Tiger’s turned 40. It may take some time to sink in, given for so long Tiger Woods represented golf’s 21st Centurion, but as the American hit his milestone mark on Wednesday it served only to accentuate the gap that now exists between the game’s young and old.
Currently, Woods is separated by 413 places in the world rankings from the new “Big Three” of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, placed first to third in the global standings.
Yet that breach seemed only to widen, the shifting of the plates appearing a little more seismic as Woods enters his fifth decade.
Undeniably, the 14-time major champion’s reputation and resume dictate that he will remain a major storyline through 2016, as the world waits to see how he recovers from a third back surgery in 19 months.
However, as the past year highlighted, the emergence of golf’s next generation and its battle for titles and trophies has the potential to make 2016 one of the most exciting seasons yet.
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Can Spieth, 22, somehow improve upon the career-year just past, bettering a haul that included two majors, three other victories, the FedEx Cup crown and more money banked in a single season than anyone else in PGA Tour history?
Can Day, 28, prolong his late surge across 2015, when he captured four heavyweight titles in six starts to take his overall tally to five, which incorporated a breakthrough triumph at the PGA Championship?
Can McIlroy, 26, prove that, were it not for a shredded ankle sustained playing football with friends mid-season, he would have added more than the DP World Tour Championship to the three tournament wins pre-injury, and in the process run away as the game’s undoubted top player?
All three held the world No 1 spot; all three seem set to contest the summit for the duration of 2016.
Add to the mix Rickie Fowler — considered talented enough to swell that marquee three-ball to a four — and gifted youth such as Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, Emiliano Grillo, Daniel Berger, Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed — each younger than McIlroy — and the next 12 months should emphasise golf’s changing demographic.
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That can only be viewed as a positive, especially in attracting the next-again generation to pick up a club, to turnaround the dwindling number of amateurs coming to the game.
Golf’s inclusion at the Rio Olympics, meanwhile, will further extend its reach.
At the elite end, it makes next month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship even more appealing, too, with Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler confirmed for the January 21-24 event; the first truly prominent tournament of the 2016 European Tour calendar containing three of the world’s best players.
Woods used to be the star draw in the UAE capital, and could yet be if he returns to anywhere near the form he showed in 2013, when he won five times and spent a record 683rd week heading the rankings.
Turning 40 may not be particularly old in golfing terms, but Woods bares the scars of multiple surgeries and the high-profile scandal that precipitated his fall. In contrast, the new wave of bright young things is brave, bullish and largely baggage-free.
Furthermore, it is only emboldened by all that Woods achieved.
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