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Why Golf Needs a New Tiger Woods - But No One Comes Close

By: | Mon 19 Feb 2024

Following the short appearance of Tiger Woods at last week's Genesis Invitational, in his new View From The Fairway colulmn, Golfshake's Derek Clements reflects on the unique star power of the 15-time major champion and describes why it's a major problem for golf that no one else comes anywhere near close. 

The biggest story in golf last week was the return to competitive play of Tiger Woods. Each and every time that Woods tees it up it moves the dial - big time.

The 15-time major champion is now 48 years old. His most recent victory came at the ZOZO Championship in 2019. It was a highly significant success because it meant that he equalled Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins. This is all the more remarkable when you stop for a moment to consider all the time Woods has missed through injury.

In the four-and-a-half years that have passed since that win, Woods has been through the wringer again. He nearly lost his left leg in a horrific car crash three years ago and has played little or no competitive golf since. And after a mediocre opening round at the Genesis, Woods had to withdraw during the second round because of illness. 

His world ranking now stands at 896th. The Genesis Invitational is one of the PGA Tour’s signature events and, by rights, Woods should not even have been in the field. But as tournament host, they could hardly say no to the greatest golfer of his generation, could they?

He is likely to want to play in the US Open at Pinehurst in June but his exemption has run out. This means that he will have to pre-qualify. That, of course, will not happen. The USGA will grant him a special exemption unless they want to alienate every golf fan on the planet.

In his prime, Woods was able to do things no other golfer could. There was a sense that he could will the ball into the hole. Even now, he has a presence on the golf course that no other top professional can come close to matching.

Tiger Woods

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Woods recently ended his long association with Nike and it says much about his standing within the game at his advanced age that there was a huge surge in interest surrounding the announcement of his partnership with a new clothing brand. Woods unveiled his new lifestyle brand Sun Day Red and the new Instagram account @sundayred attracted more than 100,000 followers in under 24 hours.

It was interesting to check out the golf section on the BBC Sport website on Friday night after Woods withdrew - of the five featured golf stories, four of them related to Woods - his new clothing deal, his return to competitive play, a report of his first round and a report about his withdrawal.

I believe that had he been in his prime, LIV Golf may not have happened. And if it had, there would have been little or no public interest.

The point of all of this is to prove that, just two years before he is eligible to play on the Champions Tour, Woods is still box office. And that could be a problem for professional golf.

Even if he is fit enough to be able to manage the one tournament a month that he has indicated is his target, will he be competitive? Woods being Woods, he will no doubt surprise us all. But the harsh reality is that he is highly unlikely to ever again contend at any tournament.

The reality is that golf and the PGA Tour need a new superstar. Ideally, it needs more than one.

Over the years, Woods has seen off the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, David Duval and Colin Montgomerie. 

If we go back further, was there a more thrilling rivalry than that involving Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player? What about Ben Hogan and Sam Snead? Going way back, there was the Great Triumvirate of Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor. 

Back in 2010 it looked like the next global icon was going to be Rory McIlroy as he burst onto the scene in the most thrilling fashion. He quickly won four majors - the US Open in 2011, the PGA Championship in 2012 and 2014 and The Open in 2014. He has not won one since. There have been plenty of near-misses, but McIlroy has not been able to add to his major tally. He produces spells of breathtaking play but, while Woods and Nicklaus were able to save their best for the majors, McIlroy seems to keep getting in his own way.

Putting to one side his defection to LIV Golf, Brooks Koepka is a fabulous golfer who has so far claimed five majors. But is he box office? Certainly not. The same applies to Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa. They are both multiple major winners, but would you go out of your way to see either of them play? I am not sure that I would. 

Brian Harman? Wyndham Clark? I don’t think so. Cameron Smith? When you think of the Australian, the word “charisma” does not immediately come to mind.

Scottie Scheffler? A fabulously consistent golfer but, for me at least, the jury is still out. If he can sort out his putting stroke, he could win 10 majors or more. 

Bryson DeChambeau is a marmite golfer - yes, he can do some very special things, but he only seems to know one way to play the game, doesn’t know the meaning of the word “ strategy” and is as likely to shoot an 80 as he is a 60. And when he is not on song it is not a pretty sight. And when he starts talking, everybody’s eyes glaze over.

For a time, it seemed that Jordan Spieth might be the man. There is something about Spieth that fans can relate to. But he lost his game after winning The Open in 2017 and although he has won since and has contended in a couple of majors, he is not the player who thrilled us all with his incredible play at Royal Birkdale.

I had high hopes that Jon Rahm would be the golfer to fill the void left by Woods. But then he went and defected to LIV Golf. He remains eligible for all four majors and who knows? Perhaps his reduced schedule will allow him to come to the majors feeling fresher than many of his rivals? I just have this feeling that he will not be sufficiently competitive because of his reduced schedule. That may change if and when a peace deal is negotiated.

Ludvig Aberg has made a sensational start to his professional career, winning on both the DP World Tour and PGA Tour. And he can feel genuinely aggrieved to have missed out on the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he lost out to Wyndham Clark by one shot after the tournament was reduced to 54 holes. We have every reason to expect that he will win majors - and several of them. But there are no guarantees. As of the time of writing, he has starred for Europe at the Ryder Cup but has not played in a single major.

And that leaves Viktor Hovland. I don’t know what it is about the Norwegian but, for me at least, he possesses that piece of magic and charisma that makes him stand out from the crowd. He is a proven winner but has yet to win his first major. He has been there or thereabouts but has been unable to cross the line and until he does then he is just another winner on the PGA Tour.

Golf needs another Tiger Woods, and I still don’t know where that person is coming from or who he is going to be.

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