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The Year in Golf | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

With No Tiger, It's Not Major Story

November 20, 2003|THOMAS BONK

Maybe it hasn't totally been Tiger's year, but the last time anybody checked, it's still Tiger's world, and chances are it's going to keep spinning that way for quite a while. Still, many consider it a good thing for professional golf that not a single major championship trophy from 2003 landed in the playroom of Tiger Woods' pad in Florida.

Here is another view: You must be kidding.

The truth is that Woods winning major championships is exactly what golf needs.

When you have someone as special as Woods, who attracts attention from those who don't really follow golf or even sports, his success has an effect that's simply not normal.

"Tiger Wins British Open" is one of the heavyweight sports stories of the year. Ben Curtis did it and we got "Ben Who?" headlines instead. Of course, there is nothing bad you can say about Curtis, or Shaun Micheel, who won the PGA Championship, because it's not as if they simply showed up and somebody laughed and shoved the trophy in their hands.

Curtis and Micheel earned their victories, just as Mike Weir did at the Masters and Jim Furyk did at the U.S. Open. But when you have four guys winning their first majors -- something that hadn't happened in 34 years -- that's simply not nearly as compelling as the best player in the game extending his dominance.

Woods winning majors is just what golf needs. What follows his contrail is a series of events that pays off for everyone.

When Woods wins majors, more people watch on television. That means the networks can charge the advertisers more, which means the PGA Tour can charge the networks more, which makes more money for the players. Even Curtis and Micheel can't argue with that one, not that they would.

Woods occupies a unique spot in sports. Assuming Michael Jordan doesn't make another comeback, Woods stands out as the most famous and recognizable athlete in the world. The fact that he is a golfer is borderline astounding. Outside of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, many casual sports fans probably figured the interesting thing about golf was how players could wear stripes with plaids and not cause a riot on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

There's a lot more upside to the Tiger Takes Over angle than Somebody Wins Major. Woods remains the standard, the bar, the goal, because he's the best there is.

This is not exactly a phenomenon in sports, either. We've seen it before, because it happens all the time. There are certain franchises you could always count on. The Yankees. The Celtics and the Lakers, then the Bulls, then the Lakers. Pete Sampras. Andre Agassi.

Unless you're talking about the NFL, which is happy to bring parity to the party, power brokers in sports are sort of the standard fare. As sports fans, we admire and respect the best of the best. And Woods is certainly the top broker in his sport, which makes him the best of the best.

Put it this way, when you pay to go to the symphony, you want the best conductor. Star quality, that's what it's all about. In the sometimes staid arena that is the men's professional golf tour, Woods lights the place up.

Give us Tiger every time, or something close to it. He doesn't even have to win every major, which Nicklaus couldn't do either, and he was the best of them all. But having Nicklaus in the hunt with a major championship on the line, that was the compelling story.

What happened in the majors this year was nothing short of a fluke. It was good for Weir, Furyk, Curtis and Micheel, but that doesn't make it a good year for golf.

Some people love to root for the underdog at major moments, and that's understandable, although that doesn't necessarily make those events memorable.

These are memorable moments: Tiger winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots; Tiger winning the Masters by 12 shots at 18 under par; Tiger winning the British Open at St. Andrews by eight shots; Tiger winning the PGA Championship back-to-back, which hadn't been done in 63 years.

The best moments are when the best athletes are playing at the top of their games at the most important times. That is what makes a great year instead of a mildly interesting year, which is what we had this year in men's golf.

Chances are that we're going to reach a point that we need Woods to dominate just as much as he does. He trails Nicklaus in major titles, 18-8, a margin he failed to cut into this year.

And that's too bad.

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