The next time the PGA Tour trots out its "These Guys Are Good" campaign, it doesn't need to show any spectacular shots, just a bunch of unfamiliar faces.
Andre Stolz won in Las Vegas. Ryan Palmer won at Disney. Vaughn Taylor won at the Reno-Tahoe Open. Palmer became the 10th first-time winner on the PGA Tour this year by closing with a 62 last week, although that's hardly news.
Two years ago, there were 18 players who won for the first time. What stands out in 2004 is that five of them were on the Nationwide Tour last year -- Stolz, Palmer, Taylor, Mark Hensby and Zach Johnson.
Todd Hamilton got his card at Q-school, then won the Honda Classic and British Open.
"It's getting harder just to get out here," Tiger Woods said. "Then once you get out here, it's harder to stay because you have to shoot lower scores . . . on more difficult golf courses. The pool is getting deeper and deeper."
Small wonder that when Briny Baird walked off the course Sunday with a runner-up finish at the Funai Classic, he told PGA Tour rules official Jon Brendle, "This is a really, really tough tour to win on."
More evidence came this month.
Everyone is capable of winning, but players usually have been building toward a good week when it happens. That wasn't the case in Las Vegas, where Stolz's best finish was a tie for 34th in New Orleans. He was 217th on the money list, then put together rounds of 67-67-65-67 to win.
Brent Geiberger, whose only other victory came in 1999, was 144th on the money list when he won in Greensboro. Taylor had missed two straight cuts, then won at Reno.
"The guys are good. The slogan does not lie," Vijay Singh shrugged after he tied for second at Disney. "Anybody who is on the tour has the capability of playing well and winning golf tournaments."
Curtis Will Stay at Home
Ben Curtis won't be piling up the frequent flier miles next year. Curtis took up full membership on the European tour, where he has a 10-year exemption from his victory in the 2003 British Open. But it didn't pan out the way he had hoped, as he made only two cuts at the start of the season.
It was enough travel to make the 27-year-old want to stay home next year.
"I'm just going to play over here," Curtis said. "It was just too tough. I had a great time, but I want to keep coming back to the same courses here and get [experience] under my belt. That can only help."
Curtis wound up playing 26 times this year -- 20 on the PGA Tour, six in Europe -- and he says that's a good number for him. He still might play once in Europe next year, but the rest will be on the PGA Tour.
"I don't regret it," he said. "In the long run, I think it will be good."
Lehman Has Ryder Cup Ambitions
Tom Lehman is thinking ahead to the 2006 Ryder Cup, if not as a captain then a player. He already has let the PGA of America know he is interested in the captaincy, but won't lobby for the job.
"I don't think it's anybody's place to lobby for that position," he said.
His desire to play on another Ryder Cup team comes with a caveat. Lehman first wants to win.
"I wouldn't want to play again if I wasn't winning," Lehman said. "If I didn't win a tournament the rest of my career and somehow snuck onto the team, I would be proud to be on the team -- but I'm not sure that's what the team needs. The team needs guys who are going out and kicking serious booty and winning."
The U.S. team had four players who were at least 40 at Oakland Hills, but none had won this year. Jay Haas, at 50 the second-oldest player in Ryder Cup history, had not won in 11 years.