When Tiger Woods was making his way up the amateur ranks back in the early 1990s, you heard about him constantly. You also heard about the great players, the Palmers and Nicklauses, who were at least aware of his prodigious talent.
Now that Tiger is the top guy, you hear less about younger players on the way up. The book on Tiger back in the day was that he was a lock to become a pretty splendid professional. Ever since then, one young turk hotshot after another has appeared on the scene, only to whither.
Of course, Tiger will be around for a lot longer, but at 33, he's nearing the downward slope of his career. And it seems as he's taken more than a passing interest in a member of the younger generation.
That would be Anthony Kim, 23, the brash American player who basically assumed Tiger's mantle during last year's thrilling Ryder Cup victory--Tiger was recuperating from knee surgery--and on Friday set a new record for birdies during a single round at the Masters.
He went to eleven.
That's right, eleven birdies. Over 18 holes. On the toughest greens in the world. After having shot a 75 in his first-ever competitive round at Augusta.
Needless to say, going 75-65...it was talk of the clubhouse. Phil Mickelson got hot on the back nine. And Tiger, although he seemed to miss every birdie putt he looked at on Saturday, remained in the mix for the weekend.
But "AK," as he's known (he wears his initials on gigantic belt buckles), put himself in a position to be the youngest player since Tiger to really do something exciting at Augusta. He's currently at -4. Let's just pretend he keeps his hot putter and doesn't have any disasters today or Sunday. He could easily get it to double-digits and be slipping on the green jacket come sundown in Georgia tomorrow.
We'll see. Tiger will probably be remiss that he didn't win last year, so that he could do the honors of helping Kim don the most coveted garment in all sport. Woods seems to greatly respect Kim's tremendous natural ability and ferociously competitive nature. No one is more competitive than Tiger, but he's also something of a golf technocrat. Kim, on the other hand, plays by the seat of his pants. Tiger is superego. Kim is Id.
Mark O'Meara, the senior player who's been Tiger's mentor since he appeared on the PGA Tour, has said that AK's game is actually better that Tiger's was, at the same age. The Golf Channel recently ran a Nike clinic at which Tiger and AK appeared (both are Nike sponsored), and it was Tiger who assumed the articulate, avuncular role while Kim served as the show pony, hitting all the shots. Tiger was still favoring his knee at the time, but it was interesting to hear him compliment Kim on the purity of his club-ball contact and compare notes on how to create brilliant shots.
Woods, being preposterously talented, knows equivalent talent when he sees it. Anyone can see that Kim is pretty good. But Tiger sees something more. There have been plenty of young players who've crossed his radar in the past decade, but Kim is the one who's made him take notice. And if AK continues his stunning play at Augusta, and Woods begins to rise to the occasion, Tiger may be staring down his own vision of the future tomorrow, with the green jacket at stake.