Brace yourselves. The Masters is a mere five weeks away. It hardly seems possible, but, yes, there are only 35 chopping days left for those PGA Tour players who still haven't found their games.
The 2010 season is still fresh and young, yet at the same time the memory of Geoff Ogilvy's victory to kick off the year at SBS Championship has already faded. The past eight weeks have flown by for everyone but Tiger Woods, and now the promise of Augusta and another major-championship season beckons, with or without him.
Last week's Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, won by Hunter Mahan (page G10), was the final stop on the Tour's West Coast swing. We're one fifth of the way home, and here's what we've learned so far:
• Golf goes on without Tiger.
Woods has been mainly relegated to the gossip columns, whether the stories are about his former mistresses signing up for a Howard Stern--hosted beauty pageant, or the Huffington Post pointing out that adultery is still against the law in Florida, or breathless updates on the whereabouts of his private jet (last week seen in Phoenix, leading to reports that Woods has entered a rehab center in nearby Wickenburg).
• The Next Big Things are in the house.
Ryder Cup alert: Among the six Europeans in the top 10 in the World Ranking, two of them are in their 20s—Martin Kaymer, 25 and eighth-ranked, of Germany, and Rory McIlroy, 20 and ninth, of Northern Ireland. (Once-boyish Sergio García hit 30 in January and has dipped to 13th.) The rest of the world is also rising, with the likes of Ryo Ishikawa, 18, of Japan and Charl Schwartzel, 25, of South Africa turning heads.
"We have some great young players, which I think is critical to the long-term success of the game," says Phil Mickelson. "Rory McIlroy is one of the best players I've seen at such a young age, along with Ryo Ishikawa. And Rickie Fowler (above) is just as exciting. The level these guys play at is mind-boggling. I couldn't imagine hitting it as long and straight as they do and having impeccable short games at such a young age."
Dustin Johnson, 25, was anointed as one of America's rising stars when he used his length and deft short game to defend his title at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the third victory of his career. Johnson has a big game, but so does the 21-year-old Fowler, who also has the charisma, style and potential star power that Johnson lacks. Fowler, who finished a shot back at Phoenix, has surprising length despite his size (5'9") and looks like the second coming of Lanny Wadkins with his quick, slashing swing, deadly wedge play and aggressive putting although, surprisingly, Fowler's putter—his best weapon—was cool throughout the West Coast swing.
Fowler, a native of Murrieta, Calif., is no flash in the pan. He made the Walker Cup team while still in high school and broke many of Southern California's significant prep records, and in 2008 he was the college player of the year as a freshman at Oklahoma State. After two years of school, he was ready for the big leagues and has already been in two playoffs—at a Nationwide tour event in Columbus, Ohio, and the PGA Tour's Frys.com in Scottsdale.