Bubba says Woods era changed the game of golf and showed his fellow pros what it takes to triumph at the highest level
BUBBA Watson credits Tiger Woods for showing the modern generation of Tour players how to succeed - and that's the main reason the US PGA Championship which starts today at Baltusrol, New Jersey, is wide open.
The shadow of Woods loomed large for years over contenders in Majors once he cracked the winning code in style with his 1997 Masters victory, finishing 12 strokes clear of the field.
Watson believes that the post-Woods generation have learned their lessons so well that the gene pool of potential Tour winners and Major champions has evolved and significantly grown in numbers.
"Tiger Woods has showed us how to work out, how to train, how to deal with pressure, how to practise, how to focus. And now look at the world. It's a global game.
"I know we're just getting in the Olympics, but it's a global game.
"The Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, all these Tours around the world have grown the game so much, and obviously PGA of America, when it comes to the club pros.
"So when you look at that, it's going to be harder and harder to dominate like Tiger did over the last 15 or so years, because we're getting so good.
"I think it's just that era now, it's a multiple of guys, not just one man," said Watson.
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth know all about that feeling when it comes to the Majors, and the 'Big Three' of 2015 have one last chance to add another to their golfing CV this year.
McIlroy, now 27, spoke on Tuesday of his desire to rack up way more than the four titles he had in the bag by age 26.
It will be fun watching him try to make number five at Baltusrol, but the stellar performances by Open champion Henrik Stenson, 40, and runner-up Phil Mickelson, 46, at Royal Troon confirm Bubba Watson's argument about the spread of potential winners on any given week.
Stenson and Mickelson enjoy high levels of fitness, and are a prime example to the twentysomethings of the longevity potential in this game.
Mickelson plays his 24th PGA, and looks for a bounce forward from his form at Troon.
The winner in 2005, the only previous time Baltusrol staged this Major, he tees off with the ambition to contend again.
"I think it's one of those things where I'll look back over time and my disappointment will probably increase, because I think it's the first time in my career that I have played to that level of golf and not had it be enough to win a tournament. That's a disappointing thing because I would have loved to have added another Claret Jug.
"But because we have big tournaments coming up right now and because I am playing well, I don't want to let slip another really good opportunity that I have to play a PGA Championship here at Baltusrol at a course I like, while my game is sharp.
"The idea is just to get back and start playing at that level again, and hopefully it will be enough this week," said Mickelson.
At the other end of the Major champion age spectrum, Jordan Spieth, who celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday, has recalibrated his on-course routine.
A Tour player only since 2013, the Texan has won the Masters, a US Open, and ten other titles worldwide, but he's still a young man in a hurry for more of the big trophies.
Spieth threw everything he had at Jason Day in last year's epic PGA battle at Whistling Straits, and, like Mickelson, found it just wasn't good enough.
"It's going to happen in the course of a career where you're going to play well enough to win a Major at that golf course most times and one other, two other players are still going to be up there.
"I felt like last year was one of those it happened to me," he said.
The modifications Spieth has made to his routine are designed to get him playing with less emphasis on analysis and debate on each shot with caddie Michael Greller.
"Recently, I've quickened my step. I've gotten back to kind of the gunslinger, the way that I grew up playing, which is just step up and hit it. I went from over-dissecting shots to really feeling like less is more.
"And then not reacting too much to Michael, which I would always kind of talk to him about each shot it seemed like this year.
"We just said that we wanted to do less of that. Just walk to the next shot and hit it," said Spieth.
Reigning champion Jason Day hosted the Champions Dinner at Baltusrol on Tuesday night. I'm sure it won't have passed his notice that, however pleasant the evening, everyone in that room wants to carve him up on the golf course and take his title.
"I said a couple weeks ago, this is all kind of new to me, even though I have defended before. Last night obviously with the Champions' Dinner, it's my first Major title defence. And I really don't look at it as a title defence.
"I really look at it as I need to come back in, and try and execute a game plan that we come up with, and try and win the tournament.
"I won it last year. That was fantastic, and I need to focus on what I need to do this year to win the Wanamaker Trophy again," said Day.
Contenders - there's a bunch of them, all with genuine grounds for optimism. Dustin Johnson has a big opportunity on this course to add the PGA to his US Open. Day, Spieth, and McIlroy must be considered as strong candidates.
Stenson? Unlikely, purely because of the emotional energy expended in winning at Troon.
Mickelson would be the People's Champion, but it may be too much to expect him to replicate anything like the 17-under total he shot in the Open.
Justin Rose and Branden Grace have the game and the nous to negotiate their way through the four days and if they get a chance on the back nine on Sunday, they won't back off.
South African Grace has won twice on Tour this season, and finished top-five three times in Majors over the last two years.
That said, the weather could throw all predictions out of kilter.
Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow and Sunday, and it's anybody's guess how much that could affect the schedule and the draw.
US PGA Championship,
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