Golf Still Searching for ‘Next Tiger’

Arguably the biggest tournament within the sport of golf, The Masters is a timeless tradition that transcends generations. And yet, this year it saw its worst television ratings since 1993. Coincidentally, 1994 was the last year both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were absent from a Masters weekend. “Coincidentally.”

Are you surprised? Ever since Tiger Woods took the PGA by storm as a young kid, golf has more or less lived and died by his presence. Mickelson has long been his rival, and without either of them in the hunt, it seems the public loses interest.

Golf’s superstar underwent back surgery a few weeks before the tournament, sidelining him for a few months. Mickelson missed the cut by 1 stroke. Apparently, when neither of them are in contention on Sunday, TV ratings don’t make the cut either.LYNNresixed

Unfortunate, too, it has to be that way. This year’s Masters was plenty entertaining, even if it didn’t feature some of the more notable names in golf. Championship Sunday featured a late surge from eventual winner Bubba Watson to hold off the field.

Watson himself is the biggest storyline from the tournament, as he claimed his second Masters win in three years. He entered the spotlight after earning his first green jacket in 2012, and in the spotlight he has remained. Revered for his booming tee shots and his absurd ability to curve the ball, Watson has been rising in world rankings.

His second Masters victory has all but secured his legacy as a golfer, though Watson’s not the type of guy to get caught up in something like legacy.

“I play golf because I love it, I love the game, I want to grow the game,” said Watson. To have won six championships, two of them being at Augusta, he said is a dream come true.

Fans are still getting used to the absence of that classic red Nike shirt at trophy presentations, as Tiger and his band of golf greats are slowly fading. Mickelson seldom creates a stir anymore; Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, KJ Choi all seem like yesterday’s supernovas.

Golf is learning to love a generation of quiet, humbled victors, with Watson leading the way. It’s strange to think a guy like Jason Dufner, plain as he is, has made a name for himself on the tour. Matt Kuchar couldn’t be more different from Tiger, though his nice-guy persona hasn’t stopped him from seeing success recently. Out with the old, in with the new.

At least that’s what sports media seems to be indicating. Analysts are constantly looking to crown the ‘next Tiger,’ and with the abundance of young players emerging in the PGA, the jobs of Jim Nantz and David Feherety appear secure.

20-year-old Jordan Spieth is the latest young stud to be immersed in the spotlight after his runner-up finish at the Masters, exhibiting amazing skill and a level of composure beyond his years. This was Spieth’s first Masters, and he would have been the youngest player ever to win it; Fuzzy Zoeller was the last player to win in his first appearance.

Jonas Blixt, FSU graduate, at the 2014 Masters

Jonas Blixt, FSU graduate, at the 2014 Masters

Currently, Spieth sits at #7 in the world rankings. “I feel like I’m ready to win, it’s just a matter of time.” Golf analysts had nothing but good things to say about him, from shot selection to natural skill to the way he carries himself on the course.

For now, it’s safe to say he’s the leading candidate in the ‘next Tiger’ contest. But don’t be surprised if he sees some competition on his way there. The PGA tour is full of young players with incredible talent, all lurking in the shadows of greatness.

Whether it be Rory McIlroy, who has already proved his ability, or guys like Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, even FSU alumnus Jonas Blixt, someone is going to rise to stardom in place of Tiger.

The golf world continues to wait, “enjoying” the combination of modest characters alongside young talent. It’s nice to get away from the superstar culture that Tiger and Phil created. But fans will want it again, there’s no doubt. Only now they’ll have to look to someone new for that kind of excitement. Be patient, golf fanatics. He’s coming soon.

by MATT SIMONS / staff writer

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