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Tiger cubs go for kill

ANOTHER major Sunday, another major champion. It would be possible to field a rugby union team from the winners since the 2008 US PGA Championship.

From No.1 (Pádraig Harrington) to No.15 (Webb Simpson) there has been a run of different victors. So much for experience being crucial. "Not been there, haven't done that," has been the buzz-phrase down the stretch since Harrington lifted the Wanamaker Trophy at Oakland Hills.

The last time the game watched such a long procession march down its most celebrated fairways was from 1994-98. The theories as to why abound. The one constant in the debate is the barren run of Tiger Woods.

Perhaps the most remarkable factor of the succession is the fact that Woods's name does not appear on this continually updating roll of honour.

For a period which took in the last major of 1999 and the first two of 2008, Woods won more than a third of the majors and his downfall has been a big reason for the run of 15. But Paul Azinger believes the Woods factor is important on another level.

"The generation which watched Tiger recognised they would have to beat him to be champions," says the 2008 Ryder Cup captain, who is now an ESPN analyst.

"And it's like they've gone to another place mentally. If you were 14 years old watching Tiger, you're 28 now.

"And if you look at Rory McIlroy winning last year's US Open, Keegan Bradley winning the USPGA, Charl Schwartzel winning the 2011 Masters and Webb Simpson winning last month at the US Open, these are young men. They were the generation Tiger inspired."

Azinger's argument is essentially that because of Woods's example, the newcomers to the tour are better prepared than ever; not just between the ropes, but more so between the ears.

"You can tell that the concentration levels of a Webb or a Keegan are a notch above where the players once were," says Azinger, who won the 1993 USPGA. "They embraced what Tiger did with the mind and because of it, when they get into position they are ready to stand the heat."

The last nine major winners have all been first-timers and, in many regards, that is more staggering than the statistic of different winners.

"Concentration doesn't come naturally," Azinger says. "You have to learn to concentrate and learn to stay calm. I've always believed it's all to do with slowing down your heart-rate.


"Some guys in my generation were rumoured to be using beta blockers. Now there's drug-testing, so there's no beta-blockers. When I was in my prime I just tried to synchronise my breathing and was conscious of my walking. You see guys doing that now."

He acknowledges the big cat has been away but refuses to concede those playing are mice. "Tiger's slip has opened the door for a lot of guys, but there's more to it than that. This bunch would think they could win whatever Tiger is doing.

"He was so fit, he hit it so far and mentally they couldn't get in there, whatever 'there' was.

"This generation look at Tiger and think they are just as disciplined and work just as hard as Tiger. In this regard, Woods may be a victim of his own greatness. He set the bar so high and they eventually rose to that standard."

If Azinger holds the charitable view, Ernie Els's reported opinion is controversial. "I look around now and see guys winning, guys who could never have done so 20 years ago," Els said. "Equipment advances have had a huge effect on the ability of anyone to separate himself from the rest. Everyone is custom-fitted these days. You can even get clubs that will help you eliminate draws or fades."