Weak Masters Tournament proves that golf needs Tiger Woods

Love him or hate him (many people just hate him), PGA golf and the Masters just isn’t the same without him.

Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods.

Woods turned pro in 1996 and quickly took the golf world by storm. He won his first Masters in 1997 (the youngest player ever to do so) by 12 strokes, and dominated the golf world, basically mowing down any challengers for the large majority of the first decade in the 21st century.

And then the rumors started. A few days before Thanksgiving in 2009, The National Enquirer reported that Woods was having an affair. But we didn’t believe it. We didn’t believe it because it was The National Enquirer, and we didn’t believe it because it was Tiger Woods.

Woods was too perfect, too focused, too mentally strong to be distracted.

But reality set in, and the story came to a head when Woods crashed his car in his driveway after a fight with his wife late on Thanksgiving evening. Suddenly, we were forced to believe.

The aftermath of the accident was ugly for Woods, his fans, his sponsors and for the PGA.

First came the voice messages and text messages to the mistresses. Yes, multiple mistresses. Some were strippers, others were porn stars. There was a playboy model, a self-proclaimed cougar and even a Perkins waitress. There was an estimated 120 mistresses in all.

Then, Woods released multiple written statements confirming that the truth was as ugly as it appeared and announcing that he would be leaving golf for a while. This led to a slew of sponsors (including Accenture, Gatorade, AT&T; and General Motors, among others) dropping Woods.

Then came the the sex addiction rehab, the awkward television apology and, ultimately, Woods’ demise. He returned to the Masters in 2010, but he just wasn’t the same and, frankly, he just hasn’t been the same since.

However, for as much as Woods has suffered, the game of golf has suffered equally, and it was never more apparent than Sunday when Woods missed his first Masters tournament in 19 years because of back surgery.

Fans missed Woods and advertisers probably missed him as well, as the tournament earned its lowest television ratings since 2004. That year, Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut this year, won.

This year’s tournament was decided on the eighth and ninth holes Sunday, as a four-shot swing gave Bubba Watson the lead for good, and that old saying about the Masters not starting until the back nine on Sunday was rendered meaningless.

To say that the Masters was boring would be an understatement. Lifeless, bland, stale, even tedious and colorless (literally, lacking Tiger’s signature red shirt), are more appropriate descriptors. The Masters without Tiger is like caviar without champagne.

Think back to 2005, when Woods made up four shots on Sunday to take Chris DeMarco to a playoff where Woods eventually won.

That year, Woods hit the greatest golf shot in the history of the universe on hole 16. To this day, I get chills watching Woods, then-caddy Steve Williams and a crowd of thousands erupt and hearing CBS announcer Jim Nance ask — no, scream, “In your life, have you seen anything like that?”

No, at that point in my life I had never seen anything like that, and I still have never seen anything like that. My dad, brother and I erupted, too, giving each other high fives as if Michael Jordan had just hit a game winner.

We were elated that we got to witness greatness, and that is what sports is all about.

Until that day, I was never a big golf fan, but after, I was glued to every major and certainly every Masters.

He may still be the No. 1 golfer in the world, but to say Woods is back to top form would be a lie. The fact is, he hasn’t won a major since the Thanksgiving disaster (he won 14 majors in the 11 years before that) and some speculate he will never win another, even if he does hold onto the top ranking.

Let’s hope that isn’t the case, not just for Woods, but for sports fans in general.

Reach the columnist at npmendo@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NPMendoza