McIlroy and the new breed spice up golf’s dominant pack

August 6, 2010

Professional golf has benefited from two refreshing developments over the last year-and-a-half: the stunning impact made by some of the younger guns and a preponderance of first-time winners in the majors.

Sensational victories in the United States and Japan by Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa in early June served notice a new guard may be emerging to dominate the game over the next decade.

Northern Irishman McIlroy shot a course record 10-under-par 62 to win the PGA Tour’s Quail Hollow Championship by four strokes while Ishikawa blazed his way to a seventh Japanese tour title by firing a magical 12-under-par 58, the lowest score ever on a major international tour.

At the time of their respective successes, McIlroy had just turned 21 and Ishikawa was only 18. It would be an understatement to say the watching world was taken aback and, at the very least, the appetite of fans across the globe has been sharply whetted in anticipation of what may follow.

Since then, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell has clinched the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and South African Louis Oosthuizen has lifted the claret jug in the British Open at St. Andrews, unexpected major breakthroughs which have maintained the re-shaping of the golfing landscape.

Remarkably, there have been five first-time winners in the last six majors with Phil Mickelson’s emotional victory at the U.S. Masters in April the sole exception.

Lucas Glover won the 2009 U.S. Open, fellow American Stewart Cink followed suit one month later at the British Open and South Korean Yang Yong-eun became Asia’s first male major winner when he overhauled Tiger Woods to claim last year’s PGA Championship.

A significant factor in all of this has been the relative loss of form by disgraced world number one Woods, once the dominant player of his generation but now striving to win his first major title since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

“I suppose the fact that five of the last six (majors) were won like that is a trend,” triple major winner Padraig Harrington said during this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

“As regards will it continue?  There’s probably quite a broad depth to players at the moment without any one person dominating so it’s quite possible, especially when guys see their friends winning or individuals winning who they can associate with and consider their equals. It’s easier for them to go out and win the first time.

“When you have one player dominating and winning consistently, there are very few people who are gaining confidence,” Harrington added, referring to 14-times major winner Woods. “If anything it’s going to work in the opposite way.”

Britain’s Justin Rose, a double winner on the PGA Tour this season, agreed.

“It just shows the strength and depth now is very, very strong,” the Englishman said. “Guys like Louis Oosthuizen, I’ve played with him a few times and you’re always staggered by how well he swings it, how well he hits the ball.

“Guys like that have the all-around game, they have every aspect, but it’s whether they can put it all together for one week. The challenge is to put it together more consistently. Everybody out here has the ability to put it together for a week, and when that week comes around, they can be unbeatable.”

 One more major remains before the end of this season, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan. Can Woods return to the winner’s circle in one of the four events he covets the most or will another first-time champion emerge triumphant?

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