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Sports Authority

Concannon: Golf needs its youngest stars to dominate

| Friday, April 6, 2018

I am not a hardcore golf fan. I loved golf in the era of Tiger Woods’ dominance. The early 2000s stretch of Woods against the world was incredible. My interest in golf has waned somewhat since then, as a lack of similarly dominant stars in the sport make it less interesting. The PGA needs its star players to separate themselves from the field, and it needs it badly.

The PGA depends on Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and, most of all, Woods to drive viewership. These players playing well helps, and one of them transcending the group to superstardom would be even better. Even just Woods continuing to show up helps. Tour ratings are rebounding this year, and it’s purely because Woods is playing.

Many hardcore golf fans miss this point. They argue that parity is good and that it makes it more interesting when the field is wide open. I strongly disagree, and the numbers don’t support their idea.

Last year, Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open by four strokes. He is no slouch, the current 10th-ranked player in the world, but he’s not a star. The hardcore golf enthusiasts loved watching him compete against unknowns and separate himself with a strong Sunday round, so that tournament must have had strong ratings, right?

That tournament had the second-worst TV ratings for any U.S. Open ever. Many people attributed that to a final round that ended with a 4-stroke deficit, uncompetitive on the final holes.

This is not the case. The British Open was played just a few weeks later, with Spieth winning the final round by three strokes. The final round of the British Open hit a nine-year high in ratings, simply because the one out in front was a household name.

As of the time of this writing, Spieth leads The Masters, which is great for golf, but Woods risks being cut. The entire tournament is just less interesting without Tiger playing. The tabloids, the surgery and now, finally, the comeback. It’s an irresistible story that golf needs playing through Sunday, even if he’s not in the hunt.

Golf can’t keep relying on Woods to show up and bail them out of disinterest in the sport. Woods isn’t on top of his game, and soon he won’t be playing at all. In a world without Tiger, who will fill his role driving ratings and singlehandedly drumming up interest?

As much as it pains me to admit this, probably no one. Woods was in a category of his own when it came to dominance in golf. From 2000-2008, every major felt like it was Woods against the field. The thought of someone being able to come even close to that level of dominance in this era of parity in golf is hard to imagine, but some names do come to mind.

During the early years of the Woods vacuum, it appeared that McIlroy was ready to take over. He won the 2011 US Open by eight strokes, ripping up the course at Congressional and asserting himself as one of the game’s stars. He’s won three majors since then — a solid career — but has failed to reach a “Rory versus the field” level.

Spieth could be golf’s next savior. He’s young, he’s consistent and he’s won three majors in the last three years. No one is asking him to become Woods, but if he could be even half as dominant as Tiger once was, it would be a great thing for the sport.

Golf needs its stars to be dominant. And it has to cross its fingers that Spieth and McIlroy and other stars start dominating, or golf could be in long-term trouble after Woods retires.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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