On May 5 a nice crowd on an overcast day wore well pressed pants and cheered politely as Derek Ernst bested David Lynn in a playoff to win the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte. Because of the weather the final round was moved up in the day to beat the rain and make sure all of the players finished 18 holes. Ernst won $1.2 million for his first PGA victory. Nobody paid any attention or cared.
Yesterday at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, one of the half dozen tournaments that claims to be the “fifth” major but in actuality mean no more or less than any other non major, interest was significantly higher. The reason was not because Kevin Streelman, Jeff Maggert or David Lingmerth were in contention late on Sunday. Tiger Woods played and won and people cared.
Woods earned $1.7 million for the victory. It was his fourth win of the year and first victory at the Players since 2001. The win marked Woods' 78th career PGA Tour triumph, four behind the record held by Sam Snead.
I like golf. I probably wouldn't be labeled a golf nut, but I am a pretty big fan. I have attended each of the last four major golf championships. I did not watch one minute of the Wells Fargo Championship. When Tiger's in contention, I watch with great interest.
There is a reason the Yankees, Cowboys, and Lakers tend to be on national television. They attract the greatest audience whether you like them, hate them, or just like to see good players and interesting storylines. However, golf is even more dependent on one player. I watch baseball, football and basketball playoff games between teams I have no interest in. I tune in to regular season games if there is an compelling matchup or player involved. However, besides majors championships, I watch golf if Tiger plays. If Tiger is hanging out with Lindsey Vonn I find something better to do with my time. In fact, I think I'd rather watch Tiger and Lindsey hanging out than that epic Ernst/Lynn battle.
Because individual sports are so much different than team sports, one player can make that big a difference. For a time men's tennis was unwatchable. Between the time that Pete Sampras retired and Roger Federer became the tennis version of Woods, the quality of the sport was down and the number of compelling competitors was low. Since there are no prominent heavyweight boxers, nobody watches it. When Evil Knievel was around we watched daredevils, which wasn't sports, but was entertaining. Now we don't watch daredevils.
Tiger Woods is entertaining, captivating, and polarizing. Augusta National is historic, the Open Championship is meaningful, the U.S. Open is prestigious, and the PGA can be the difference between a good year and a bad year. If it isn't Woods or a major, or something unique like the Ryder Cup, golf doesn't matter and nobody cares.