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Young players rising in the rankings

Although Tiger Woods's dominance looks sure to continue for the next few years, there has been a significant reshaping of the world's top 15 over recent months.

At the start of 2006, only three twenty-somethings ranked among the game's leading 15 players.

Going into this week, that number had risen to seven with the newcomers being U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, South Africa's Trevor Immelman, Briton Paul Casey and American Charles Howell III.

Fellow twenty-somethings Adam Scott of Australia, Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Britain's Luke Donald retained their places in the game's upper echelon from January last year.

This can only bode well for fan interest across the globe with the young guns all high in confidence and likely contenders in the majors for at least the next decade.

Add to those seven 30-year-old Swede Henrik Stenson, who was world-ranked 32nd at the start of last year and has since climbed to fifth following his impressive victory at last month's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Stenson, fourth-ranked Scott, Ogilvy (eight), Donald (11), Immelman (12), Garcia (13), Casey (14) and Howell (15) are all eager to cement their status at the pinnacle of the game.

Of course, nobody is expecting the so-called 'Big Five' of world number one Woods, Masters champion Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen to fade away any time soon.

Fijian Singh and South Africans Els and Goosen may have dropped out of their regular positions in the top five but all are likely to be factors in golf's biggest events this season and beyond.

The 44-year-old Singh struck a blow for the more seasoned campaigners by clinching the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Sunday, becoming the first multiple winner on the 2007 PGA Tour.

His work ethic is matched by very few in the game and Singh astounded the golfing world by dethroning Woods as world number one in September 2004, aged 41.

Unquestionably, though, the 'freshness' of golf's top contenders has undergone a serious makeover in recent months.

"We have a bunch of guys coming through now, not that the older guys have disappeared by any means," Englishman Casey, 29, told reporters at Bay Hill last week where he was bidding for his maiden PGA Tour title.

"We have guys like Donald and Howell and Stenson who not only have the skill but they also have the desire and the determination and the drive and want to win a major.

"I need to keep working very hard and I think I can get close. It's my ultimate goal to win a major, and hopefully it will be as soon as possible."

Three-times major champion Els acknowledges the shifting patterns at the top end of the sport.

"Across the board, we've got better players in world golf," the 37-year-old said. "To get into the top five or stay in the top five, you've got to play a little bit better and you've got to play more consistently.

"I think there's a little bit of everything involved. Guys who have been there for such a long time, I give them full credit. But you're also going to get guys who start breaking through.

"Henrik has won two big events, Dubai and the Match Play, and he's had a very consistent year or two. Other young guys are coming through like Luke and Trevor, and Adam has cracked the top five."

Twice U.S. Open champion Els concluded by sounding a friendly warning to the emerging talent.

"A lot of the young guys coming through have been on tour for six, seven or eight years now, and that's just the way it is," he said. "But I wouldn't want to write off Vijay or myself, or anybody else for that matter."

 

March 22, 2007




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