Life without Tiger

Golf is going to be okay.

At first, we weren’t quite sure. For over a decade, Tiger Woods captivated golf audiences around the world even before he won his first Masters in 1997. He posted remarkable scores under par, won the “Tiger Slam” in the prime of his reign as the World #1 player, and consistently found his name at the top of every leaderboard. Tiger Woods, to be fair, was golf. American viewers flocked to grandstands and televisions, seeing Tiger’s fiery personality match the same intensity that he fueled into every shot. In 2009, his well-publicized leave of absence left the sport with a gaping hole. Suddenly Tiger’s quest for 18 majors ground to a halt. TV ratings plummeted; fans lost interest. Tournament sponsors wondered if the game’s popularity would ever recover. Now Tiger is playing again, but the older Tiger is far from the Tiger of old. He is 38 years old, has endured multiple knee and back surgeries; his swing mechanics put an incredible amount of strain on his body, and he is always under pressure and scrutiny whenever he tees off. He hasn’t won a major in 6 years, and although the unluckiest deflection off the pin at the 2013 Masters may have played a role in that, the Tiger who showed up at last weekend’s PGA championship isn’t likely to contend for another one anytime soon.

But golf is going to be fine.

Not because we are waiting for an eventual return to Tiger greatness, but because we are in the midst of Rory McIlroy’s own remarkable winning streak in his young career. Because Rory has already won 4 majors, posting impressive scores each time. He will roll into Augusta for a chance at the career Grand Slam, 4 years after an atrocious final round 80 cost him the green jacket in 2011.

And also because Phil Mickelson is still trying to win the elusive US Open, ending the heartbreak of his 6 runner-up finishes. He already has 3 Masters wins, and would love to cap off his own career Slam. Not to mention he has continued to play well despite dealing with arthritis (and whatever financial investigation in which he is involved; he has not been charged with any wrongdoing).

And because Rickie Fowler is playing the best golf of his career, finishing in the Top 5 in all 4 majors this year. He has quickly become one of golf’s young stars, and will likely be hoisting a major trophy soon enough

Because Jordan Spieth has yet to reach the prime of his likely outstanding career.

Because we could see Bubba Watson’s long drives win him a few more green jackets.

Because Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia are still trying to shed the infamous “best player to never win a major” label, despite a combined 67 professional wins and multiple runner-up finishes in major tournaments.

And because every tournament seems to have another “can you believe that” shot, and of course the guy yelling “get in the hole” even off the tee. And every tournament might have the same thrilling finish we saw last weekend. If you missed it, you missed out.

No matter who you’re rooting for, the stage is set for great golf in the upcoming years. You may want to tune in a few times (the broadcasting is getting better too, with less down time between shots). Over the next few years, golf is going to be very exciting to watch. Whether the same can be said for Tiger, we’ll have to wait and see.  AN

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