We caught a glimpse of golf’s future last week at the Masters.
Assuming, of course, that you watched.
Final-round ratings were the second-lowest (2004) in two decades, and down 24 percent from 2013. It was a TV exec’s worst nightmare: no Tiger (injury), no Phil (missed cut) and no back-nine drama (Bubba made par on the final five holes to win by three).
And viewers didn’t just ignore Sunday’s telecast, either: Ratings were down 40 and 30 percent, respectively, on Friday and Saturday.
Worse, we can reasonably assume that a few more big tournaments will also take a hit, with Woods likely on the sidelines until at least July, perhaps longer.
Golf, much like tennis, skiing, swimming or any other individual pursuit, thrives when it has two things: a dominant star and a rivalry. Right now, well, it has neither.
Since Woods last won a major, at the 2008 U.S. Open, 19 different players have won a Grand Slam event. Only four players (Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Mickelson, Watson) have won multiple majors.
The lack of repeat winners underscores the fact that it’s harder than ever to win on the PGA Tour. There are younger, stronger, more fearless players who are not battered and bruised from Woods’ decade-long oppression. Dimpleheads don’t mind parity in the short term, with new stories and players emerging each week, but a dominant star can thrust the sport from niche sport to the mainstream, if only four times a year.
OK, so with no world-beater at the top, at least the game could flourish with competitive friction. But today’s great rivalry is … what, exactly?
Tiger vs. Phil? Incredibly, these aging warriors have never even had a major Sunday showdown.
Ditto for Tiger and Rory, despite their equipment company’s best attempts to sell the generational tussle.
Rory vs. Jordan Spieth? Patrick Reed vs. The World?
Granted, the sport’s current dynamic could change in a matter of weeks or months. For now, the 2014 Masters provided a glimpse into golf’s uncertain future.
Your mailbag questions:
Hey #AskLav ... are you buying the recent comments that Augusta now needs to be "Bubba-Proofed"? If so, what do those changes entail?— Michael Lowe (@michaellowe) April 15, 2014
Not buying them at all, to be honest. You can’t protect a course from a “freak show” – his caddie’s words, not mine! – who can not only drive the ball absurd distances and frighteningly straight, but also possesses a deft touch around the greens. When he’s on, it’s almost unfair. Even so, the winning score at the Masters was 8-under 280, when the weather conditions were perfect (80 degrees, sun, little wind). That should tell you a firm-and-fast ANGC still has some bite – something even Bubba Ball must respect.
#AskLav: After Snedeker’s 5-putt and Kuchar’s 4-putt on No. 4, does Augusta say, ‘Hmm, maybe we shouldn’t put the pin there next year?’ Kuchar three-putts once every three rounds. You could make an argument that No. 4 prevented him from truly making a run at a green jacket.” – Luke Wilkening, via Instagram
Their putting woes on No. 4 were on different days (Saturday and Sunday, respectively), but I understand your point. At 240 yards and with a wildly undulating green, the fourth was the second most-difficult hole last week. It played nearly four-tenths of a stroke over par, and the hole yielded just 12 birdies all week. There’s nothing wrong with a brute of a par 3, but no one at the club wants to see the world’s best players – heck, the world’s best putters – embarrassed on the biggest stage. If the greens are that lightning-fast again next year, perhaps those on-the-edge hole locations will be revisited.
Who will be ranked #1 in the world when its time for the US Open? #asklav— Denis (@gc_denis) April 15, 2014
World-ranking projections show that Adam Scott could overtake Tiger with a solid performance at next month’s Players Championship. Given the fact that the world No. 2 hasn’t finished outside the top 25 since September, that prospect seems rather likely. It’s a good bet Scott will be No. 1 heading into Pinehurst.
#AskLav: If you are Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and three picks are today, who makes the U.S. team? – J.A. Solomonson, via Instagram
If the race ended today – thankfully, it does not – the nine automatic qualifiers would be: Bubba, J-Walk, DJ, Spieth, P-Reed, Kooch, Phil, Duf and Harry. Yes, the complexion of the U.S. Ryder Cup team figures to look a bit different this year. My wild-card picks, then, would be: Zach Johnson, the squad’s resident bulldog; Webb Simpson, a lights-out putter and team-first guy; and Keegan Bradley, because who else will keep Phil engaged? The Americans’ B Team wouldn’t be too bad, either: Rickie, Woodland, Hunter, Sneds, Stricker and, oh yeah, Tiger.
As much as I’d like to do a tale-of-the-tape breakdown here, suffice to say that both chaps bring a lot of cuteness to the table. If forced to choose, though, I’ll take the kid with the two-time major-champion father. When I was a boy, I went everywhere with my tattered Barney blanket. If the mansion at Isleworth ever gets drafty, Caleb can simply wrap himself up in the green jacket. He wins.