Golf missing Tiger appeal
NEW YORK — While exciting young guns Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcilroy and Jason Day have been pivotal in drawing a wide audience to the game, the sport is missing the ‘Tiger’ factor when it comes to ‘fringe fans’, says a leading golf executive.
Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation and arguably of all time, has not competed since August after enduring setbacks in his recovery from back surgeries and has not set a timetable for his return to the PGA Tour.
“You can never replace Tiger Woods, just like you can’t replace Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player,” Ken Kennerly, executive director of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic which was played last week, told Reuters.
“Tiger, it’s difficult to replace him. In my opinion, without him in the game, we’re missing something.
“Tiger Woods is still Tiger Woods, and when he showed up at the Wyndham Championship last year in August and played well, and was (in) one of the last couple (of) final groups ... the (television) ratings were off the charts.”
Woods had his best tournament in nearly two years at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina where he flirted with the lead but missed several birdie opportunities in the final round before finishing four strokes behind winner Davis Love III.
“Does it minimize the negative impact that Tiger has by not participating? Probably a little,” said Kennerly, who is also a golf executive with sports management company IMG.
“He still delivers that fringe fan that golf needs. We saw it directly when Tiger hurt himself and couldn’t play last year’s Honda Classic ... the spike in ticket sales we normally get leading up to the tournament had softened a little bit.
“What does that mean in dollars and cents? Probably a couple of hundred thousand dollars that we did not see, that would have come through the gates because people still wanted to see Tiger. He is still an enormous asset for this game.”
Meanwhile, Woods told the world last week that he was “progressing nicely” following his latest back surgery, but Jack Nicklaus thinks he might be doing better than that.
Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, hosted a dinner for potential US Ryder Cup players at their North Palm Beach home and Woods attended, having already committed to being a vice-captain under Davis Love III. Nicklaus relayed what others who were there have said about Woods.
“He says he was feeling great and he was able to stand over a putt and chip now without having any leg pain or so forth,” Nicklaus said.he looked very good; he looked very healthy. And he really misses playing. So that’s good.”
Nicklaus said they spoke on several topics, understood that Woods has no timetable for his return to golf, and reiterated that he hopes the 14-time major champion can resume his quest to tie Nicklaus’ record of 18.
“Nobody wants their records to be broken, but I don’t want you not to have the ability to have the opportunity to do so by your health. ... No, he looked great and he was in great spirits,” Nicklaus said. “The guys enjoyed having him at the dinner. We had a lot of nice back and forth about how to play golf and this and that and so forth. It was a very, very nice evening. I hope the guys enjoyed it.”
Nicklaus, 76, said he had no doubts about Woods’ ability despite his age.
“Sure, he’s 40 years old,” Nicklaus said. “I did pretty well when I was 40.”
Nicklaus won two major championships in 1980, the year he turned 40. At this point, however, it is unclear if Woods will even play in any of the major championships this year. He’s not played competitively since August, and it appears he just recently started hitting shots again.