Golf is in the bunker; but they have a shot at an up-and-down

Now that the television ratings for The Masters have arrived, it has become clear the PGA needs to find a way to scramble and save par. The final round on Sunday at Augusta should have been one of the most memorable and exciting afternoons of golf in a long time. But the television viewing public did not seem to think so.

A freewheeling hothead, Sergio Garcia, was on the verge of finally getting over the hump of winning a major championship heading into Sunday atop the leaderboard. Sergio, notorious for improvised shots, slamming clubs and folding in the final round, his longtime friend Justin Rose, would be the perfect heel.

Rose, the poised Brit, never seems to let his emotions sway too far in one direction. His play matches his demeanor. He’s technically sound, takes calculated risks, and putts with precision. He speaks to the media as though he had a teleprompter, where Garcia never shies away from an expletive or jab at his opponent. It was the surgeon versus the artist. It was set up to be everything we love in sports. Contrasting play styles and personalities, overtime, lead changes, two friends in competition slapping five after nice shots — it was everything we love in golf and sports.

So why did the 2017 Master’s tournament score its lowest Nielsen ratings since 1980? Is it merely because there was no Tiger?

No.

That has become the knee-jerk explanation from both golf fans who want more people to enjoy what they do and golf detractors who think Tiger was the only appeal for 15 years and now that he’s gone so is exciting golf. It would be naïve to discount the “Tiger effect” entirely but that explanation is too simplistic.

Danny Willett, a much less memorable name than Sergio Garcia, won last year’s tournament, carrying a 7.7 rating on Sunday compared to Garcia’s 6.8. The difference was a controversial American in contention. Jordan Spieth was a serious contender heading into last year’s final round only to fizzle on the dreaded 13th hole and finished a disappointing second place. While it was bad for him, it was good for the story, the mystique.

This year Rickie Fowler, Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott were virtually out of contention midway through the front nine.

Spieth, Bubba Watson, Tiger, Phil Mickelson made up the storylines for the Master’s the majority of the past two decades. Americans seem to enjoy compelling American characters in contention for the final 18 holes at Augusta. In golf’s heyday Jack Nicklaus, and Sam Snead dominated. Arnold Palmer smoked cigarettes and carried his swagger up the fairway to the green. Tiger swore and fist pumped.

The game of golf is in need of a reformation. We have likely seen the last of Tiger Woods phenomenon. It needs more characters, more excitement. Last year’s Ryder Cup, which allows and encourages loud cheering, celebrations and sometimes even booing, received its highest ratings ever.

Watching men who all look the same sink 4-foot putts will never put people on the edge of their seats or attract a large national, casual golf audience. But a Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose nail biter on a sunny Sunday at Augusta should.

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