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Golf Tidbits: Youth is served

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I was going to be like hundreds of my fellow golf writers and compose a column about Tiger Woods, but I'd rather not write about his comeback mid-tournament.

Instead, I'm going to introduce you to three players who could be "The Next Tiger."

Maybe that isn't the exact label that has been thrown around when talking about previous would-be challengers, but several golfers were talked about as being the one to challenge Tiger for his crown as best player on the planet. Charles Howell III, a good friend of Woods, was at one time thought to be the person who would challenge him. That didn't pan out, nor did it for Adam Scott.

Next on the list to compete with Woods for the top spot in the world could be one of these three players -- Ryo Ishikawa, amateur Danny Lee or Rory McIlroy.

The members of this trio have three things in common. First, none of them can legally buy alcohol in the United States; second, all three have won at least one professional tournament; and finally, they are all ranked in the top 200 in the world rankings.

Ishikawa, the baby of the group at 17 years old, has won three events on the Japan PGA Tour. He made his PGA Tour debut last week with a missed cut at the Northern Trust Open, but he will get more experience against the world's best soon.

The Japanese star has accepted an invite to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and also will compete at The Masters, where he was given a special invitation to play the season's first major.

Ishikawa has climbed to 68th in the world thanks to his success in his homeland.

Lee, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, became the youngest-ever winner on the European Tour last week when he won the Johnnie Walker Classic. With the victory, he soared to No. 159 in the world rankings.

The field wasn't devoid of talent, either. European stalwarts Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Nick Dougherty, Ian Poulter and Colin Montgomerie, as well as up- and-coming American star Anthony Kim, all finished in the top 25 behind Lee.

The 18-year-old Lee, who hails from New Zealand, has already announced he will turn pro after competing at The Masters. He earned his invitation to Augusta with his win last year at Pinehurst in the U.S. Amateur.

The elder statesman of the threesome, 19-year-old McIlroy, earned his first professional win earlier this month at the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Northern Ireland native opened with a 64, then closed with a two-under 70 to fend off Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Casey, Karlsson and Martin Kaymer -- a group that has combined for no less than 30 European Tour wins and eight Ryder Cup appearances.

Thanks to his first professional title, McIlroy has soared No. 17 in the world.

NORMAN UP TO HIS OLD TRICKS

Former World No. 1 Greg Norman has long been a thorn in the side of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Norman is up to his old tricks, wagging a finger at the commish and the tour as a whole.

Norman recently called on the PGA Tour to scale back its prize money.

"Prize money is being scaled back in Europe, I wouldn't be surprised if prize money's scaled back in the U.S. just out of respect to every citizen and taxpayer over there who's suffering dramatically," Norman was quoted as saying on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's website.

"It seems like on the PGA Tour the players are still playing for a million dollars first week, like they're recession-proof."

These comments aren't playing well among players, and certainly not Finchem, Norman's longtime nemesis.

The battle between Norman and Finchem dates back nearly 20 years and stems mainly from Norman's proposal to create a world tour that included players from all the major golf tours.

The PGA Tour, led by Finchem, balked at the idea, at least relative to Norman's involvement in the venture. In 1999, the PGA Tour and the other major worldwide tours created a new series of events called the World Golf Championships, but Norman criticized the circuit as being something less than a "true world tour," and called for more events to be held outside the U.S.

As far as the current spat is concerned, Norman may be correct in calling for the tour to scale back prize funds, but what he said about the European Tour has me shaking my head.

Isn't this the same tour that kicked off its' inaugural Race to Dubai this year? And doesn't that race pay $10 million to the top 60 players on the money list, and $2 million to the top player?

So much for scaling back, huh?

MINI-TIDBITS

- The PGA Tour lost another sponsor this week when FBR announced it would end its deal with the tour after next season. That is a big loss for the tour because the FBR Open is far and away the best-attended event on the PGA Tour schedule. Finding a new sponsor and keeping that event in Scottsdale is of the utmost importance to the PGA Tour.

- The United States had its' fewest competitors ever in this week's WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship with 17. Though that number is the lowest to ever represent the U.S., it is still more than twice the next closest country. South Africa and Australia tied for second-most competitors with eight.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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