In golf, too many stars do spoil the show

No dominant player in golf has caused viewership to drop on television and a general disinterest in the sport. Where have you gone, Tiger Woods? Golf nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Rory McIlroy's win at the US Open had people saying he could be the next Tiger Woods. A lacklustre British Open has mooted that talk.
Rory McIlroy's win at the US Open had people saying he could be the next Tiger Woods. A lacklustre British Open has mooted that talk.

ATLANTA // The world's top-ranked player faced more empty seats than actual people when he met with media before the US PGA Championship.

And the golfer who won last weekend has been overshadowed by the guy who carries his bag.

The last 11 majors have produced 11 winners. Nine of those were first-time major champions.

This is what golf has come to without Tiger Woods dominating the game. Some might say that is a good thing - no one wants to see the same champion week after week, year after year.

Then again, this parity thing does not seem to be working out quite as well for golf as it does for, say, the NFL.

Transcendent stars such as Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer are the ones who lure fans through the gates and pump up the television ratings.

"You can't say that when Tiger was winning lots of major championships, it was boring or dull," Lee Westwood said. "It was exciting to watch and see what he would do next."

Rory McIlroy notwithstanding, golf seems to be looking desperately for the next big thing.

Those 11 different winners in recent majors includes six in a row who won a major for the first time — Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy and Darren Clarke.

Maybe that shows the depth of the game. That does not mean it is good for the game.

Woods has captured 14 major titles, but none since he hobbled to a remarkable victory at the 2008 US Open on a knee that needed major surgery. The following year, his marriage fell apart amid allegations of philandering.

This year, another leg injury kept him from playing in either the US Open or the British Open.

After a three-month layoff, Woods returned last week at Firestone but was not a factor, finishing 18 strokes behind winner Adam Scott. His next shot at winning that 15th major comes in the US PGA Championship, which begins Thursday. Woods is no longer the world's No 1 player. In fact, he's 30th in the rankings and getting more attention for dumping his longtime caddie, Stevie Williams, than anything he has done lately on the course.

Clarke, for one, misses the good old days.

"Tiger was the best player for a very long time and he raised the bar in terms of what everybody else did and everybody else's preparation," said Clarke, who became one of golf's oldest first-time major champions when he captured the British Open at age 42. "Tiger has been wonderful for the game. He really has."

No one has more potential star power than McIlroy, who captured his first major title in June with a record-breaking romp at the US Open, but it is still a bit early in the game to declare him the next Tiger Woods. And there are other potential stars, from the 22-year-old American, Rickie Fowler, to 19-year-old Japanese phenom, Ryo Ishikawa.

But, without Woods at his peak, there is just not the same buzz, much as it was for the NBA after Michael Jordan faded away.

"The fans always enjoy the hero, the one player who does dominate that they can cheer for," said Luke Donald, the current No 1, to a mostly empty room with 20 reporters, during a media day prior to the US PGA Championship. "Tiger was that person, obviously."

Published: August 11, 2011 04:00 AM


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