Monday, February 23, 2009

The kids are all right

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.


Anonymous said...

Why do we always try to find someone to compare to Tiger? This is impossible. Talents like Tiger only come around once in a lifetime, if you are lucky. These kids may be good players, but in no way are they in the same league with Mr. Woods. These kids may have long lasting careers, but I will lay a lot of money they do not have as many wins between them as Tiger does alone. said...

Why do we always try and find someone to be compared with Tiger? The answer is pretty simple. The great one’s game is unparalleled and we are waiting for someone to come and take on the mantle of a challenger. Mind you, a successful challenger. There have been many guys who have shown promise but it never materialized because you are not going to find anyone as good as Tiger so easily but that does not mean that we abandon our efforts to see a real challenge being thrown at the man.

So whenever a young chap like Lee or Mcilroy or for that matter Ishikawa, show a spark of genius, they quickly capture our collective imagination and we think of that challenge, one that could possibly happen this week when Mcilroy might face Tiger in the third round if they win their matches.

And you are right, 20 is the new 30 in golf and these three are not the only ones. There are many more youngsters coming through the ranks who are fairly good themselves. For every Ishikawa we may have a Kenny Perry but I have a feeling golf is headed the tennis way where there are so many talented teenagers winning major tournaments.

I think of the lot Mcilroy might be the best bet but Danny Lee isn’t far behind and to have won the Johnnie Walker Classic, the way he did, you can surely start putting some money on him too!