AUGUSTA, Ga. – Golf has a new version of Tiger Woods.
It's not a one-man super talent who shows up to tournaments and beats everyone to a pulp.
The new Tiger on the PGA Tour is a collective. It's an impressive bunch of super talents who duke it out week to week, major to major, taking turns grabbing the trophies.
Right now, Jason Day is on top, sitting with the world's No. 1 ranking. Not so long ago, it was Jordan Spieth. Before that, Rory McIlroy had bragging rights. All the while, Rickie Fowler has been nipping at their heels. So it's pretty much a four-man band beating on each other, not to mention the rest.
Some might prefer to watch the once-in-a-lifetime talent that was Woods, but the generation he inspired has kept the sport alive and, more importantly, interesting and appealing, particularly with the season's first major on tap at Augusta National.
Sure, Woods was compelling, must-see TV. But the foursome that has picked up the slack raises the bar with each win.
McIlroy (four total majors), Spieth (two), and Day (one) have won five of the past six majors. Fowler, meanwhile, is searching for his first, stuck with Sergio Garcia in the "best to never have won a major" category.
"The competition is very stiff," Day said. "It's really tough with how everyone is playing. Jordan and Rory are young guys, so we're all kind of motivating each other, and Rickie as well … to try and play better each and every week and each and every year. If one of us plays well, then usually there's two out of three or three out of the three guys that are going to step up practicing and play harder, because it's inspiring and motivating to watch the other guy win because you know what you can do."
Spieth blew away the competition at last year's Masters, tying Woods' course record at 18-under-par 270. Day, meanwhile, blitzed the PGA Championship field with his record-shattering 20-under at Whistling Straits. But that was only 3 shots better than Spieth.
So these 20-somethings do push each other. They also push the 30-somethings, like Adam Scott and Bubba Watson. While everyone tried to make up a rival for Tiger during his decade of dominance, Day, Spieth, McIlroy, and Fowler are mutual rivals. They have a friendly competition that brings out the best in them, especially during big tournaments.
"Yeah, I'd be lying if I said those guys having success doesn't motivate me. Of course it does," said McIlroy, who changed his entire pre-Masters preparation this week by not coming early, instead staying in Florida to work on his game in a more relaxed atmosphere. "What Jordan did here last year, the U.S. Open, and the whole way through the summer and what Jason Day did during the summer and this year as well – yeah, I don't want to be left behind. I want to be a part of that conversation. I'm clinging on at the minute; a few wins will change that."
Fowler, meanwhile, considers himself the "sneaky fourth" of the group. And he's just "fine sneaking around."
While he's still major-less, Fowler quietly wins everything else. Last year, he won The Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship. He also won the Scottish Open and kicked off this year by winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour.
The four players combined for 14 tour wins last year (Spieth five, Day five, McIlroy and Fowler two each).
And naturally, all of them are confident about their chances for a green jacket come Sunday.
A win would give McIlroy the career Grand Slam, having already captured the U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. It would put him in rare company. Only five other golfers have accomplished the feat.
"It's something that I'd obviously be very proud of and something that I feel would set me apart," McIlroy said. "But there's a lot of golf to be played before that and a lot of talking to be done and a lot of bad bounces and good bounces and lip-outs and everything. So we'll see what happens over the next few days."
Spieth, meanwhile, knows that while he conquered the course last year, any one of his pals could do the same this week.
"We all know who is capable of having firepower in a major, and certainly the firepower that's been produced over the last few months," he said. "There's a lot of guys who have a lot of success here that have really brought some strong finishes and motivation and some momentum into this week."
No, Tiger's not here. It's different now. There's not just one dominant player. There's a bunch of them.
"The way I see it . . . it's just the continued evolution of the game. Professional golf is in such a good spot at the moment, especially with guys like Jason and Jordan and Rory at the top of the world," Scott said. "I think they are great ambassadors of golf, incredible talents, pushing the bar even higher in the game for me to try to keep up with them and a whole bunch of other guys.
"Tiger controlled the outcome so much in some way. It didn't always happen. He didn't win every time, but he did, if he was playing on his game, it was very, very hard to beat him."
Now, it's more like which young gun is left standing.
This article was written by Karen Guregian from Boston Herald and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.