Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Roaring Forties' belie age to keep young guns in check

Dustin Johnson waves after a birdie on the second green during the third round of the Masters golf tournament
Dustin Johnson waves after a birdie on the second green during the third round of the Masters golf tournament
Tommy Fleetwood of England lines up a putt during the final round of the Shenzhen International

Karl MacGinty

Just when we thought it fair to describe golf as a young man's game, up popped Jim Furyk, at 44 more than twice the age of Masters sensation Jordan Spieth, with a sweet success at the RBC Heritage.

It didn't come from as far out of the blue as Padraig Harrington's heroics at the Honda seven weeks earlier but in ending his 55-month PGA Tour title drought, Furyk proved that if your golf is good enough, then age is irrelevant.

Yet the age profile of the successful PGA Tour professional is steadily falling.

You have Spieth, at 21, pressing No 1 Rory McIlroy (25) hardest atop the world rankings.

Add Spieth's Green Jacket and McIlroy's wins at the US PGA and Open to Martin Kaymer's success at last June's US Open, and you have all four Major titles being won in succession by men under 30.

This feat was first achieved in the modern era by Tiger Woods with his 'Tiger Slam' in 2001 but now has happened twice in five years (Louis Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open, followed by Kaymer at the US PGA, Charl Schwartzel at Augusta in 2011, then McIlroy in the US Open).

The average age of those who have won the 23 fully sanctioned events on the US PGA Tour this 2014/15 season is 31.68. Yet 10 of those victories were achieved by players either aged 30, like Dustin Johnson at Doral, or considerably younger. Only three were registered by men older than 37: Harrington (43), Furyk and Alex Cejka (44). Take the latter three out of the equation and the average drops to 29.65.

In the absence of Furyk and Spieth, who both take a well-earned break this weekend, the list of contenders for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans illustrates the point.

The bookies list Johnson and Jason Day, 27, winner of the Farmers Insurance Open, as co-favourites, followed closely on the blackboard by Justin Rose (34), Rickie Fowler (26), Keegan Bradley (28), Harris English (25) and FedEx Cup holder Billy Horschel (27), who, incidentally, picked up his maiden PGA Tour win at Avondale two years ago.

It'd almost be enough to make 2013 US Open champion Rose invest in anti-wrinkle cream!

Yet if you're as highly motivated and well conditioned physically as Furyk, clearly it's possible to make experience pay. His astoundingly high level of performance in recent years is well reflected in his current world ranking (fifth) and his earning power.

In a career which includes 17 PGA Tour victories, Furyk has banked $75m in prize-money and bonuses, including the $10m jackpot he landed with the 2010 FedEx Cup.

Though last Sunday was Furyk's first victory since the 2010 Tour Championship, he had enjoyed 31 top-10 finishes in 99 intervening events.

Even as we eulogise Spieth, McIlroy and the rest of Generation Next, should Phil Mickelson complete his Career Grand Slam in June's US Open at Chambers Bay after a heart-rending six runner-up finishes at his national championship, the summer will belong to golf's 'Roaring Forties'.

Volvo China Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 5.30am

Zurich Classic of New Orleans,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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