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Bucky Gleason: Golf's young guns tracking Tiger's paw prints

In 1996, in his first season playing for keeps and four years after making his debut in a PGA event, Tiger Woods made the cut in all eight tournaments he entered and pocketed $790,594. He finished 24th on the money list, but it was evident his rise to No. 1 would come in short order.

Tiger wasn't just the best young player but the best player period, taking the tour by storm a year later at age 21 and setting in motion one of the most prolific careers in sports history. He was among the most popular athletes in the world, an icon in the same historic circles as MJ, Ali, Gretzky, Pele and the Babe.

In part because of his name but mostly because of his game, Tiger was discussed over dinner tables many a Sunday evening while he won 79 PGA tour events and 14 majors. His career, short-circuited by marital problems and injuries, faded before he had a chance to truly challenge Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors.

Woods' shortcomings hardly diminished from his Ruthian impact. The Tiger Effect had a primary influence over how the game was played. Television ratings skyrocketed, reflecting growing interest among casual fans who once viewed golf as game for rich country-club types and nobody else.

Because he was such a polarizing figure who made such a deep impression, he inadvertently ensured there would never be another Tiger Woods.

Too many good players, particularly young wannabes who grew up idolizing him, grace the tour these days for any individual to consistently pull away from the pack. The competition is too stiff, the talent too deep, to sustain what Woods did for the better part of a quarter century.

The tour has never been so rich with talent given the collection of whippersnappers you see today. Many were born when golf was rising toward unprecedented Woods-fueled popularity. As for the money, 60 players had topped $790,000 after Sergio Garcia won the 2017 Masters.

Garcia, once considered Tiger's greatest threat, needed 74 cracks before winning a major. Five years ago, he canvassed the tour, evaluated his own game and concluded he never would. Young guns in recent years made Garcia's concession seem more a matter of fact and less a point of emphasis about his inability to break through.

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Tiger played in his first PGA tournament in 1992, missing the cut in the Nissan Los Angeles Open as a 16-year-old amateur. Twenty-five years later, the tour is decorated with stars who were born the same year or later. Jordan Spieth was born 16 months after Woods shot 72-75 and missed the cut by six strokes at Riviera.

You know about Spieth, who delivered in Tiger-like fashion in 2013 and became one of the top players on tour. He won the Masters and U.S. open before his 22nd birthday. In the same year, he finished fourth in the British Open and second in the PGA Championship.

Spieth, who turns 24 in July, already has nine career victories. He finished second 10 times, had 44 Top 10 finishes and 75 finishes in the Top 25. All that in only 113 events while making $28.5 million. And yet, after finishing tied for 11th at the Masters, he was fourth on the 2017 PGA money list among players 25 or younger.

Hideki Matsuyama, 25, was second with more than $4.7 million in earnings with four Top 10 finishes in his first 11 events. Justin Thomas, who turns 24 on April 29, had three victories and more than $4.3 million earnings. Jon Rahm, 22, had one win while pocketing more than $3.5 million.

Even if you've become familiar with the aforementioned four, you likely know less about 24-year-old Daniel Berger. He earned more than $3 million in each of the past two seasons and was more than halfway there with $1.6 million in is first 12 events this year. He's on the verge of greatness, overshadowed by others greater.

You may not be aware of Tyrell Hatton, Cheng Tsung Pan or Michaek Kim. All three are 25 or younger and among the Top 60 on the money list. Thomas Pieters finished fourth in the Masters. He's a 25-year-old from Belgium. Ollie Schniederjans 's name suggests the Netherlands, but he's a former Georgia Tech star from Dallas.

Aaron Wise, 20, of Cape Town, South Africa, is cutting his teeth on the Tour while playing in limited PGA Tour events. He was in the Top 10 in driving distance after six PGA Tour events and made a quick $209,000, supplementing his income with another $52,000 on the lower-level tour.

They were watching and practicing and fantasizing about someday becoming the next Tiger Woods, and now they're everywhere. Thanks to Tiger, more are on the way. Thanks to Tiger's impact, there will never be another quite like him.

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