Does Schwartzel’s Win Mark a New Era?
The Masters has been played 75 times now and Sunday’s finish was one of the most dramatic on record. No fewer than eight men had a legitimate chance to win during the final hours on Sunday, before Charl Schwartzel charged out of the pack. In our view, Schwartzel’s victory, and this year’s Masters in general, brought the curtain down on one era in golf and heralded the beginning of another.
Schwartzel is only 26 years old. Jason Day, and Adam Scott, who tied for second place, are 23 and 30 respectively, while Rory McIlroy, who led all week until his nerves betrayed him on Sunday, is just 21. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, who energized the galleries with his rally on Sunday, is 35 while defending champion Phil Mickelson turns 41 in June.
We’re not suggesting that Woods and Mickelson are finished as competitors or that will never win majors again. But from our little corner of America (specifically, the living-room sofa) we sensed the passage of time and the shifting of the winds. Aside from the family issues he has faced off the golf course, Mickelson is dealing with his own medical concern, specifically, a form of arthritis. It would not be surprising to see him win another major, or even more than one, but we suggest that he has passed his physical peak.
Woods brought the patrons to life with his charge early Sunday, but came up short in the end after his putter betrayed him. The 4-foot eagle putt he missed at the 15th would never have happened five years ago, when Woods was at the peak of his powers and, more to the point, his fellow competitors feared him.
No doubt there is an abundance of players on the PGA Tour and elsewhere whose knees buckle at the notion of going head-to-head against Woods, particularly with a major title at stake. In recent years however, a new generation of players has emerged, a group that certainly respects the accomplishments of the Woods and the Mickelsons, but are not awed or intimidated by them. In the final stretch of this year’s Masters, it was a bit odd for Woods to be cast in the roll of elder statesman.
But it should be remembered that Arnold Palmer won last professional major title at the 1964 Masters when he was just 34. At the time, no one thought his string of major titles had come to an end although Jack Nicklaus, a decade younger, was in the process of usurping Palmer’s position as the greatest player in the sport.
Today’s tour players pay much more attention to their conditioning than they did during Palmer’s time. In that era it was generally conceded that a player was “Finished at 40.” While today’s players have significantly longer careers, Woods is hardly a young 35. His body has borne the brunt of the wear tear of two decades of world-class competition. He is likely to be a major force in the game for at least another five years. He has entered a new phase of his career however, something that is inevitable with the passage of time.
Who will take his place as this sport’s dominant figure? That is the beauty of golf and sports in general; there is no clear answer. But there will be one who will stand above the rest. Chances are that player walked Augusta National’s fairways Sunday afternoon. But it is left to the golfing gods to reveal his identity.Written by Rick Woelfel
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