Heirs nowhere apparent

Some rising stars, but no bright light on golf's horizon

Posted: April 04, 2007

THE NEXT TIGER? That's sort of like asking who's the next Jordan.

Truth is you probably have a better chance of uncovering the next Airness. Or at least a more reasonable facsimile.

Nothing's impossible, especially if you're projecting it out well into the future. Still, reality suggests it won't be happening any time soon. So go grab a Snickers bar and sit back. The landscape doesn't lie.

They used to say the same thing about Jack Nicklaus, of course. Yet until Tiger came along, nobody really came close. Even though many were nominated, including Phil Mickelson, who in case you forgot was being touted as the next Nicklaus when Tiger was still winning junior titles.

There's never going to be a shortage of potential candidates. That's the way this stuff works. Every year, another Aaron Baddeley appears on the horizon. Or was that Justin Rose? Makes no difference. The list always has room for more names, even if the comparisons are mainly unfair and unjustified. But everyone, it seems, wants to be the first to say I told you so. It's the times we live in.

More than likely, the next Tiger is a kid who's just now taking up the game. Or maybe hasn't even been born yet. Nicklaus was 35 when Tiger came into this world. Bobby Jones was retired for a decade before Nicklaus celebrated his first birthday. So a legitimate sighting is probably still well off in the distance. If indeed there ever is one.

Because as immense as Jack's resume is, Tiger's could be downright untouchable.

On the other hand, there are those who seem convinced that the next Tiger is already upon us. Except that he is a she. As in Michelle Wie. Even though she's yet to win her first LPGA Tour event, the high-schooler still has an entire career to go. And if she fulfills all the expectations, there's every chance she could become the best female golfer ever. Maybe even accomplish a whole bunch of firsts against the men. It still wouldn't make her the second coming. It's lemons and tangerines. Sorry.

In the meantime, the lookout will continue. And the moment some phenom does something phenomenal, the talk will begin anew. Remember Ty Tryon? Thought so. Mostly, it'll be nothing more than talk. Maybe one of these decades another real deal will actually emerge. I'm taking the over.

Remember, we're not talking about just another great player. Mickelson is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. If Tiger never takes another swing he's already secured a spot on Mount Rushmore.

There's a difference. And it's hardly subtle.

"Another guy will come along," Curtis Strange said. "But let's don't look too hard for him [yet]. In our lifetime? Maybe not. I think we're quick to forget just how good Jack Nicklaus was. What Tiger is doing is a reminder. You never know.

"But some day, some kid's going to wake up and have [Tiger's] picture all over his walls. He'll be bigger and stronger, jump higher and run faster . . . And make more putts."

This much seems clear: Right now, nobody on the radar remotely looks the part. It's hard enough identifying a bona fide rival let alone his successor. *

- Mike Kern

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