May 18, 2010
Think about that for a second. The last time Vijay wasn't in the top 50, Jack Nicklaus was barely six years removed from his last Masters win, Tiger Woods was a 16-year-old kid, and Ryo Ishikawa wasn't even 1. It's the latest step downward for Singh since winning the FedEx Cup in 2008, and it's a potentially ignominious one -- if he can't get back into the top 50 this week (he's at 51), he'll need to qualify for the U.S. Open.
That's a long way down for one of the guys who made up golf's "Big Four," the four players who dominated the game in the early 2000s. Singh, Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were four of the most talented players in history, and the fact that they all hit the peak of their talents at the same moment seemed to indicate that we were in for a solid decade-plus of heavyweight championship-level golf.
It didn't quite work out that way. Injuries slowed Els, and while he's won two tournaments this year, this is the first time in years that he's showed any signs of his old form -- and he still hasn't come up big at big moments. Singh played every tournament in sight but rarely reached the highest of highs. Woods absolutely dominated until a 2008 knee injury and a 2009 -- oh, let's call it a self-inflicted scandal -- derailed him.
Which leaves Phil. Ironically, Mickelson is the only one of the Big Four who's never held the No. 1 ranking. That could, and should, change within weeks. Mickelson certainly had his struggles -- one of golf's great what-ifs is what could have happened had Phil won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006. He takes that, he's got four majors in his pocket and is riding as high as anyone in the game. But he blew it in ugly fashion, and it's taken him four years to get back to the summit.
Looking forward, Mickelson is obviously at the top of his game, but the others? Singh is all but done. Els may have one major left in him if everything breaks perfectly. Woods could roar back with another six majors, or he could stumble to one or two. At this point, nobody knows anything.
What's the lesson here? None, really. But an era is ending, and that always brings a bit of nostalgia. A decade from now, we may be talking about the Ishikawa-Rory McIlroy-Anthony Kim-Rickie Fowler quartet. But for now, tip your visor to the Big Four. They're all Hall of Fame caliber, even if they all had the bad fortune to be playing at the same time as one another.