Nick Bonfield asks 'will The Open miss Tiger Woods' ahead of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon in Ayrshire
Will The Open miss Tiger Woods?
There’s a fascinating battle at the top of the world rankings, a youthful and vibrant feel to professional golf, more talent than ever before and top-tier tournaments seemingly every week.
Watching the Big Three – which should arguably be the Big Four or Big Five, depending on your outlook – jostle for position is genuinely compelling, and the professional game is teeming with superstars. Simply put, golf hasn’t been in this good a shape since the days of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus.
So, will The Open miss Tiger Woods? And, more generally, does professional golf miss Tiger Woods? It’s a tricky one, because it’s a multi-faceted question, and the answer is both no and yes.
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On the course, there are so many main plots and sub-plots that it’s tricky to see where a Woods narrative would fit in. You could argue that a lack of Tiger has freed a number of players up, and, as a consequence, we’re seeing golf of an almost unfathomable standard from a whole host of pros.
In the heat of battle on Sunday afternoon at a Major, the action is generally so good that I would contend very few people, if any at all, are focussing on the lack of Woods. Plus, there’s nothing more irritating than watching Woods over the weekend at a Major when he’s barely made the cut and lingering around the 60th-place mark.
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And yet, I’m writing this article. That, in itself, is more revealing than any argument I make here.
Tiger remains the biggest draw in professional golf, and he hasn’t even hit a ball in a competitive event for the best part of ten months.
Arguably the most captivating storyline this year has been his efforts to return from injury. Every time Tiger makes a public appearance, it whips everyone into a wild frenzy. Thousands and thousands of column inches are penned and every one of his words is analysed and scrutinised to the nth degree.
That just didn’t happen – at least to nowhere near the same extent – when Rory McIlroy, probably the second most popular golfer in the world, injured his ankle playing football last summer.
I use the following example fairly often, because it’s so telling. When Woods announced his intention to play at the 2015 Phoenix Open, ticket sales surged and the event posted record attendance. An additional 750 media credentials were issued – 200 more than the previous highest number – and an auxiliary media centre had to be constructed. No one else has that gravitas.
When asking ‘will The Open miss Tiger Woods’, it’s best to spit the answer into pre-tournament and during the tournament. Before the action gets underway, Woods’ absence is always discussed in detail (although arguably increasingly less so). After the first tee shot is struck, he becomes an afterthought.
Why? Once play begins, there are tangible plots to focus on. Before that happens, we need to create stories, and who better to turn to than a man who’s provided more storylines than the rest of the golfing world combined throughout the course of his career. The word transcend is overused, but it’s applicable here.
The bottom line is that no one else has, and no one else ever will, have a bigger impact on the game of golf than Tiger Woods – a product of a unique set of circumstances that won’t be replaced again.