HOYLAKE, England — Even when he’s not the favorite, Tiger Woods is still the show at the British Open.
Woods earned that attention by piling up majors at a faster rate than anyone in history, and the attention is just as great now because his recent past includes back surgery and his immediate future is more uncertain than ever. ESPN plans to show his entire round online Thursday.
Not to be overlooked at golf’s oldest championship, however, is a new generation of stars.
Rickie Fowler and Harris English will be playing ahead of him. Two groups behind will be Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. They are among 25 players who share a bond that speaks to the state of golf. Woods has never won a major during their professional careers.
Yes, they saw his dominance on TV. They just never experienced it.
They were not around for the decade w hen Woods won majors with regularity, sometimes by a record score, sometimes by a record margin. They missed the days that were so Tiger-centric a player couldn’t get through an interview without being asked something about Woods.
“Tiger ruined a lot of guys’ lives,” Charles Howell III, a longtime friend of Woods who lived through those times, said earlier in the year. “He caused a lot of people some sleepless Sunday nights. But he also motivated an entire generation behind him.”
Howell’s point was that while the next generation might have been in awe of Woods, being outside the arena allowed them to study him without getting scarred. They learned from the way he worked. They were more prepared than the generation before them.
The talk at this British Open is that it is more open than ever.
But then, that’s been the case since Woods won his last major six years ago. Since that 2008 U.S. Open, 19 players have won majors, and no one has won more than two. In the 24 majors leading up to his last major, Woods won six, Phil Mickelson won three and no one else won more than one.