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Young guns flourish in Chinese year of the Tiger


Professional golf's tournament landscape shifted seismically in 2010 as several young guns and tour veterans made the most of a forgettable season for Tiger Woods.

While Woods's fortunes plummeted on and off the course following the stunning revelations a year ago of his marital infidelities, twentysomethings such as Martin Kaymer, Louis Oosthuizen and Rory McIlroy prospered richly.

Germany's Kaymer clinched his maiden major title in a two-way playoff for the US PGA Championship in August, one month after South African Oosthuizen landed his first grand slam crown in the British Open at St. Andrews.

Kaymer, who also triumphed at the Abu Dhabi Championship, the Dutch Open and the Dunhill Links event, ended a golden European Tour campaign by winning the cherished money-list crown on the final day of the season at the age of 25.

McIlroy, regarded by Woods as a future world number one, gave fans a taste of his exciting potential with a stunning breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour at the Quail Hollow Championship where he closed with a course-record 62.

With 19-year-old Japanese Ryo Ishikawa having already triumphed nine times on his home tour and Italian Matteo Manassero winning the European Tour's Castello Masters in October at the age of 17, golf's future looks very bright.

"I've never in my tenure seen so much buzz and interest about rookies and young players creating exciting performances," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on a conference call while summing up the season.

"Actually, it has led us to conclude that we really need to focus on that dynamic as we go into 2011."

OLDER GUARD

Not that the older guard were by any means forgotten during 2010.

Phil Mickelson, aged 39, claimed his fourth major title at the Masters, fellow American Jim Furyk, at 40, was named Player of the Year by both the PGA of America and the PGA Tour and South African Ernie Els won twice on the US circuit.

In ranking terms, European Tour veteran Lee Westwood made the most of Woods's struggles during 2010 - ironically the Chinese year of the Tiger.

The Englishman, a supreme talent from tee to green, was rewarded for his remarkable consistency in golf's biggest events over the last two seasons when he replaced 14-times major champion Woods as world number one on November 1.

Woods had been the game's leading player for the previous 281 weeks, and a total of 623 in his career, before he was finally toppled by Westwood.

"Getting to the top of the rankings isn't something you set out to do," Westwood said after becoming only the fourth player to become world number one without winning a major title.

"With Tiger in his pomp, everybody kind of thought he was unattainable. But obviously people go through different things in their lives and form comes and goes."

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell also took advantage of Woods's woes, winning his first major title at the US Open in June before ending a dream year with four victories overall.

"With Tiger going through his troubles and whatnot, it's given the world a chance to view what golf might be like without Tiger," McDowell said before beating Woods in a playoff to win this month's Chevron World Challenge.

"I think we see that golf is very healthy. We've got some really great, young talent coming through."

WINNING POINT

McDowell, who also secured the winning point for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Wales in October, had no doubt Woods would be back as a major force in 2011.

"He's the greatest player that's ever lived," said the 31-year-old from Portrush who picked up three European Tour victories in 2010. "He's had a rough 12 months but I think his game is very close to being 100 percent back.

"He looks mentally sharp. His short game is phenomenal. He's just a phenomenal player. I expect him to be back winning majors next year."

Comfortably the best player of his generation and arguably of all time, Woods has not won anywhere in the world since the 2009 Australian Masters.

With his divorce finalised in late August, he has shown signs in recent months of his once-dominant form and the hard work he has put in with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley since the US PGA Championship now seems to be paying dividends.

"I've played well in stretches, and now the stretches are lasting longer," Woods said after narrowly losing the playoff in the Chevron World Challenge, which he hosts.

"I'm just really excited about this off-season, and I haven't been that way in a while."

The women's professional game was rocked in late April by the news that Mexican world number one Lorena Ochoa had decided to quit competitive golf at the age of 28.

Taiwan's Yani Tseng, who had already won that month's Kraft Nabisco Championship, went on to claim her third major crown with a tearful victory at the women's British Open at Royal Birkdale in August.

The other two women's majors this year were both landed by Americans, Cristie Kerr sweeping to a record 12-stroke victory at the LPGA Championship in June before Paula Creamer eased to a four-shot triumph in the US Women's Open in July.

By Mark Lamport-Stokes, Reuters


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