Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer of all time. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead - they are all worthy adversaries, each with their own arguments and achievements for why they should be ranked ahead of Tiger. But ask any golf fan, and they will tell you Tiger has the most raw talent in the history of golf. Putting aside his talent and achievements though, when Tiger came onto the PGA Tour in 1996 at the age of 20, he changed golf forever. His combination of power and athleticism along with precise skill was rarely seen before, and never on his level. He inspired a whole new wave of athletes to channel their talents towards golf, greatly improving the sport as a whole. Young talents like Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler were all raised in an era where Tiger Woods was the face of golf, and their success has a lot to do with the path he blazed.
Tiger was at the peak of his professional golfing career when catastrophe struck. First reports of infidelity in his marriage surfaced, causing a long, drawn-out, public divorce. Then, to further his struggles, Tiger’s back problems resulted in four back surgeries from 2014 to 2017. He was ranked #1 in the world for 264 straight weeks from 1999-2004 and then 281 straight weeks from 2005-2010. However, from 2010-2018 Tiger won just a handful of PGA Tour events and zero major tournaments. That is in stark contrast to the fourteen he won from 1997-2008, putting him on pace to easily surpass Nicklaus’ all-time record of eighteen major victories.
All that is to say, his return to the top of the sport this past weekend as the 2019 Masters champion is one of the greatest stories in golf history. A man so revered for his otherworldly ability, who looked like a lock to break all the records in the sport, only to drop off the map for almost a full decade and return to win the most iconic event in the sport. It’s a storybook script that almost sounds too good to be true.
This year an average of thirteen million television viewers watched CBS’s broadcast of the final round, making it the most-watched final round at the Masters since 2015. When Tiger participated in the 2018 PGA Championship, ratings spiked 54% from the previous year when Tiger did not participate. Similarly, the 2018 British Open garnered its highest ratings since 2006. Across the board, all golf events show higher ratings when Tiger plays than when he doesn’t.
Star power is important, and he brings two stars’ worth of power wherever he goes. This is a man who inspired a full generation of young athletes to devote their time and skill to golf, where in the past it had been reserved for unathletic, out of shape old men. His recent Masters victory will go down in the annals of golf history as a defining moment in the sport. It would make for a wonderful story if Tiger ascends back to sustained domination over the coming years, but even this one victory, this one resurfacing of the legend whose career was seemingly cut short by misfortune, is enough to bounce golf into the spotlight for now. Quite simply, golf is better when Tiger’s iconic red shirt is out on Sundays. Golf is better when Tiger is roaring with joy after sinking the final putt of a tournament. Golf is better with Tiger.