Out of Bounds: Era of initials makes way for old guard
There’s spring in step of Mickelson and Woods for good reason ahead of the Masters
Tiger Woods impressed during last week’s Valspar Championship. Photograph: PA
It doesn’t seem too long ago that we were looking at the changing of the guard, a new generation. A string of young guns were dominating and the era of initials was upon us: there was JT and DJ, JS and Rors, Ramhbo and Rickie. You get the gist, Twentysomethings and one - DJ, in his 30s - consigning the old fogies to the memory bank.
Except, it hasn’t happened that way.
And whatever about JT, DJ et al continuing to dominate the top end of the official world rankings, the past few weeks - led by the old guard of Phil Mickelson (47) and a rejuvenated, rehabilitated Tiger Woods (42) - have shown that there is life in aging bodies just yet; and, if anything, their return to competitive performances has actually brought new life to the circuit. Older is good in this case.
Unlike other sports where age is a year-on-year barrier, with retirement edging ever-closer, golf - even in this world of more finely-honed physiques and the gym the calling card rather than the bar stool - allows players to go on and on. It is a game of inches, with the grey matter between the ears actually a very important tool of the trade.
As such, the experience garnered by Mickelson and Woods through the years is something that is an asset rather than baggage as they move towards a happy hunting ground, the Masters at Augusta National. With the clock ticking down towards that first Major of the season, it is no pipe dream that either Lefty or Tiger will be having a green jacket placed on their shoulders by Sergio Garcia.
There has been an obvious age profile increase on the PGA Tour this year compared to last year in the early part of the season: at this juncture of the campaign on the US circuit in 2017, the average age was 28.6 while, this year, it has risen to 33.3.
So, there is a new spring in the step of Messrs Mickelson and Woods for good reason approaching the Masters.
What of history? Well, the oldest ever Major champion was Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the US PGA in 1968, while Old Tom Morris was 46 when triumphing in the 1867 British Open. Hale Irwin was 45 when winning the 1990 US Open, and Lee Trevino was 44 when he won the 1984 US PGA.
In terms of Augusta, perhaps the most relevant - and likely inspiring - win was that of Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear’s win in the 1986 Masters tournament, when aged 46, was one that came out of the blue. In the run-up, he’d missed the cut and withdrawn from another in four of the six build-up tournaments. But once back on the storied terrain, Nicklaus was a man who threw out the formbook (shooting 30 on the back nine of his final round) and out-gunned younger bucks, among them Greg Norman.
Tongue-in-cheek after back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour by Fortysomethings Mickelson and Paul Casey, Nicklaus described 40 as the new 20. Yet, it’s fair to say that the resurgence of older players has provided added interest . . . and who knows? Maybe even Pádraig Harrington (46) will join the party.