Just as Jack Nicklaus did to PGA Tour rivals a generation earlier, Tiger Woods has won by intimidation. So, who among the next cast of stars will be a great mental force, like Nicklaus and Woods?
NORTON, Mass. – The stories about Jack Nicklaus and his intimidation factor are legendary.
Few competitors didn’t respect Nicklaus, and even fewer wouldn’t take notice when the Golden Bear’s name appeared on the leaderboard.
With 73 victories on the PGA Tour plus 58 runners-up among 286 top 10s, Nicklaus was in a position to intimidate the competition a lot during his 40 years as a professional.
Not until Tiger Woods arrived on the Tour in 1996 did anyone possess the type of intimidation factor that Nicklaus generated. The difference for Woods, though, was that he was highly visible in an era of cable TV and, later, social media. Woods became a larger-than-life figure to anyone who turned pro during the past 20 years.
Though Woods, at 44, is past his prime in an 82-victory career, most of the players competing at TPC Boston this week in the Northern Trust, the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events, have been exposed to his aura, seen it on television and/or read about it.
So, with Nicklaus at 80 and Woods making limited appearances – this will be only his sixth start in the 2019-20 season – who’s up next? Who, if anyone, has that ability to create a little doubt or uncertainty in the field this week at the Northern Trust, should his name appear on the leaderboard?
“It's hard to remember exactly the influence and attention and intimidation that Tiger drew to golf tournaments, but it was significant to every player that was out here,” Adam Scott said. “I think if anyone was playing at that time and they were being honest, there's no doubt he made a big difference.”
Scott has played his entire professional career under the shroud of Woods. With 14 PGA Tour victories, including the 2013 Masters, Scott nonetheless has provided a good accounting of himself.
So, when asked who gives Scott pause as an opponent, the answer came as a bit of a surprise.
“In fairness, Justin Thomas, when his name is on the leaderboard, he seems like a very good closer,” Scott said. “I know he's had a couple close calls, but that's what happens when you're up there all the time. You lose a couple, but he's winning a lot.”
Scott mentioned four-time major champions Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka but came back to Thomas, who already has 13 victories, including the 2017 PGA title, at age 27.
“Justin Thomas, to me, seems like a [player] who really has it dialed and is a threat,” Scott said. “He can sneak his way up when he hasn't had a great week, or he can dominate a tournament from the get-go. So, he's certainly putting it all together.”
When asked the same question as Scott regarding which player might bring pause should his name show up on a leaderboard, Thomas pointed to the top of the world ranking.
“There's definitely some guys I'm less worried than others,” Thomas said. “I'm definitely not going to say any names, but that's just the fact of the matter. There are just some people that you're comfortable around and maybe some people that you're a little more uncomfortable around. But at the end of the day, I know that if I'm doing what I'm doing, then I'm not worried about anybody else or anything else. Then, I feel like I should be able to get the job done myself.”
Six players – Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, McIlroy and Thomas – are among the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking and the FedEx Cup standings entering the first playoff event (tee times).
Morikawa, 23, and already a three-time Tour winner, including at the recent PGA Championship, is the newest player to enter this elite group. With a victory this week, he could reach the top of the world ranking.
“The game is still ever-changing,” Morikawa said. “You look at Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas right now. These guys are moving back and forth, 1 and 2, even if they both play pretty decent. Yes, [No. 1 in the world] that's a goal. That's a goal I want to check off and stay there, but my focus is winning at the end of the week. If I win, yes, that will hopefully move me up there, but I still have to worry about Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Never get ahead of yourself.”
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