Young guns taking aim at aging Tiger's domain Hole in One
Pro tour players from Hawaii
PGA free lessons include families
By Bill Kwon
I still remember what Tiger Woods said in an interview 10 years after winning the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for the third straight year and stamping the Po'ipū Bay course as his personal playground by going on to win the exclusive event on Kaua'i four more times.
Tiger was still on a high after an eagle-eagle finish at the 18th hole to tie and then beat Vijay Singh in a playoff to climax what's still his best year on the PGA Tour with nine victories, including three major championships. A month away from his 25th birthday, he was already king of the world in golf.
Still, he was realistic enough to know that his reign would never last. There would be a time when he won't be the most dominant golfer, he said.
"That's reality. Someday that day will come. There will come a point in time when some new little punk will be ... just bombing it by me. I'll be one of those old guys saying, 'I remember when I used to be the long guy, now I'm just dinking it around here.' I will accept it," he said.
Well, that time has come.
It never became more apparent than last week when Tiger missed the cut in the Quail Hollow Championship after shooting a 79 in the second round in an event won by Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who became the youngest PGA Tour winner since — Tiger Woods. And McIlroy, who turned 21 Tuesday, set a course record with a 10-under-par 62 in Sunday's round in Charlotte, N.C.
Halfway around the world, on a Sunday in Japan, 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot a 12-under 58 to win the Crowns at the Nagoya Golf Club and set a Japan Tour record. The 58 is the lowest score ever on any major tour.
Rory and Ryo, are they young guys Tiger envisioned? They are among golf's new young guns, including the appropriately initialed "AK" Anthony Kim, 24, all trying to blow it by Tiger. Kim played with McIlroy and Ishikawa in last year's Masters and said he felt old. Speaking of which, is it just me or is Tiger looking a lot older since you know what happened?
McIlroy's victory — his first on the PGA Tour — qualifies him for the winner-only SBS Championship at Kapalua's Plantation Course, giving local fans a chance to see the young Ulster native for the first time next January.
We had an opportunity to see Ishikawa twice (2007 and '08) in the Hawaii Pearl Open where, the second time around, 300 journalists and 40 television cameramen from Japan followed his every shot, especially after he had won a Japan Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur. Ishikawa got outplayed by Tadd Fujikawa, who won his pro debut in the 2007 Pearl Open, and was outshone the next year by another 16-year-old, Bradley Shigezawa, then a Punahou School sophomore, who tied for sixth. Ishikawa finished 10th.
Of course, Ishikawa has since gotten too good for a local tournament and hasn't played here since, not even the Sony Open in Hawai'i. He didn't get a sponsor's exemption — even this year after being Japan's leading money winner in 2009 — undoubtedly because one of his sponsors is ... Panasonic. Well, maybe next year. He's too good and too good of a draw not to get an exemption to the PGA Tour event at Waialae Country Club.
Meanwhile, will we ever see Tiger in Hawai'i again? Especially after the PGA Grand Slam left Kaua'i for Bermuda, making it 7-for-7 with his last appearance at Po'ipū Bay — and in Hawai'i — in 2006. The only time he didn't win there was in his first PGA Grand Slam appearance in 1997 when he finished second to Ernie Els. If it's any consolation to the good folks on Kaua'i, Tiger hasn't played in the PGA Grand Slam since it left the Garden Island the following year. And he has been a no-show at Kapalua since 2005.
So here's hoping he wins a PGA Tour event this year and returns to Maui. It'd be great, too, if the PGA Grand Slam returns to Kaua'i. His Po'ipū Playground is now closed because they're redoing the greens and the Hyatt Regency Kaua'i.
Surely by now, you would think the PGA of America, which hosts the Grand Slam featuring the year's major champions, has gotten the message that when it comes to islands, Tiger prefers Kaua'i to Bermuda.
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com.