Is Tiger Woods' 2026 rookie class the next really interesting one?
Celebrity is the currency on which the PGA Tour Champions trades to help create interest and has since it was conceived to some degree as a means of keeping Arnold Palmer on stage after 50.
But its currency’s valuation is fluid, depending on the quality of each new class of 50 year olds. On that note, looking ahead, well, it is in for a bear market for a time, and not a Golden Bear market.
The 2021 rookie with the best resume will be Padraig Harrington, a winner of three major championships. On the downside, he does not turn 50 until the end of August. The other semi-notable turning 50 is Thomas Bjorn, a former captain of the European Ryder Cup team, while former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem turned 50 late last year.
Of course, the tour for awhile will have the exceptional Class of 2020 on which to lean — World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson and a future Hall of Famer Jim Furyk. Each of them won twice this year. There, too, is Bernhard Langer, at 63 still chasing Hale Irwin’s senior record of 45 victories.
But looking ahead, the best prospect for a rookie class to rival 2020 will be 2026, though it will depend largely on whether Tiger Woods chooses to participate. Smart money at this point says he won’t.
Woods played only nine tournaments in the calendar year 2020, 14 (including the Presidents Cup) in 2019. Should he still be competing and competitive by 2026, he’ll likely use his infrequent tournament starts on the PGA Tour.
Then again, Mickelson wasn’t expected to turn up on the PGA Tour Champions this year, yet he chose to play twice — and won both of them.
Others who will be eligible in 2026 are Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter. Johnson and Stenson are major champions, the former a winner at both Augusta National and St. Andrews, and Poulter is, well, always entertaining.
Prior to that will be the 2023 class that will feature Stewart Cink and Lee Westwood. Cink has a memorable British Open victory in a playoff over a 59-year-old Tom Watson, and at 47, he won the Safeway Classic. Westwood has never won a major, but he has been a frequent winner around the world, was ranked No. 1 for 22 weeks, and has a record comparable to Colin Montgomerie, a World Golf Hall of Famer who also never won a major.