The popularity of professional golf took another hit this weekend, as it saw two of its biggest stars hurting. One was hurting physically after doing battle with a tree root, while the other continued to hurt mentally as he continues to ride the roller coaster that has been his life over the past two years or so.
Rory McIlroy is not the next Tiger Woods.
For some time now, golf analysts have attempted to stuff this idea down our throats. There is no denying that McIlroy is a great player, but a player of Woods' caliber comes along once in a generation, and maybe four or five times in the history of the game.
Having Woods down and out for a good part of the past two years has prompted golf's keepers to constantly look for someone to hang their hats on. Someone to replace Tiger. Someone with a good clean image and a solid game who won't text every Vegas waitress he meets.
They want a winner, and they want someone who will dominate the game. Rory McIlroy is not that person. Phil Mickelson is not that person. Maybe in another 10 or 15 years, someone will come around that compares to Tiger's consistency and dominance when he was at the top of his game, but there is simply no one in the field right now with those traits.
McIlroy is a great player; look for him to win multiple majors and continue to play solid golf for years. This weekend's minor hand injury is just a small hiccup, barely worth noting in the grand scheme of things. McIlroy is not Tiger in his prime, and he will shoot 73s from time to time. This is a fact the golf world must accept before they are too quick to anoint McIlroy as the new king of golf.
The fact that McIlroy is not the next Woods is an unfortunate truth for professional golf, but it is a truth nonetheless, and it is painful to continuously watch golf commentators grasping for straws in an attempt to find a replacement for their fallen star.
This Thursday's 77 leaves Tiger with more questions than answers about his golf game.
It is another step in cementing the thought that Tiger Woods will simply never be the golfer he once was ever again. I hope that this isn't true. Most people would love to see a happy ending to the horror story that has been Woods' life over the past few years but, with each passing golf outing, it seems less and less likely.
Woods noted before this weekend's tournament that he felt 100 percent physically. I wish that some reporter had asked him how he felt mentally, as I'm guessing that number would have been hovering somewhere around the 50s.
Physically, it seems as if Woods is sound (minus that lame goatee) but, without a doubt, the mental stability and focus that previously made Tiger such a dominating player, week in and week out, is lacking.
I don't see Tiger winning another Masters, as the consistency and focus needed to pull off one of golf's most impressive feats does not seem to be in Woods' repertoire anymore. Sure, he'll win a tournament here and there, but winning another Masters is a different story. Woods may find himself stuck at the number 14 for a long time.
Again, I hope I'm wrong, and I hope Tiger can pull himself out of this funk. But unfortunately, I don't see it happening. At least, I don't see him pulling himself all the way out, back to being the unquestioned best player in the world that he once was.
Golf's current status, given the truths about Tiger's and Rory's games, leaves some good news and some bad news for the game.
The good news is that golf has some impressive young stars, such as Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler. These young players give way to a bright future for competitive golf. The field seems to be much more competitive in recent months as well, as evidenced by names such as Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele headlining the leaderboard on this Sunday afternoon at the PGA Championship.
The bad news for golf is that it probably won't enjoy the same popularity that it experienced for years when Tiger Woods was at the top of his game. There simply isn't a suitable replacement for Woods right now, and golf ratings and its popularity have suffered from that.
When Tiger does play now, many people seem to be tuning in to watch for a different reason: not to see what incredible feat Woods will make look routine this week, but instead to see if Woods can stay on his feet in his quest to regain some semblance of his former self.