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Class of 2002 struggling three years on

When 17 players recorded their first victory on the PGA Tour during the 2002 season, it was touted by many as the start of a bold new era.

The large number of fresh-faced winners, the hype went, demonstrated that a new wave of stars was emerging to take the tour by storm. Three years later, the reality looks somewhat different.

Only five of those 17 winners are currently ranked in the top 100 in the world, and only one has managed a follow-up victory on tour. That was Jonathan Byrd, who won last year's B.C. Open, a second-rate event played on the same dates as the British Open. Several of those 2002 winners no longer even have fully exempt status on tour, and seven of them are ranked outside the top 200 in the world.

All of which begs the question, what happened to these guys? A couple, notably Phil Tataurangi and Ian Leggatt, have suffered serious injuries, but the hard truth is that a lot of them were fluke winners, guys who had one good week, often in events that were lacking most of the big boys.

The 2002 season was an anomaly, hopefully not to be repeated anytime soon, because golf, as with most sports, relies on its superstars to broaden the game's popularity. It's hard enough for the casual golf fan to identify with a couple of new players each season, let alone more than a dozen.

The one player who has used his first victory as a springboard is Englishman Luke Donald, now ranked 13th in the world. And though he has yet to win again on the PGA Tour, he has recorded two victories on the European Tour, and was a member of last year's victorious Ryder Cup team.

Others, such as K.J. Choi and Charles Howell, have proved to be world class competitors, and let's not forget that Len Mattiace lost a playoff at the 2003 Masters. But for what it's worth, here are the current world rankings of those 17 first-time winners from 2002, and for the most part it's not pretty reading.

Luke Donald (13), K.J. Choi (32), Charles Howell (38), Jerry Kelly (45), Chris Riley (66), Kevin Sutherland (106), Jonathan Byrd (121), John Rollins (146), Matt Gogel (167), Len Mattiace (172), Matt Kuchar (274), Chris Smith (283), Bob Burns (306), Craig Perks (345), Spike McRoy (380), Ian Leggatt (835), Phil Tataurangi (1097)


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