TORONTO - It's a sign of the times in this celebrity-obsessed era that Tiger Woods is as much of a story when he's struggling as when he's on top of the leaderboard. Either way, it's tough to see past the glare to youth trying to have its day.
"The younger guys are starting to step up and win some golf tournaments," said Dustin Johnson, who we will see next in the made-for-TV ADT Skills Challenge in early January.
At 26, Johnson won the AT&T pro-am and the BMW Championship and had seven top 10s, including a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open and a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship. Tiger's winless season is well-documented, while Phil Mickelson had just one victory, albeit a big one at the Masters.
With his Ws outnumbering the two biggest names in golf, Johnson doesn't concern himself with PGA Tour marketing. He says his main goal is to build up to the long-term success that Woods and Mickelson have had over the years, but it's clear that there are new marquee names on tour.
The rest will take care of itself.
"It's really hard to say what's going to happen next year," said Johnson. "I see the younger generation still pushing forward and winning a lot of tournaments."
Former U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes, who had six top 10s himself in 2010, points to other names such as Jeff Overton, 27, Hunter Mahan, 28, and Rickie Fowler, 22, for distinguishing themselves in 2010.
"Not only are they competing and way up there, but we also were able to get a few of those names in the Ryder Cup (Fowler, Mahan, Johnson) and get the rest of the world familiar with a lot of the young Americans," said Barnes, 29, who feels it won't be long before Woods is back in peak form.
"I think everything's maybe going to start mellowing out in his life on and off the golf course and the guy's way too good, way too talented and way too determined to go a year and not win, so I'm sure, if anything, this is probably the most pissed off as he's been after a full season," said Barnes.
"I don't think it will be too long before he gets back in there, especially playing well at the Chevron (World Challenge)," he said.
If that happens, Johnson could become a future foil for Woods in a major, but for that to take place, he will need to get over some unfortunate incidents, including his meltdown in the final round of the U.S. Open that saw a three-shot lead evaporate quickly on his way to an 82.
While that collapse can be chalked up to inexperience, when he grounded his club in what turned out to be a bunker with a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship, he wasn't the only one who thought it was a bare piece of land. It still cost him a two-stroke penalty.
Johnson seems to be dealing with his misfortune, especially what happened at the Open, electing to take a lesson from the incident.
"After the U.S. Open, on Sunday night or whatever, I was thinking about what went wrong and I didn't do anything terrible. I really got a little fast. I got fast with my golf swing, with walking, with my routine. Everything went fast. I just got out of my routine a little bit," he said.
At the PGA Championship, he purposely slowed everything down and it appeared to be working until the bad luck in the bunker.
"Obviously, the more times you're in that situation, the more comfortable you're going to get, the more you know what's going on with yourself and in your body," he said.