Tiger Woods was making another one of his legendary charges on Sunday at the Masters. He was 10 under, two-shots back of the lead, and six under par for the day. This time Tiger was being pushed to the limit by his playing partner Phil Mickelson who also stood at 10 under and was simultaneously shooting some of the best clutch golf of his career.
This was an ultimate made for TV sports moment. Golf’s top two players coming from way, way behind poised to sweep past a group of unknowns and into Masters glory.
Then suddenly at the 17th with an improbable victory still possible, Tiger tees off into trouble and for all practical purposes his day was done. And so was mine. While I continued watching, I no longer cared about the outcome. There would be no dramatic Tiger victory at this Masters.
Making matters worse for golf in general, Tiger’s chief challenger, Phil Mickelson, also made a costly mistake by missing what seemed the easiest of birdie puts at 17 to also drop out of contention. I didn’t have to listen closely in order to hear the sound of TV sets being turned off all across the country.
This is both the blessing and the curse of the PGA. Tiger moves the needle. He brings in the casual fan. Tiger makes everyone wealthy. With Mr. Woods, golf matters. But without Tiger, professional golf generates minor league interest.
The NBA faced a similar problem with the retirement of Michael Jordan. Jordan and the Bulls mattered and we watched. When Jordan took off his number 23 jersey for the last time in Chicago the NBA was forced to regroup. Only now, a decade after Jordan’s last championship, has the NBA begun to find ways to re-interest the casual fan.
That is the problem when a sport hitches its fortunes to a single star. The National Football League is nearly immune to this. Bad teams one year, become great teams the next. And the fans never stop watching no matter the stars or who is atop the leader board.
The Arizona Cardinals for god’s sake go to the Super Bowl this year and no one thinks its a misprint.
Super Bowl ratings were again tremendous.
Such is not the case for golf. The ratings are only great when Tiger is playing and winning. Still, we’ll postpone golf’s TV funeral for now. The sport luckily has at least 10 more years to celebrate Tiger’s greatness.
But the drop off after that point will be likely be steep and perhaps permanent unless golf finds another way to sell the game to the casual fan, or another guy captures wins and interest like Tiger has done for the last 12 years.
By the way, what happened after Tiger finished up at the Masters yesterday? There was a playoff? Three guys in it. Really? Who won? Oh—a guy named Cabrera. Okay.