GolfTipping Point

Woods-mania dying a slow death as PGA Tour loses its lustre

LIV golf has bitten a chunk out of the PGA Tour as a spectacle or a soap opera and strong personalities are in short supply

When Tiger Woods took ill early in the second round of the Genesis Invitational, 10 days ago, his journey in a rules official’s golf buggy from the seventh tee box to the clubhouse was broadcast in full.

A couple of times the buggy stopped and Woods looked distressed, and in the Sky Sports booth the commentators went around in circles, guessing and speculating and expressing their dismay in tones that would be handy for a state funeral.

Had his back acted up again? Could it be his gammy ankle this time? They pored over replays of his final tee shot on the seventh, which had found the middle of the fairway, and couldn’t detect any flinch in his movement.

Clarification soon emerged that Woods was sick. In the clubhouse his dehydration had been “treated with an IV bag”. On the golf course he had suffered from dizziness. Overnight he had developed a fever. If Woods was a little younger, all of this could have been treated with a spoon of Calpol but age is a complicating factor for all of us.


Several reporters waited for two hours in the car park hoping to catch a glimpse of Woods or maybe grab a word. In a reversal of the usual dialogue, players came out of the locker room to ask reporters what they had heard.

While the reporters waited in vigil, two fire engines and an ambulance arrived, in a special fleet of first responders. Think of the emergencies in the world, on a scale of all-out carnage to a middle-aged man running a fever. Woods has been involved in two significant car crashes, both of which altered his life in significant ways; this time, he had a temperature.

“Everyone on-site, including his fellow players, wondered about his condition,” reported the PGA Tour website, gravely. “Several minutes passed before an empty gurney was loaded into an ambulance and all three emergency vehicles drove away.”

Consider this alternative version of events, preposterous as it may sound: a 48-year-old professional golfer, with a bad back and a terrible ankle, and without a win on tour for five years, withdrew from a golf tournament with a bout of ‘flu. No names.

The story said a few things, not just about modern media and the appetites of its elusive audience, but about the state of professional golf and its desperate need for attention. It also said something about the Tiger-shaped hole in the middle of the game that nobody has been able to fill.

It is 10 years since Woods was the number one-ranked golfer in the world and the 2017-18 season was the last time his beaten-up body was able to sustain something approaching a regular tour schedule.

Over time Woods’s physical state has deteriorated, and on the rare occasions he tees it up on tour now he walks stiffly, or with a limp. Sometimes he suffers from back spasms, or his back won’t allow him to make an aggressive pass at the ball, which was the cause, he said, of the hacker’s shank he made on the final hole of his first round last week.

And still, when his golf isn’t the story, it’s his walk, or his reconstructed ankle, or his interfering back, and his very presence at an event escalates everything. After all this time, and years after his best golf deserted him, he still moves the dial.

When he played at the Hero Challenge in December – a restricted 20 player event, hosted by Woods – viewing figures for the tournament climbed by a staggering 53% on the previous year, when Woods had been unfit to play. He finished third last, but that is immaterial to the eyeballs on screens: Woods hitting bad shots or bland shots seems to be as compelling now as Woods hitting good shots.

When Woods dominated golf it was impossible to be agnostic about him. Ever before revelations of his serial infidelity put his life into a tailspin, Woods was a polarising figure. You could admire his monumental capacity to play the game and at the same be repulsed by his demeanour or his bad manners or his arrogance, if that was how you perceived him.

Watching the final round of a PGA Tour event on a Sunday evening you could root for the rest of the field against him and at least you felt something. What does it feel like now? Who is the best player in the world? How do you feel about him? Ambivalence? Are you still watching on Sunday nights?

Since the turn of the decade the top of the world rankings has been swapped around between six players: Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. Three of those players – Koepka, Johnson and Rahm – are now playing on the LIV Tour, where world ranking points are not available.

Of the others, Thomas has fallen to number 22 in the world, McIlroy is the familiar cocktail of flamboyance and flakiness, and Scottie Scheffler, the current world number one, hasn’t won a full-field event since the Player’s Championship in March and his putting has become so diseased that he is outside the top 100 in strokes gained putting.

Week after week Scheffler’s stellar long game forces him into contention only for his chance to be sabotaged by his fallibility on the greens. Feeling sorry for the world number one was not something anybody would have considered when Woods was on top, but Scheffler is a nice guy. Still, it feels strange.

On the PGA Tour now there is too much sugar and not enough salt. Against all odds, I miss Koepka’s cold cockiness and Rahm’s pouting and Tyrell Hatton’s playschool tantrums, and Phil Mickelson’s smarmy smile and Patrick Reed’s chicanery and Bryson DeChambeau’s kookiness and it finally feels like LIV golf has bitten a chunk out of the PGA Tour as a spectacle, or a soap opera.

There needs to be more tension and a more diverse spectrum of personalities but instead it feels like all the ingredients have been fed into a blender and served as a smoothie.

Once upon a time Woods took care of all this. Watching golf, he made you feel something. Now? Never thought I’d miss him.