Rory who? McIlroy not in Reed 'top 5'
Holywood star a forgotten man as bullish Texan leads new generation
Published 11/03/2014 | 02:30
Patrick Reed deliberately wears 'Tiger Red' on Sundays at tournaments and shoots from the lip like Muhammad Ali.
Though he has never even played in a Major, Reed proclaimed himself one of the world's top five golfers after completing his third victory in seven months at the Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Reed didn't go quite as far as the young Cassius Clay by insisting he's 'The Greatest'... but the 23-year-old's precocious 'top five' boast on TV inevitably raised eyebrows and hackles in a sport that still values humility and respect.
The Texan then gave measure to the speed with which times change in modern golf as he named the other players he rates alongside himself at the top of the game.
Rory McIlroy didn't even warrant a mention!
"Tiger Woods, of course," Reed said. "Adam Scott is definitely a great player and, in my eye, Phil Mickelson is one of the top three for sure.
"Every time I play with Graeme McDowell, he surprises me. He does everything very solid ... and Dustin Johnson... It's a tough question. There's so many great players out there."
Reed probably would lump off-colour world No 4 Henrik Stenson and No 5 Jason Day, recent winner of the Accenture Match Play, into that latter category with McIlroy?
A year ago, it would have been impossible for anyone to overlook the Ulsterman. Clearly, not any more!
As McIlroy fumbles for the form which established him as by far the most exciting young talent in golf at the 2011 US Open at Congressional and in the 2012 US PGA on Kiawah Island, a new, golden generation is emerging.
The age-profile of PGA Tour champions has tumbled. Of the 17 regular PGA Tour events played since the new 'wraparound season' opened last October, for example, nine have been won by players in their 20s, including Sunday's Puerto Rico Open champion Chesson Hadley (26).
Two-time winner Harris English, who eliminated McIlroy in the Accenture second round, and Reed are younger than the Ulsterman, while Russell Henley (24) who beat him in sudden-death at the Honda, is just 22 days older.
McIlroy remains one of only seven players to win two Majors before age 24 – the others are Young Tom Morris, John J McDermott, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Woods.
Yet after his season of discontent in 2013 and squandering precious victory chances down the stretch in Dubai and the Honda, McIlroy slumped to a share of 25th on five-over at Doral with weekend rounds of 75 and 74.
"It's a frustrating course because you feel like you should be doing so much better and it just doesn't allow you to," he sighed. "You have to be so precise and just to get the ball close on some of these greens and these pin positions."
McIlroy started brightly but holed only one putt longer than five feet on Sunday, his 10-footer for bogey at the last.
"I had chances basically on every hole and all of a sudden, I bogey nine, turn in even-par and I'm thinking 'I should be three or four under par here'. I had a lot of looks on the back," he said, before reciting that age-old refrain: "It is frustrating because I feel I've played much better than the score suggests."
McIlroy, who headed for California to cheer-on fiancée Caroline Wozniacki at Indian Wells, should top Nick Faldo's total of six career Majors and could even get into double figures.
On his day, he can beat anyone. Yet with ambitious youngsters like Reed, English, Henley, Derek Ernst (23) and Jordan Spieth (20) winning on the US Tour (and Matteo Manassero and Hideki Matsuyama also rising), McIlroy needs to get mentally tougher and learn to temper his natural aggression to become a prolific winner.
In succeeding Tiger as the youngest winner of a World Golf Championship, Reed suggests he's made of the right stuff, especially as he led after 54 holes in the three tour events he has won.
Currently 20th in the rankings, Reed was asked to explain how he rated himself among the world's top five: "I've worked so hard, I've won a lot in my junior career, did great things in (my) amateur career... and now I've three wins out here on the PGA Tour," he said.
"I just don't see a lot of guys that have done that, besides Tiger Woods and, you know, the other legends of the game. I believe in myself and, especially with how hard I've worked, I'm one of the top five players in the world.
"To come out in a field like this and to hold on wire to wire like that, I feel like I've proven myself."
Reed dresses like Tiger on Sunday "because the best player ever to live when I was growing up wore black pants and a red shirt and I always thought it'd be cool to wear those colours. I did it in junior and amateur golf and it's worked. There's obviously something in it."
His morale is soaring for next month's Masters, Reed's first Major. "To come and play this field and win against players who are all in the Masters gives me confidence that if I play how I'm supposed to at Augusta, then I'll be in the running."
Unless he really is the next Woods or Nicklaus, expect Reed to get a reality check at The Masters.
Harrington future healthier than Woods'
With Tiger's back once again in kinks, Padraig Harrington might be a better fancy to win his next Major title before the ailing World No 1.
While Woods this week undergoes intensive treatment after the ominous recurrence of lower back spasms on Sunday wrecked his hopes of defending his Cadillac Championship crown, Harrington embarks on a string of four successive tournaments in the US.
On Thursday, the Dubliner tees it up at the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, which he played in 61 two years ago.
Harrington then goes to next week's Arnie Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, followed by the Valero Texas and Shell Houston Opens.
His target is the victory which would earn world No 147 Harrington an invite to next month's US Masters.
Even if he misses Augusta for the first time since making his debut there in 2000, the recent experience of Ernie Els offers an encouraging precedent to Harrington.
The South African fell out of the world's Top 50 and off the Masters invitation list in 2012, when he too was 42 ... then won the British Open at Lytham three months later.
Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley revealed last week that Harrington was striking the ball nicely and once again putting well when they played a practice round at Pebble Beach last month.
After four missed cuts in five events, a sudden switch in fortune would make all the difference for Harrington... but there appears to be no quick or easy cure for Woods as he comes to terms with a chronic lower back problem.
Perils of pro game come to the 'fore'
People attending professional golf tournaments are clearly warned that they do so at their own risk, so there's no comeback if anyone is struck by a wayward shot.
Or is there?
Tiger Woods failed to shout "fore" after carving his opening drive at Doral on Sunday into a group of spectators to the right of the fairway, and Bubba Watson offered no warning to fans overlooking the green at 18 when he crashed his approach into the grandstand.
Sadly, these two incidents at the first and the last typify the behaviour of too many of golf's leading professionals.
Struck squarely on the head, a bloodied German tourist received an apology, a signed golf club and the offending ball from Tiger, who went through the exact same process a couple of holes later.
Fortunately, nobody was hurt by Watson's errant shot, though not by any act on his part.
Never mind those posted warnings, it is only a matter of time before somebody is grievously injured at a tournament... and, in the absence of a loud shout of "fore", a leading player is charged with reckless endangerment, culpable negligence or assault.
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