It marked 20 years ago to the day when a 20-year-old Tiger Woods announced his arrival by making his professional debut at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open. His words to be exact: “I guess, hello, world”. Sadly, it’s been ‘goodbye, world’ for more than a year now.
But two decades later another red-and-black-clad player has made his mark. Patrick Reed came from behind to win the Barclays at Bethpage Black, his fifth USPGA Tour title on an afternoon that saw 54-hole leader Rickie Fowler fade away with a four-over 74. And with that, automatic qualification for a spot on Davis Love III’s US Ryder Cup team.
Growing up watching Tiger at his best – coupled with an obvious eye for a winning colour combination – the 26-year-old Reed climbed to fourth in the standings. The top eight, led by Dustin Johnson, will try and stop a rampant European outfit from winning their fourth consecutive biennial honours this month. Fowler and company, including Bubba Watson, JB Holmes and Matt Kuchar, will have to wait and see if they tickle Love’s fancy come Monday morning, once the Tour Championship draws to a close on September 25.
Now is the time to impress as the FedEx Cup play-offs reach boiling point. On the European side, Rory McIlroy leads the way, closely followed by 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and world No. 4 Henrik Stenson. Belguim’s Thomas Pieters also weaved his magic, winning the European Tour’s Made in Denmark tournament last weekend and along with Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, have wooed captain Darren Clarke.
McIlroy has since made it his mission to prepare the newbie quintet of Willett, Chris Wood, Danny Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Rafa Cabrera-Bello for the rude awakening awaiting them.
The American crowds take some getting used to. While Rory prepares to groom the new arrivals, vice-captain Woods has relished his role as team USA’s official nerd. Nicknamed “Urkel” at college, the 14-time Major champion has used his time away from competitive golf in totally immersing himself as the team’s mastermind.
Identified as a future captain, Tiger the “tactician” doesn’t get much sleep mulling over possible pairings and picks. Hazeltine isn’t the only thing keeping the former world No 1 awake at night since it was announced that Nike would no longer be dabbling in the world of golf equipment manufacturing. Buddy Notah Begay’s observations suggest Tiger’s house in Florida could give The Pro Shop in Woodmead a run for their money.
“I walked into his dining room, and it was like going into a PGA Superstore. Every single manufacturer had sent equipment in there, and he’s trying a variety of different things, trying to get a sense of where he’s going to from this point on,” said Begay. McIlroy, who signed a 10-year deal worth £156 million with Nike in 2013, has also had a few unexpected parcels arriving at his parents’ doorstep in Dunblane.
With less than a month to go, there is plenty to look forward to in anticipation of the most hotly-contested rivalry in golf. There’s no sitting on the fence with this one even if stuck in Africa.