The Sooner He Gets His Game In Shape, The Better Off The Tour -- And Sport -- Will Be

By Steve Silverman
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The PGA Tour is a big, sleepy bore.

Golf needs Tiger Woods now more than ever.

The season has been a flat-out disaster. Quick: Do you remember who won the Masters? It was Bubba Watson, who is supposed to be one of the tour’s more interesting characters. That may be a stretch.

You probably remember that Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open, because that tournament was just a couple of weeks ago. However, it was a runaway and Kaymer was basically the only golfer who put on a memorable show. While the German’s game was razor sharp at Pinehurst, his personality was dishwater dull.

There has been very little excitement on the PGA Tour since Woods had to step away due to his back injury earlier this year. His subsequent surgery caused him to miss the first two majors of the year, and there has been little interest in golf without him.

The diehards among us will always follow the big events. Some of us have it ingrained in us from early childhood, when a couple of fairly decent golfers named Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus used to battle in all the major tournaments on an every-year basis.

Now that was a golf rivalry. Two distinct personalities and two huge followings. Decades later, everybody is warm and fuzzy when reminiscing about Arnie and Jack, but it was anything but soft and sweet during the 1960s. Arnie was the People’s Choice, while Nicklaus was often seen as the unlikable villain.

Golf needs its superstars and it needs it rivalries. Since Tiger reached the top of the profession, there have been many golfers who appeared to be ready to challenge him.

Players like Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott have all seemed worthy of mounting a good challenge and putting on a memorable Sunday duel with Tiger. But it has rarely worked out that way.

Perhaps Tiger’s most memorable duel came in 2008 at the U.S. Open, when a fiery but relatively ordinary golfer named Rocco Mediate played the best golf of his life and fought it out with Tiger down the final back nine. The two ended up tied for the lead and were forced to engage in an 18-hole playoff. Even that wasn’t enough to decide the match as Tiger needed one extra hole to claim victory.

Tiger has not won a major tournament since, and while he has had a few close calls such as a second-place finish at the 2009 PGA Championship and a tie for third in the 2012 British Open, he has been fighting to get back to top form.

He goes back to work Thursday at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional in Bethesda, Md. It is a time to celebrate, because if Tiger has no ill effects from his back surgery, he will remain on tour through the rest of the season.

That means he will play in the British Open, the PGA and the Ryder Cup. If he can qualify, he’ll also play in the end-of-season tour championship events.

Golf ranks at about 4.5 on the sports Richter scale when Tiger is not playing. When he tees it up, the Richter reading goes up to 8.0. When he’s fighting for a title in a big event, the sport gets a 9.5 rating.

Not everybody loves Tiger, but he has always had the “it” factor working in his favor. Of all his supposed challengers, Mickelson probably has more pizzazz than anybody else.

There is nothing that the golf world wants to see more than a Tiger-Phil duel down the stretch at one of the major championships.

Golf fans would settle for a Tiger-Rory battle or perhaps even Tiger and young phenom Jordan Spieth slugging it out in the final round.

Golf needs a real rivalry involving its top superstar.

The sport gets a lift with his return. He has to show his game is sharp and then he needs a top star to challenge him.

That would fix the ailing PGA Tour.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy

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