Many golf officianados know the Masters Tournament’s primary moniker as “A Tradition Unlike Any Other”.
For the last 19 years, four-time champion Tiger Woods has been a part of that tradition. When it was announced on April 3 that Woods had undergone successful back surgery, and would have to miss the hallowed tournament the week after, many questioned the impact it would have on the event, and the sport itself.
After all, there was no denying that El Tigre was considered the biggest draw in golf, if not all of sports. Whether it was because people wanted to see him inch closer to catching Jack Nicklaus’ elusive record of 18 Major Championship victories, or it was because they wanted to see him fail, as a result of his past personal transgressions, Woods brought millions of eyes to any golf event he attended. The Masters – for all of its tradition and fanfare – was no exception.
With the tournament having come to a conclusion on Sunday, it saw 2012 Masters champion – and self-proclaimed “Golf Boy” – Bubba Watson hold off 20-year-old Texan Jordan Spieth to claim his second green jacket in three years. It ended fittingly with his wife at his side, and his adopted two-year-old son in his arms. It was a somewhat compelling event, that saw Watson and Spieth in a tie for the lead, with Swede Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler and Miguel Angel Jimenez not far behind. It was only a matter of Watson holding serve for the Back 9 to clinch the championship.
Unfortunately for the tournament, however, the combination of Tiger’s absence and a lack of real drama in the final round ended what some called a “dull” Masters. After the Watson victory, the main storyline was centered around the fact that Tiger wasn’t there.
As unfair as that may seem, one only needs look at the ratings numbers to confirm what is an unfortunate reality about the current state of golf. The fact was that ratings were down 24 percent from 2013 – a Masters that saw Adam Scott defeat Angel Cabrera in a playoff – and earned a 7.8 rating during the final round, a 10-year low.
That’s not to say the sport is without its names, its intriguing storylines, and personalities – even without Tiger. Scott, for example – the handsome Aussie that has won a Masters Tournament with Tiger’s former caddie back in 2013 – can be a big international draw for golf.
The same can be said for former No. 1-ranked golfer Rory McIlroy – the 24-year-old Irishman has won two majors, himself. His fiery game can be enough to intrigue fans both here and abroad. Lest we forget, he also gained notoriety with the American media landscape when he had critical things to say about Woods and his game at the time, back in 2011.
And with Spieth’s game and young age (he would have been the youngest Masters winner ever had he pulled off a victory on Sunday), he could emerge as the next great American golfer, along with names like Watson, Fowler and Zach Johnson. He obviously has the talent, and the time, to make a name for himself – even win a major or two – before Tiger comes back to form.
However, it’s a harsh reality the sport has to face: despite all that, golf has gained much of its current popularity through one man – Tiger Woods. Without the massive draw he pulls on a tournament-by-tournament basis, even its majors are essentially dead in the water.
Perhaps the Boston Herald’s Ron Borges is right – that the current young guns of the golf landscape will have to take full advantage of this Tiger-less summer, to garner popularity within the sport, and out in mainstream pop culture; to grab this proverbial bull by the horns and dominate golf’s biggest stages; to tap into their greatest talents and lap fields like Tiger used to do in the early 2000s.
Until then, the game’s massive popularity when Tiger was playing will have to remain where Tiger essentially is – Out To Lunch.