LOUISVILLE – As the sports world waits to see if the stars and vertebrae align for Tiger Woods to play in the PGA Championship, here's a quick recap of the year's first three men's majors:
The Masters. Won by 35-year-old Bubba Watson. No Tiger. TV ratings abysmal -- the worst two-day average rating since 1957, which was when Nielsen began measuring these things.
The U.S. Open. Won by 29-year-old Martin Kaymer. No Tiger. Lowest final-round U.S. Open TV audience on record.
The British Open. Won by 25-year-old Rory McIlroy. Tiger finished 69th, so there might as well have been no Tiger. Worst rating for a British Open since ESPN took over the rights in 2009.
I'm thinking we are seeing a trend here. With Tiger on the rocks, a charismatic American wins his second green jacket, one of the world's finest young players rolls to a big victory at Pinehurst No. 2 and Tiger's heir apparent wins the third leg of the career Grand Slam in his Open championship – and a vast majority of American sports fans couldn't have cared less.
Young Jordan Spieth in the mix at the Masters? Rickie Fowler surging to the top of the leaderboard in all three majors? Sergio Garcia, having already lived a lifetime at 34, challenging Rory down the stretch at the British?
It's all met by one big yawn.
If Phil Mickelson had been a significant presence in any of these tournaments, that would have helped considerably. Phil doesn't move the needle quite as Tiger does, but he's close. When they're both gone or not playing well, the TV ratings don't stand a chance. Since Phil is 44 and Tiger is nearly 39, I'd say this is becoming a significant problem for the PGA Tour.
All these years, we thought Tiger was bringing new fans to golf. Turns out he actually was bringing new fans to Tiger. And when he's gone, isn't it logical to think that they will be gone too? There once was the thought that they'd just transfer their allegiance to Rory. How wrong that appears now. Most fans gravitate to the newest new thing. Not in this sport, at least not now. They only want the old guy.
It was good old star-gazing, that's what it was. (And will be again, if Woods gets healthy and returns to his old self, or some semblance thereof.) The masses weren't actually interested in golf. They simply were following a superstar.
It's tempting to ask what's wrong with these fans. While they cheer on Tiger, he acts as if they barely exist, but neither he nor his fans seem to be bothered in the least by this. All they ask is that he give them a few glimpses of 1997, or 2000, or maybe even 2008 at Torrey Pines. They love him for what he once was, and they want to see that again.
Or, perhaps they watch now because, since 2009, Tiger's life has turned into a remarkable soap opera, and it's simply impossible to turn away. Even if the golf isn't any good, there's always the never-bleeped-out swearing, the dramatic dropping of clubs and the angst-ridden parking lot scenes.
With TV ratings at rock bottom, you have to hand it to Tiger. He's certainly doing his part to try to make the PGA Championship as interesting as possible. As of Tuesday afternoon, there was still no word on whether he would show up and play, or miss his third major championship of the year. Back spasms got the best of him last weekend, he said, and he appears to be pushing his decision on whether to play or not to the very last minute.
I vote that he shows up minutes before his 8:35 a.m. tee time Thursday as a latter-day, golf version of Willis Reed. People will certainly tune in to see that.
PHOTO GALLERY: This week at the PGA Championship