Four players at this week’s Players Championship can supplant the champion at the top of the rankings. Yet, will anybody notice?
A No 1 star golfer is not clear of Tiger Woods yet
Yet again, either by virtue of multiple surgeries, niggling injuries or personal scandal, Tiger Woods has gone missing, taking much of the game’s oxygen with him.
With no firm return date set after having back surgery in March, the biggest events in golf have taken hits, and his absence has served as another rude reminder of the double-edged sword of his celebrity.
Six years after his last major win and first prolonged absence, following his victory at the 2008 US Open and subsequent knee surgery, the game is no closer to identifying a reliable replacement as its frontman.
At age 38, with nearly 20 seasons as a professional and 682 weeks as world No 1 under his belt, Woods’s place in pole position is again under siege.
Four players at this week’s Players Championship can supplant the event’s defending champion at the top of the rankings, including three past winners at the TPC Sawgrass venue: Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar.
Yet, will anybody notice? When Woods missed the Masters, television ratings in the US plummeted 40 per cent from last year in the early rounds.
“You have to say, it wasn’t the same buzz,” six-time major winner Nick Faldo said this week. “Tiger takes all the focus – what he’s doing and how he’s doing it and where he is on the golf course, everything.”
If Woods is the game’s greying leading man, the casting call to replace him has not gone well.
Only two of the 25 winners on the PGA Tour’s 2013/14 schedule have been ranked in the world top 10. Moreover, recent world No 1s Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer have all dropped out of the top 10. Stars are hardly in ascent.
“To be No 1 for a duration requires a person that’s almost insatiable,” said Johnny Miller, a US television analyst.
“I don’t see guys that are willing to basically kick you in the shin just to say ‘hi’. Curtis Strange, people like that, or Raymond Floyd, Lee Trevino, who would jump off a cliff, and it’s all about them and winning and being No 1.
“I’m not saying that’s bad. It’s just very rare to see a guy that will do everything they can to be the best in the world. It’s a lot of sacrifice.”
A revolving door at No 1 is almost nobody’s preference, since most fans like their heroes, underdogs and villains outlined with clarity.
With the sport already losing momentum in the western world, the physical decline of Woods has been doubly painful.
“We need two or three [players] to step forward and be ‘the ones’, so to speak,” the R&A’s Peter Dawson said. “And we’re not quite there.”
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