|ESPN.com: Golf||[Print without images]|
Blame it on our diminished attention spans.
Fans, writers, pundits and followers of any pastime are always looking for what's next. If you're a fan of music, there's always an intrinsic value for the artist or band that's new.
In sports, people are constantly excited by what's new -- Blake Griffin has had a fantastic rookie season in the NBA no matter how you slice it, but the element of being new has added to the public's interest, as well. A player with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a thunderous dunk comes wrapped in shinier paper if it's his first season in the league.
In golf, writers and fans have been looking for the next Tiger Woods since about mid-1997. The topic never seems to drift away, despite the unrealistic expectation that there will ever be another phenom of that caliber in the sport again.
Sometimes, "next" doesn't explode into the sporting consciousness. Sometimes, it's the less popular gradual ascension into stardom.
Last year, while much of the American sporting public fixated on Woods' struggles when presented their golf news, "next" came out of the European circuit and went and won the PGA Championship.
Since the beginning of 2010, no one has won more on the PGA and European tours than Martin Kaymer. Kaymer has five victories in that span -- only three other men have even three wins in the same time period on the world's two most prominent tours: Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Graeme McDowell.
But to call 2010 Kaymer's breakout season is a disservice to everything he previously accomplished. Kaymer, now 26, won at least twice on the European Tour in 2008 and 2009 before doing it last year. In '09, Kaymer was fifth on the European Tour in scoring average. Both his driving distance and accuracy have gone up each of the last three years. His greens in regulation percentage has topped 70 percent for three straight years, too. Dating to 2008, only one player in the world has more PGA/European tour wins than Kaymer: Woods, with 11, and none of those have come since the end of 2009.
Kaymer's win at the PGA Championship came at the expense of a few Americans of a similar age: Nick Watney (29) held a 3-shot lead going into Sunday, Bubba Watson (32) got beat by Kaymer in the three-hole playoff, and Dustin Johnson (26) had maybe the most famous 2-shot penalty in golf history coming down the stretch. With the backdrop of young American players coming up short, consider this: only two men currently under the age of 30 have major championships: South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen (28) and Kaymer.
In the Official World Golf Rankings, Kaymer has ascended from 13th at the beginning of 2010 to No. 2 today. He has put a full point of separation in the average points column between himself and current world No. 3 Woods. Kaymer is undoubtedly on the brink of the world No. 1: at 26, he would be the second-youngest player to ever reach the zenith of the rankings, trailing only Woods. Since 1990, only three players under age 30 have reached No. 1 -- Woods, David Duval and Ernie Els.
As legends are the only barometer for Woods' career, he has become what we gauge every young golfer in the world against. To further illustrate the point that using Woods as a barometer is an impossible standard, let's look at what Woods had already accomplished at Kaymer's age: 26 years, 1 month and 26 days as of Tuesday.
What Kaymer has done so far is nothing to sneeze at: a nine-time winner on the European Tour with a major championship already under his belt. At Kaymer's age, Woods had already won six major championships and a staggering 29 times on the PGA Tour. That would already be enough for a tie for 17th in the history of the circuit.
The future (and to an increasing extent, the present) of professional golf is aggressive, talented and global. Kaymer, a 1-seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, might be the ambassador of that movement.
In that vein, young is the theme this week in Arizona, which features the top-64 ranked players on the planet.
The average age of the players in the field this week is a scant 32.46 years old. There are 23 players in the field under the age of 30; 14 of whom are from outside the United States. There are nine players 25 or younger in the field -- seven from outside the U.S.
And if you would really like to feel old, please read the following sentence: Three players in the field were born in the 1990s: Matteo Manassero, Ryo Ishikawa and Seung-yul Noh.
With another WGC event upon us this week, it's worth reminding the world just how incomprehensibly dominant Woods has been in these events throughout his career.
Tiger has made 33 career starts in WGC events. He's won 16 of them, good for a win percentage of 48.5. In 29 of those 33 starts, he's finished in the top-10.
Woods is the only three-time winner of the match play event, and his 32 career match victories are the most all time. He's also the only player to make the finals of the event four times and holds the record for consecutive matches won with 13, doing so in 2003-05.
Question: Who is the only German golfer to ever be ranked No. 1 in the world?
Answer: Bernhard Langer, who was No. 1 for three weeks in 1986.
Lee Westwood is the overall No. 1 seed this week. Should he win, he would be just the second different 1-seed to win it. The only one to do it? Who else: Woods.
Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.