I don’t know what it is about The Masters that gets me so excited every year in April. It could be the tradition and pageantry and astonishing closing drama. It could be the fact that it is the unofficial start of spring (the snow and cold that showed up this week notwithstanding). It could be the fact that it sits fittingly between the end of March Madness and the beginning of the NHL and NBA playoffs. It could even be that for four days I am convinced golf really isn’t that hard and I could do what those guys do (HA! Not in a million years). Whatever the reason, it is a weekend that even folks who hate golf can appreciate, regardless of the fact that they’re only tuned in to see if the money they wagered on some guy named Jonas Blixt is going to pay off – looking at you O’Rourke.
Having said all that, you know what I found myself doing this past Sunday while Bubba Watson strolled down the famed 18th fairway en route to his second green jacket in three years? Watching the money, drug and sex infused marathon of a movie The Wolf of Wall Street.
Why, you ask? It’s simple. Tiger Woods was out with back surgery. Now, all comparisons between the raucous Jordan Belfort and Tiger and his questionable romps with a few (okay, a laundry list) of porn stars aside – I don’t think I was alone in my disinterest.
Oh, you want to point out that he hasn’t won a major championship in almost six years and hasn’t won The Masters in nine? And how he has fizzled out on the weekend multiple times since returning from his “sex-addict rehab” (as if that is a real thing)? IT DOESN’T MATTER! THE DUDE IS A ONCE IN A LIFETIME PLAYER AND THE PGA WOULDN’T BE WHAT IT IS TODAY WITHOUT HIM.
You want proof? How about the lowest weekend TV ratings for The Masters in almost twenty years. TWENTY! I was just a drooling, uncoordinated little shit back then (some would argue that not much has changed in that regard, but I digress). Sure, a 20-year-old up and comer Jordan Spieth brought some interest and Bubba is an appealing and polarizing figure in his own right, but it didn’t matter. Combine Tiger’s absence with Phil “Lefty” Mickelson missing the cut and, well, let’s just say Sunday at The Masters was all but background noise for most.
The PGA and the game of golf needs Tiger – and whatever he has left in the tank.
Many people claim to hate Tiger and wish he would go away after his adulterous behavior. I’m not one to stand on moral high ground here and neither are you, most likely, but this isn’t about him off the course. It’s about the entertainment and fire he brings on it. What he has done since bursting onto the scene as a 21-year-old Masters winner will never be matched. That’s a fact. He’s a freak and when his body finally breaks down and he can no longer compete, it will be a sad day for the PGA and its fans.
Golf purists will be quick to point out that fan favorites like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Ricky Fowler (stupid Puma outfits aside) will continue to bring in young fans and plenty of excitement. They’re not wrong. Hell many guys tune in just to see how much dip Jason Dufner can stuff in his mouth while giving “golf etiquette” the finger. But even the players themselves admit it’s not the same without Tiger and his goose bump-inducing fist pumps (quotes courtesy of ESPN):
Mickelson: "It's awkward to not have him here ... He's been the one that's really propelled and driven the bus because he's brought increased ratings, increased sponsors, increased interest."
Justin Rose: "Win, lose or draw, he's a very big draw for the game. People are eager to see how he's going to chase down Jack Nicklaus in every major championship."
McIlroy: "Having Tiger in a tournament definitely creates more buzz, more of an atmosphere. ... I think people will miss him at the start of the week, but by the end of the week, when it comes down to who is going to win the golf tournament, there's going to be a worthy winner and it will produce a lot of excitement."
Sorry Rory, there was ZERO excitement.
Long ago, there used to be a different “The Guy” every week, led by the great Jack Nicklaus. There was Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and Johnny Miller and Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw and Greg Norman and John Daly (well, he’ll always be “The Guy”) and Lee Trevino. Today, and for the past 17 years, there has only been one, Tiger. Like it or not, he has single-handedly propelled the game’s popularity to unimaginable heights.
“Oh yea, I’ve always been a big Lefty fan. Forget Tiger.”
“Who cares about Tiger? How can you not root for a guy like Matt Kuchar? Jason Day is a real up-and-comer too.”
“Brandt Snedeker, awesome swing, and he’s already won a FedEx Cup!”
I’ve heard it all. From friends and from family. Everyone trying to get behind some other dude on tour because they don't like the way Tiger carries himself in interviews or because of how he's perceived in the public eye. Again I ask, who cares? You know who wouldn’t be relevant today if it weren’t for Tiger? All of the above. I’m fairly certain the FedEx Cup wouldn't be a thing without Tiger, either.
Experts have long said that his aggressive swing (and perhaps a few chemical enhancements here and there.. cough, cough) would catch up to him and break down his body. We can only hope this isn’t happening yet because whether he wins or not, just knowing he is out there ready to pounce makes watching infinitely more enjoyable and entertaining. I think everyone can admit to that, like the man or not. And if he’s not fit enough to play in the US Open when it arrives at the hallowed grounds of Pinehurst, made so famous by Payne Stewart before his tragic death, then I may as well find another movie for that Sunday right now.
Get well soon, Tiger. The PGA and its fans need ya.