Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is congratulated by Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland after the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic on February 1, 2009 in Dubai,United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Suddenly, Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim aren't the youngsters any more.
Ryo Ishikawa is 17, Danny Lee is 18 and Rory McIlroy is 19 years old.
Combined, they're one year younger than Jay Haas.
And their futures may be as bright as the yellow outfit Ishikawa wore at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles last week.
There are no promises, of course. Just ask Ty Tryon.
But the three of them have given the game a nice. Red Bull-like jolt, even if it will now be overshadowed by the Great One's return to competition.
McIlroy, with his bushy hair that hasn't been cut in months, looks like the real thing. When he won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, it only reinforced the notion that he's Ireland's next great player. He has a golf swing built to last and, it seems, uncommon nerve. Not yet 20, he's already an international star.
It's possible that McIlroy could go head to head with Tiger Woods if both players win their first two matches at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship this week, a pairing that would demand clearing time Friday afternoon to watch.
Watching Lee storm through the U.S. Amateur championship at Pinehurst last August, it was obvious he had a different game than other teenagers. He can kill it, of course, but he can putt, too. When he joked after his victory that he would beat Tiger Woods when they're paired together in the 2009 U.S. Open, you could tell he wasn't just being funny.
After winning the European Tour's Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand Sunday, Lee -- still an amateur -- was asked again about challenging Woods.
"All I want to do is break what he's done," Lee said.
At least he sets his goals high.
Lee will get his shot at Tiger at Bay Hill and again at the Masters. After Augusta, Lee is expected to turn pro and has full status on the European Tour after his victory.
As for Ishikawa, the 17-year old missed the cut by three strokes at Riviera in what amounted to his introduction to the American golf audience. He didn't play as well as he'd have liked but he seemed to embrace the moment, rather than allow it to overwhelm him.
The kids, it seems, are all right.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Posted by Observer Sports at 11:42 AM