confidence on the greens. Ben Hogan played his last round of tournament golf here and declared it 'too tough'. But three young Americans played it superbly well and with a consistency that underlines their coming of age.
Chad Campbell won the event comfortably after a stupendous third round 61, but Charles Howell and Chris Riley also made their case in the field of top-30 earners in the US. This was Chad Campbell's first Tour win, his presence in the field reflecting his consistency in the 24 events he has played in this year. He is no novice, as Chris Riley, who shared a room with him throughout their college golf years, is quick to point out.
'Chad Campbell dominated the Hooters Tour, then he dominated the Nationwide Tour and he will dominate the Big One as well,' he said.
Charles Howell may have something to say about this, but the length and consistency of Campbell's driving is matched only by Howell and Campbell is unquestionably the better putter.
In recent times, prior to Woods' ascent in the 1997-8 season, great American champions were not exactly commonplace. Aussies, Africans and Europeans more than held their own in the States. Vijay, however, may be the last of the foreign players to excel in the US for the foreseeable future.
Els and Goosen have shone although not exactly glared. Only they, Appleby, Allenby, Clarke, Price, Choi and Singh were from outside North America and only Goosen challenged in Texas. Clarke had an equal top-10th finish but all were a long way behind the trio of young Americans, all of whom can give these international stars 10 years. One has to conclude the likelihood of a new age of American dominance.
Clarke was the only European in the field at the US Tour Championship. To play in it he eschewed a place in the Great Britain and Ireland Team that took on a team from Continental Europe in a Ryder Cup style event at the EL Saler Course at Valencia in Spain called the Seve Trophy.
This event is of no consequence other than for being a fair money earner for all concerned. The GB& I 12-man team won 15 to 13 with the victors collecting over £100,000 each while the losing Continentals pocketed only £50,000 each for their efforts. For the record it should be noted that Thomas Bjorn withdrew late from his match with Paul Casey, thereby forfeiting the point. It should also be added that Seve Ballesteros was playing captain of the continental side. As such he must be considered to have handicapped his team as he is currently ranked 1,231st in world golf.
Why this event should take place is beyond comprehension for it risks disharmony on the Tour and could easily result in schism in the Ryder Cup side. The fact that Seve is prepared to risk his wonderful record and hallowed status by playing against the current best tarnishes his image.
It took only three playings of this event for the inevitable controversy to occur. Harrington and Olazabal had a tiff on the third green - this is matchplay golf after all - over a matter of repairing a questionable pitch-mark.
Harrington himself summed up the situation perfectly by saying: 'It was a disagreement of opinion. I can totally see his side of it and this is not worth losing a friend over, not for a point, not for anything.'
And he could have added: 'And certainly not for the Seve Trophy'.
But the best part of it all was that Montgomerie, the mature, responsible GB & I team captain, without the slightest hint of irony said: 'I just hope that they will be grown up enough to sort it out between them.'
Does this utterance signal a new and mature Monty? If it does, then we have certainly entered a new age.
|| 10 - NOVEMBER 2003