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Young guns take aim at Tour Championship, FedEx Cup millions

Steve Hummer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Golf

Only right that the two players teeing off last Thursday at East Lake Golf Club -- a spot reserved for the top two in the FedEx Cup standings -- are downy-cheeked 24-year-olds Jordan Spieth and Thomas. And that four of the top seven in FedEx Cup points -- those most in the running for the $10 million bonus -- are 25 or younger.

Put them all together you either have a golf tournament or a boy band.

Among the Favored Five -- those players here who can outright win the FedEx Cup by winning this week's tournament -- Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman are the creaky old guys. They're like compact-disc or "The Sopranos" old, especially compared with 22-year-old Jon Rahm, No. 5 in points. And they're both just 33.

Leishman, whose victory last week outside Chicago lifted him to No. 4 in FedEx Cup points, has three kids and a vault of difficult life experience (his wife fell ill and was close to death two years ago). By all rights he's in his prime, yet finds himself peering over the rim of a generation gap.

He looked around at the beginning of this season, recognized the hour hand on his sport's competitive clock spinning like a propeller, and it was enlightening. When he came onto tour at 25, he said he'd see guys entering their mid-30s and think they were just hitting their peak. "Now," he said, "that's not the case.

"I guess at the start of this year I thought to myself it's time that I need to do something before it's too late. I've managed to play well and get a couple wins this year, which is really satisfying. I guess I do really feel like one of the older guys on the Tour now."

For his part, Johnson would like to clear up the record on one point: "I wouldn't say that I feel old," he said.

Of all this youth loitering on the leaderboard the way kids used to hang at the mall, Johnson said, "It's good, I like seeing it. I think the game of golf needs it. And for me, it pushes me to keep working harder, too. I definitely am the veteran of the guys even though I don't feel like one yet."

One thing about youth, it sells. In the post-Tiger Woods era, it has been this new, fresh wave of talent that has carried the day for the PGA Tour. Golf had no shot at being cool without such re-packaging.

"Obviously everybody misses Tiger, everybody wants Tiger to come back, but we're talking about a 20-year gap now since Tiger came out and now the new generation's come up. They've taken over, and they're doing a phenomenal job of it," said Pat Perez, who at 41 is the oldest player in this select 30-man field.

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