Young guns strut stuff

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

OAKVILLE -- It's a question that has been asked about the PGA Tour time and time again over the past 10 years or so.

Where are all the good young players?

Well, if anybody is still asking, they're not paying attention. Tour fields are being populated more and more by young players in their 20s and they're not just out there occupying space on the greenery.

All you had to do was skim the Sunday leaderboard at Glen Abbey yesterday in the final round of the Canadian Open to get a sense that the guard is starting to change.

Indeed, runner-up Billy Mayfair, who turns 42 in a couple of weeks, must have felt ancient every time he looked at the board coming down the stretch yesterday.

Chez Reavie, the new Open champ, is 26 and looks about 17. He duelled all day long with Anthony Kim who, at 23, already has secured a spot on the 2008 American Ryder Cup team.

Sean O'Hair, already a two-time PGA Tour winner, edged out by Mayfair for second place, is 26. He tied for third with 28-year-old Steve Marino, a shot ahead of 25-year-old Nicholas Thompson who was tied with veterans Mike Weir and Scott McCarron.

"Somebody asked me if I was bothered by a supposed no-name guy winning the tournament," commented tournament director Bill Paul, "and I said: 'Not in the least.' A long time ago, a guy named Palmer came up here and won his first tournament here in Canada. More than half a century later, I don't hear anybody complaining about that."

That was 1955 and the Palmer in question goes by the name of Arnold. To millions around the world, he is The King but back then, he was just another kid, like Reavie, trying to pay the rent.

More than a decade has passed since Tiger Woods burst on the scene but in his wake, there has been a vacuum. There has been no shortage of candidates anointed as potential competition for Woods but none has truly stepped up.

A few weeks ago, when it became apparent that the remainder of the 2008 season would be played with the Tour's central figure watching from the couch, Kim issued a brave challenge, suggesting that the young players on tour to needed to make a statement in Tiger's absence.

Last year, Kim had an epiphany during the FedEx Cup playoffs, specifically at the BMW Championship.

"Tiger was playing before me, and he had been out there (at the course) for a while. He was kind of getting through with his practice session and he was coming back in the clubhouse for some reason," Kim said in his post-victory news conference after winning the AT&T National.

"And I had just gotten to the golf course, and just grabbed a breakfast burrito. He was about 15 minutes from teeing off. And I still had not even seen my locker and I had not even changed my shoes."

TIME TO GET SERIOUS

In that moment, Kim recognized it was time to abandon the party animal label he had acquired and get serious about his game.

"I guess the way I could look at it is, my preparation and work ethic couldn't have gotten any worse," Kim said. "So it had to get better."

He has won twice this year and while he was less than pleased with his own tepid response during yesterday's duel with Reavie, who remained rock-solid down the stretch, Kim barely has scratched the surface of his own ability. Guys like Bill Paul just hope that some of that star quality comes out when these kids come to their tournaments.

"Every year when we try to assemble a field here, we know there are going to be a lot of big names who won't be coming, for assorted reasons," Paul said. "One of the things we try to do is get some of the up-and-comers.

"Obviously Anthony (Kim) was a key for us. He's a great star in the making and he's the new face of the Tour. But there is tremendous depth out here and a lot of these young guys are showing they can win."

Tiger probably has nothing to worry about from this, or any other, generation. But just about everybody else who has achieved "veteran" status is vulnerable. This time, youth may not be denied.


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