News & Opinion

Golf regroups for post-Tiger world

Tiger Woods.

The name still moves the needle, no matter whether the news is good or bad. Any report concerning Woods prompts not only the hardcore golfer but the casual fan, as well, to take notice.

So, when Justin Rose suggested last week in an interview promoting the Hong Kong Open that golf is in a healthy place without the injured Woods, the logic seemed counterfactual.

If, in fact, Woods drives interest in the game, why wouldn’t golf supporters want him back?

“I think golf has found itself in a really healthy spot without Tiger at the moment," England’s Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion and the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, said in an interview with South Africa’s Sport24. “So many young players have come through and filled the void, I think to have him back is just a bonus. I don't think golf is desperate for him back."

The golf world has moved on from Woods, who underwent his fourth back surgery in April after having played only three competitive rounds in 2017. He was scheduled to be in a Palm Beach County courtroom today for a DUI hearing (“In the news,” Oct. 25, http://bit.ly/2gJiwz9); (“Woods needs help, and his life might depend on it,” May 31, http://bit.ly/2rFStwz). The fact that Woods, 41, a 14-time major champion who hasn’t won in more than four years, remains a topic of interest does not mean that he is needed.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, long after their competitive careers were done, occasionally would tee it up in a PGA Tour careers were finished, would tee it up occasionally in a PGA Tour event or a pro-am, where their presence stirred interest among golf fans. But their appearance in those later years didn’t drive professional golf.

Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and others led the game in the years before Woods emerged in the late ’90s. Now it’s a new breed of players: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, to name just a few.

"Everyone just wants to see a healthy Tiger Woods," Rose said. "It's almost gone past the point of thinking, Oh, we all really want to see Tiger win 18 majors [and match Nicklaus’ record].”

Of course, if you are Rose or any of the other 200-plus players with PGA Tour status, you want to see Woods return. He likely will not be a competitive concern, but he will generate media interest, which helps a golf event.

Rose was spot-on with his comments, and it was interesting to note that he received little, if any, criticism for them. That’s likely because golf observers recognize that while Woods might not be done with competitive golf, he will not be the dominant golfer that he was in his prime.

Jim Furyk, the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, said it best when he was asked about Woods numerous times in various news conferences in Paris recently to hype next year’s biennial matches against Europe.

“The swing that I saw on that video looked a lot like Tiger Woods,” said Furyk, referencing video that Woods posted on social media of his driver swing. “It reminded me of his swing of the past. It probably still needed a little speed. He probably still needs a little bit of golf strength, maybe. He likes to call it reps.”

After a fourth back surgery, which fused vertebrae, speed may not come easily for Woods, who would be returning to a PGA Tour with dozens of players driving the ball 300-plus yards.

Still, as Furyk would say, never count Woods out.

Yet, it’s difficult to envision Woods as a competitive threat. Should he return to the Tour, fans will rush to see him. Ultimately, that would be good for golf, for however long it might last.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli