AUSTIN, Texas—Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.
Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.
He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 Professional golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour victories if he had to face this group.
“I’m just glad he’s playing like I know he can play to validate me—validate me, Phil and Vijay,” Els said. “We weren’t bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again…is great for the game.”
Generational debates are nothing new.
Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.
Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.
Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation’s players?
“It doesn’t [tick] me off. Can you imagine how it must [tick] Tiger off?” he said. “He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can’t take anything away from anybody.”
LEFTY REJECTION: Jordan Spieth says the importance of signing autographs for kids is to give them the personal touch, and perhaps inspire them. He knows that because he was one of those kids, trying to get autographs while attending the Byron Nelson Classic.
One of those moments involved Phil Mickelson. It didn’t end well.
“There was a time that I was out with my dad, and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green,” Spieth said. “And I was yelling at them—as I now get annoyed while I’m practicing when I’m getting yelled at—and they were talking and then they said, ‘One second.’ And when they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me.
“And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off, and Davis was like the nicest guy,” Spieth said. “And Phil, I didn’t care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Spieth laughed as he told the story, mainly because he now knows the drill.
“He could have been late for media, he could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kids’ area, where there was a 100 of them,” Spieth said. “Time management is so different out there. You have no idea, and there’s certainly been kids that probably think I’ve blown them off, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil’s intention, either.”
Spieth was 19 when he made it on the PGA Tour. The first time he played with Mickelson, he shot 62 in the final round at the TPC Boston, a round that inspired Mickelson to recommend Spieth for the Presidents Cup.
And yes, Spieth told him the story from his youth.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were and I didn’t want to go over there and sign it,’” Spieth said.
WINNER’S FEAST: Rory McIlroy won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory in 18 months, which would seem to call for quite a celebration.
Then again, maybe not.
“Two glasses of wine and a big bowl of ice cream,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “That was it. And I watched the highlights, but I fell asleep before the fireworks started on the 15th. Just tired.”
The ice cream of champions: Ben & Jerry’s. One scoop of Salted Caramel. One scoop of Americone Dream. The wine was Opus One.
MAJOR INVITATIONAL: Dustin Johnson had reason to feel like a winner last week even without playing. Johnson’s team of juniors went wire-to-wire and won by seven shots over a junior team representing Jack Nicklaus in the inaugural Major Champions Invitational.
Nick Faldo organized the event as an extension of his Faldo Series for juniors. He reached out to some 20 major champions who have foundations and junior programs to send boys and girls to Bella Collina outside Orlando, Florida.
Johnson’s team of Isabella Britt, Trent Phillips, Lauren Stephenson and Grayson Wotnosky combined to post 19-under par.