Galaxy of young stars makes up for Tiger Woods' absence at Masters
By Bob Buttitta
The Masters is just a week away and the only role that Tiger Woods will play is guest at the annual Champions' Dinner.
As recently as last year, Woods missing golf's greatest major would have greatly diminished the tournament's appeal.
When Jordan Spieth slipped on the green jacket last April following his record-setting performance at the 2015 Masters, it started a tidal wave of momentum for the sport that was fueled not just by Spieth but by the outstanding performances of young superstars like Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.
When 2015 ended, three players under age 30 were ranked in the top 3 for the first time since the world rankings were introduced in 1986. Spieth, McIlroy and Day are still at the top of the leaderboard heading into Augusta.
"That gives golf some much-needed longevity," said CBS lead analyst and six-time major winner Nick Faldo. "We have 10 more years of really good golf if those guys spearhead it."
Their success has moved the needle with television viewers, just like when Woods was dominating the game.
According to Golf Channel President Mike McCarley, the sport's young superstars drew viewers in record numbers in 2015. McCarley said 2015 ratings equaled 2013, which were the highest in the network's history. In 2013, Woods won five times.
"Looking back, 2015 may have been the changing of the guard," McCarley told Reuters.
While none of the new young guns figure to individually bring in an audience like Woods, as a group it appears they have the right stuff.
When you throw in players like Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson, you can make a strong argument that this could be golf's Golden Age.
Throughout the sport's history there have been dominant players who have created a buzz among fans. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Woods all took their turns as the face of golf.
Instead of one player, we now have a Mt. Rushmore of top players, all who have proven to be capable to amaze on the course while also being strong representatives off it.
"This is a new refreshing transition," Faldo said. "The end of Tiger's era and the start of a different style of golf again. It's amazing. They're mentally strong, technically strong, physically strong. It's a great time."
All of these young stars looked up to Woods and wanted to not only be like him but to have the chance to beat him.
Woods' injury issues over the last five years have prevented him from playing the kind of golf that made him an international celebrity, but also allowed the young stars to gain confidence.
"It's a blessing for them to have had Tiger not being at the top because they've had an opportunity to not have to put up with being afraid of somebody dominating the game," Nicklaus told The Orlando Sentinel.
"They can go play. As a result of that, they've been able to go out and win and prove to themselves they are there and can be there. I think the next year or two is going to be very interesting in the game of golf. It's going to be fun to watch."
It starts with the Masters. With so many talented players seemingly hitting their strides at the same time, the chances of a big-time Sunday showdown on the back nine at Augusta have me counting down the minutes until the tournament starts.
It figures to be just the first of many such showdowns over the coming months and years as these new stars battle against each other.
Let the fun begin.
This article was written by Bob Buttitta from Ventura County Star and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.