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Original Issue

The Same Old Story This is what I get for predicting a new wave in the old game?


If you must know, Grand Guru of Golf Trends, I'm feeling a
little used right now. The last major has been played, and who
won? Some guy who's 35 years old (although he's about 80 in
practice-range years). In the three big ones before the PGA, the
scrappy Lee Janzen, 33, gutted one out, while the other two were
stolen by Mark O'Meara, who's 41 for crying out loud. The
average age of the winners in the most important championships
of the year: 37 1/2.

I can hear you asking, Oh, Oversized One: So what? Doesn't
experience usually overcome youth? Yes, but that's my beef. This
year I predicted things would be different. I said, before all
the world, that 1998 would be the year of the twentysomethings.
A changing of the guard. Power, passion and precocity. The most
exciting golf ever played.

Everything was in place after last year, when the average age of
the winners of the majors was 26 1/2. The blueprint for '98 was
clear: Tiger Woods would again rearrange Augusta's features,
then embark on a second assault on the Grand Slam. If he didn't
make it, his peers--David Duval, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard or
Phil Mickelson--would be there to scoop up the leftovers.

But after seducing me with their 1997 feats, the kids really let
me down. Duval had a three-stroke lead with three to go at
Augusta and couldn't hold it. Woods was four under after the
first eight holes at Olympic but then had another of his
puzzling four-putts. He took the first-round lead in the British
Open and the PGA and then basically spun his wheels. Els,
Leonard and Mickelson never threatened at all.

What's that, Your Supination? You say that as a group the kids
have actually been more consistent this year than last? Seven top
10 finishes in the majors as opposed to six in '97? With all due
respect, whoop-de-do. Permit me to hold their well-heeled feet to
the fire.

Let's start with Els, since he has the two U.S. Open titles. The
big lug couldn't do better than 16th in a major. Huh? The guy's
back is tender? Had to ease his ball around since before Olympic?
Could be chronic, even career threatening? Geez, O.K. The Big
Easy gets a pass.

What about Duval? Remember how that three-putt at the 16th at
the Masters opened the door for O'Meara. What's that? You say
the old guy kicked it down with three birdies over the last
four. I'll give you that, but what about the 76-78 to miss the
cut at Sahalee? An aberration, you say, considering Duval's
worst finish in the other majors was an 11th? And he's still the
Tour's leading money winner? Can't buy a major, though, can he?

Then there's Leonard. With his 70-77 at Sahalee, he has missed
six cuts in 22 starts. Other than winning the Players
Championship, he's been invisible. Yes, that one win came in the
richest--and most important, outside of the majors--event of the
year. I suppose there have been worse slumps.

Surely, though, there's no excuse for Mickelson. What's his
problem, Oh, Most Elevated Green? I was positive that Lefty
would bag his first major this year. He was right there at the
Masters until a closing 74. Another 74, this time on Saturday,
killed him at the U.S. Open, as did a Dalyesque 85 at the
British. At Sahalee, a 78 on Saturday rendered Sunday's 67
meaningless. Yes, I know that Mickelson has 13 career victories.
Maybe I can help by calling him the King of the B's. Look what
that did for O'Meara.

As usual, the buck stops with Woods. Something's out of whack.
When Tiger hits the ball well, he can't putt. When he putts
well, he hits it everywhere. Even with Butch Harmon constantly
under the hood, Tiger needs more tune-ups than my old Fiat. I'm
beginning to wonder if his not-quite-good-enough play is some
sort of unconscious attempt to escape the spotlight.

Yes, I know the PGA was Woods's third top 10 in a major this
year, but didn't I hear him once say that second sucks? I
realize he's the No. 1-ranked player in the world. Are you
trying to tell me he's human?

Whatever. The young guns were duds in '98. What's that you say,
Your Sweet Spot? It is I who expected too much too soon? It is I
who has been impetuous by daring to foretell the future?

You are most wise, Grand Guru. I will show more restraint. Yet
...don't O'Meara, Janzen and Vijay Singh all live in Florida,
have victories in tournaments sponsored by automakers and swing
righthanded? Hey, we've got a magazine to put out.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Bit part Mickelson's the new King of the B's. [Phil Mickelson playing golf]

After seducing me with their 1997 feats, the kids really let me