When Tiger Woods announced that he would not be playing in the Masters this year, the price of tickets to the tournament immediately dropped by 20%. Throughout his career, even during his struggles in recent years, television ratings for all golf tournaments plummet when Tiger is not in the field. For all the talk in recent years about all the up and coming young golfers, Rory McIlroy has been the only one to show a glimmer of potential to become a true superstar, but his career has been in reverse since he signed his massive endorsement deal with Nike.
Much has been made of Tiger not having won a major since 2008, but only McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have won more than one over that stretch. For most of the majors since Tiger’s playoff victory at Torrey Pines we have seen a steady stream of little known first time winners, most of whom have been more likely to miss cuts than contend for another major. When was the last time anyone has seen Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, or Darren Clarke on television on a Sunday of a major? Even most of the next big thing 20-somethings have already started to fizzle before hitting 30. Anthony Kim may or may not still be a professional golfer. Dustin Johnson’s girlfriend get more coverage in Golf Digest than he does these days.
As if it weren’t bad enough that injuries were keeping Tiger out of action, the only other golfer who can truly drive TV ratings, Phil Mickelson, who is approaching his mid-forties and is battling arthritis, missed the cut for the first time in 1997. With the prospect of its two biggest draws nearing the twilight of their careers, golf is crying out for a new superstar to capture the public’s attention. How lucky would the PGA be if the very same year Tiger misses his first Masters someone takes his record as the youngest Masters winner ever?
Even if Spieth turns out to be a flash in the pan or only ends up with an average pro career, it would at least generate some buzz for the remainder of the year and give Tiger’s back a chance to heal and for Rory to get used to his Nike clubs. Fortune seems like it may be smiling on the PGA, as two journeymen vying for the lead, John Senden and Thomas Bjorn, fell back from contention on Saturday, while Bubba Watson retained a share of the lead and Ricky Fowler surged up the leaderboard. While Bubba or Ricky putting on a green jacket would be a much better outcome than most of the major winners in recent years, nothing would compare to a 20 year old putting on a green jacket on Sunday.