All of the conversation surrounding yesterday’s practice round at the PGA Championship at Valhalla was about the arrival of Tiger Woods, who confirmed his spot in the tournament less than 24 hours before his scheduled first-round tee time. It was unknown whether he would participate after withdrawing from last week’s Bridgestone Invitational event due to a back injury sustained in the final round.
For fans in attendance, Tiger’s abrupt appearance on the grounds at Valhalla yesterday turned a mundane Wednesday practice round into what looked like a Sunday final-pairing frenzy.
Meanwhile, there was less mention of 25-year-old Rory McIlroy, who has supplanted Adam Scott as the No. 1 player in the world and is fresh off a win at last week’s Bridgestone Invitational and an Open Championship victory weeks earlier. PGA Tour stakeholders have a lot to feel good about with the way McIlroy is commanding the spotlight, especially after the rocky performance that coincided with his transition to Nike equipment. McIlroy is beginning to show signs of Tiger-level dominance of the sport and broadcasters are hitching their wagons to the young star. However, it’s still up in the air whether or not he can truly move the needle for the Tour, and the golf business.
Golf participation has declined since its peak in the 2000’s, when Tiger Woods was at the height of his supremacy. As this year’s fourth and final major begins, golf’s stakeholders are desperate for the storylines to move from Tiger’s back to “Tiger’s back!” It would give the sport the shot in the arm needed to alter its currently bleak outlook.
If Tiger can soon capture another major — not necessarily this weekend where he’s a long shot — it would go a long way toward revitalizing general interest in the sport. Should Tiger move to three major victories shy of Nicklaus’ record 18, closing in on the record he always seemed destined to eclipse, his ongoing pursuit would ratchet up interest in each subsequent major tournament to heights unseen.
For the industry’s long-term health, it needs a prolific Rory McIlroy. It also needs Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and other promising young stars to exceed expectations. . . . It needs the game’s young players to win on the biggest stages and in captivating fashion. But for the next five to 10 years, golf really needs Tiger back. If he maintains his health and regains his A-game to threaten Nicklaus’ record, the sport will experience a period of success it hasn’t had since Tiger’s heyday.