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Golf officially no longer needs Tiger

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 11:18 p.m. CST

Rory McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger teed off as the leaders in the PGA Championship on Sunday afternoon. There were a couple of times when I clicked over to see if the Twins actually were going to win a game against Oakland, so maybe I missed it, but this was a shocking occurrence in the telecast:

I don’t think any of the announcers felt the need to mention the name Tiger Woods over the next 4 1/2 hours.

Yes, there was an on-screen graphic pointing out that McIlroy would become the third-youngest player to win four majors, with Woods and Jack Nicklaus (in that order) having been younger.

Beyond that, mark down August 10, 2014 as the day that golf finally offered the personalities and the drama to wean the public off Tiger. Never again will an on-course commentator or a studio panel be required to utter the cliché, “Golf needs Tiger Woods.’’

If Tiger wants to get healthy, figure out that gawd-awful swing that he now features and become a contender into his mid-40s, as is Phil Mickelson, that’s fine, but golf does not need that comeback in order to be a fantastic attraction in the years ahead.

When stating this, we’re talking about majors, and the next tier of tournaments (the Players, World Golf events, FedEx playoffs, a couple of the pre-Masters events in Florida), not the weeklies that never attracted Woods, and aren’t going to regularly feature McIlroy and the other young stars.

Sunday’s rain delay pushed the duel for the Wanamaker Trophy all the way past dusk at Valhalla. As the USGA has discovered when it holds the U.S. Open on the West Coast, it’s good for ratings when a major is decided in prime time.

The overnight rating for Sunday was 6.0 with a 13 share … the highest for the PGA Championship in five years, since the 7.5 and 17 at Hazeltine in 2009. Yes, that rating was produced by Woods, as he shot a 3-over 75 and gave away what should have been his 15th major to the unknown Y.E. Yang.

The “golf needs Tiger’’ crowd can point at that and say, “See. Golf can’t capture the ‘casual’ fans without Woods.’’

Well, on Sunday, golf captured 80 percent of the audience brought by Tiger, when he still was at the peak of his popularity, and when all those people that he clearly brought to the game started watching on that Sunday knowing that their man was going to win.

Tiger did not win, and he has yet to get that 15th major.

My admiration for Woods as an athlete could not be greater. He was the most dominant figure in his sport that I’ve ever had the privilege to cover.

He’ll be back, he’ll compete, he might pop up and win a Masters when well past his prime as did Nicklaus in 1986, and those things will be exceptional moments. But they are not moments that golf “needs.’’

Golf — major golf — doesn’t need Tiger. That’s now official, after what occurred over four soggy days in Kentucky.

McIlroy winning a second straight major was the second-best thing that could have happened for the game on Sunday. The best would have been a first major victory for Rickie Fowler.

Mickelson? Yeah, that would have been a nice temporary hit and thrilled middle-aged (and older) golf fans who for some reason have always loved Smilin’ Phil more than Woods.

But for the future, a Fowler victory would have fully put in motion a rivalry among 25-year-olds that could carry major golf into the next decade.

I haven’t covered either of these young men — McIlroy or Fowler. From conversations with my golf-writing friends, they are both terrific guys, not as guarded as Woods, and not as full of bull as Mickelson.

If Fowler can take these four top 5s in the 2014 majors and build on that, then we have a chance to see more major weekends as wonderful as what took place at Valhalla.

This could be a longer-running golf version of tennis’ greatest rivalry: Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe from 35 years ago. That was a rivalry when as many people in this country were rooting for the European, Borg, as for the American, McEnroe.

Part of that was McEnroe’s loutish behavior; more of it was the fact it was impossible to watch Borg perform without being filled with admiration.

The same situation exists with McIlroy. Americans might want to see one of ours win, especially a non-lout such as Fowler, but it’s impossible not to be filled with admiration for McIlroy’s relentless, cool under pressure and his skill.

McIlroy’s nuked 280-yard, uphill fairway wood that set up an eagle at No. 10 and got him back in the tournament … never saw anything better than that.

It has been terrific for golf to have had Tiger Woods, the greatest player ever, for all this time, but golf doesn’t need him — not after this weekend at Valhalla.

———

©2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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