Golf's changing of the guard

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

The danger is in the overstatement, but the alternative is a sweet rush, a fresh wind blowing through the golf world, awakening a new generation.

Was May 2, 2010, a red-letter day in golf, when Generation Y – or whatever we're calling those kids born in the late 1980s and early 1990s – arrived like a full-force gale?

Only history will tell. But after the joyous reverberations of 20-year-old Rory McIlroy's 62 at Quail Hollow quiet, and after the shock and awe of 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa's 58 in Japan settles, and after the duel between 24-year-old Ai Miyazato and 20-year-old Michelle Wie in Mexico begins to take its place in LPGA annals, we may be calling these kids "Generation Why Not?"

Perhaps most shocking of all is how tired and old the notion of Tiger Woods now seems, a scuffling legend missing a cut by eight shots, and posting a Friday 79 for the second-worst round of his pro career. The freshness of McIlroy's story – and Ishikawa's 58 – contrast so sharply to the growing staleness around Tiger's legend.

Aha.

Now, now. I warned myself about the danger of the overstatement, and we all, as golf fans, need to be cautious in proclaiming the end of one era and the dawning of the next. If Tiger clicked on this column in the middle of the night in his Isleworth mansion and read suggestions of a generational change suggested by anybody on the planet, he'd rip off a two-hour workout at 3 a.m., then go hit balls for 10 hours, then go win the U.S. Open by 15 shots.

Wait. He's already won the U.S. Open by 15 shots. But you know what I'm talking about.

Still, the moral judgments and late-night punchlines and endless debate at Tiger's expense seem so wearying in comparison to the unabashed howl of delight from young McIlroy after his 40-footer banged home for a 10-under romp of a Sunday, out in 32, home in 30 and his first U.S. win bagged two days shy of his 21st birthday.

(Or was that CBS analyst and fellow Ulsterman David Feherty's howl of delight? Hard to tell, so happy was the new American citizen Feherty for McIlroy, a product of Feherty's auld sod.)

To see Irishman Padraig Harrington, grinning wider than an Augusta fairway, in his civilian clothes, waiting for McIlroy after the round, throwing a paternal arm around the lad, telling him he'd just crafted "a good bit of stuff"; to see stoic Jim Furyk give him an earnest soul shake by the scorer's table; to see Phil Mickelson's caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay, interrupt a McIlroy press session outside to congratulate the winner; to see Rory himself give the Euro-styled "hands over head" appreciation clap to the crowd … to see all that was to see a golf world embrace the new kid in town, and to read into that the existence of a little Tiger Fatigue would not be the wrong call at all.

Throw in a springtime rebirth for Mickelson – he followed his win at Augusta by beating everyone at Quail Hollow not named "Rory McIlroy," then gushed about McIlroy to CBS afterward, trumping Tiger's post-Masters pout – and you have Tiger wondering where he fits in at this party.

Here's one place he still fits in: as the gold standard in shot making. The crown jewel of McIlroy's 62 was his par-5 15th hole. The kid with a gymnast's flexibility roasted a drive 352 yards, center cut. With 207 to the green, McIlroy obliterated a 5-iron with a golf swing so flowing and free it would make you write rhyming stanzas, flying his golf ball to three feet short of the cup.

If Mickelson's "Flirtation with Insanity" 6-iron at 13 at the Masters remains the Shot of the Year thus far, McIlroy's 5-iron certainly leads the non-majors category. And it is unequivocally the greatest shot ever hit by a player with Peter Brady's haircut.

Still, I thought of only one guy when I saw McIlroy step on the gas like that, and the guy I thought of shot 79 on Friday and said he'd go home to watch on TV to see "how the real players do it." To call McIlroy's 15th hole "Tiger-esque" is both the highest of compliments to the young man, and a reminder of who is still ranked No. 1 in the world.

We'd be foolish to dismiss 5/2/10 as just a fluky day for guys named Rory and Ryo. There was something seismic afoot, and I'm not just talking about Jim Nantz's ebullient "Welcome to the BIG TIME, Rory McIlroy!" call on 18.

Gary McCord shared a dynamite anecdote from the back nine, reporting that Mickelson approached him and said: "How about that Rory McIlroy?" McCord informed Lefty: "He just made eagle." Lefty answered: "I know, and I'm not happy about it."

Many a truth oft lies in jest, as they say.

When Tiger gets to Sawgrass this week, he won't be happy, either. He'll find a golf world slightly different from the one he left two days earlier, and a nation of golf fans who realized on Sunday there is room for magical golf from players who don't wear red on Sunday. The landscape is changing right before his eyes, and ours.

Scorecard of the week

68-70-71-58 – 13-under 267, Ryo Ishikawa, first place, The Crowns Japanese Tour event, Ryo Ishikawa, Nagoya Golf Club.

And of course the answer to the mind-blowing question: "How did you shoot 58, Ryo?" is the old standard: "Had a putt for 57 and missed."

Ishikawa didn't say that – but he could have!

The 18-year-old with rock-star hair missed a 15-footer on the final hole by inches, and tapped in for a 58, the lowest score on a major tour in world golf history. Shigeki Maruyama once shot 58 in a U.S. Open qualifier, but in a competition on a major tour, only Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, David Duval and Annika Sorenstam have broken 60.

Then the kid trumped 'em all, which dovetails nicely with his growing aura. He was brilliant on a losing side at last year's Presidents Cup, and the 58 only whets our appetite for his debut U.S. Open appearance, given that he turned down an invite to this week's Players Championship.

Meanwhile, with McIlroy turning 21 on Tuesday, and actually worrying over back injuries earlier this year, Ryo can start texting him with taunts like:

"How's your back, old man? Cause my 18-year-old back feels AWESOME."

Or:

"62? I guess I could have shot that – if I played NINETEEN holes. Boo yah!"

The particulars of Ishikawa's genius were straightforward: 12 birdies, six pars, no bogeys. Add it up and it totals 58.

Ishikawa and McIlroy both missed the cut at last month's Masters, so we should remember to cool our jets on canonization until Pebble Beach. After all, if all they can do is shoot 62s and 58s on Sundays and not win majors, we media jackals will start savaging them for being "Best Players Never to Win a Major Who Cannot Legally Drink in the States."

I kid, I kid. As the 1986 San Francisco Giants used as a slogan: "You Gotta Like These Kids."

Mulligan of the week

This one's easy. If a guy has 15 feet for a 57, and slides the putt past the hole by inches, we march right out to the putting green and … give that man a mulligan!

After all, if he makes it, and shoots 57, that record would stand forever. It would take 56 to break the record. Ain't nobody shooting 56 in major tour golf anytime soon, same way ain't nobody hitting in 56 consecutive big-league games anytime soon. Some facts of life are immutable.

Broadcast moment of the week

"It doesn't go away, even when I'm at home. The paparazzi still follow us, the helicopters still hover. Does it test me? Yes. Is it any excuse? No. I had every opportunity to shoot a good score, and I didn't." – Tiger Woods, April 30, 2010, after missing the cut at Quail Hollow.

I'm pretty sure, in Tiger's sweaty nightmares, he trains a pair of binoculars on the helicopter over his Isleworth pad and fixes on an image of a grinning Phil Mickelson, in a green jacket and pilot earphones, smiling and giving a thumbs-up from the cockpit.

(This last month has been particularly heavy on the pro-Phil/anti-Tiger stock buy, hasn't it?)

Goofing aside, Tiger's post-round composure was remarkably worthy of praise. I crushed the guy after the Masters, so it's necessary to pay homage to a dignified – though defeated – Tiger who handled his Quail Hollow flameout with class.

Truth told, I was shocked at his play. His fourth-place finish at the Masters contained a lot of weird, squirrely shots, yes. But it also contained moments of aching genius, and my thought was that after clearing a few of the hiccups, and getting good and PO'd, he'd lay waste to the field at Quail Hollow.

Couldn't have been more wrong if I had bet on Tiger as Husband of the Year for 2009.

We can talk all we want about how the whole L'Affaire Tiger has affected his game, but the only stat you need to know is six fairways hit in two days. Six! He should hit six fairways on his front 9 on Thursday.

Something is dramatically wrong with Tiger's driver, and it'll be up to Hank Haney's job security to fix it.

Where do we go from here?

After Phil at Augusta and Rory at Quail Hollow, this party is raging. So why stop? We load up for the best field of the year at Sawgrass for The Players Championship, where this week's theme is: "Who the Hell Remembers Craig Perks?"

I wouldn't put heavy money on a Rory Repeat. He let slip to Feherty that he'll have "a bit of a party" at Sawgrass on Tuesday night for his 21st. Not to engage in overt ethnic stereotypes here, but my last name is "Murphy" and I lived in Dublin for six months. I know what "a bit of a party" means for 21-year-old Irishmen.

Like I said, I wouldn't put heavy money on a Rory Repeat.

I would, however, like to attend that "bit of a party"!