Bradford: Sunday highlighted the Tiger Woods problem

Rob Bradford
July 22, 2018 - 2:32 pm

USA Today Sports

At about 11:30 a.m. people started running to find a television set (even with the great J.D. Martinez vs. Mookie Betts debate raging on WEEI). Word was firing through social media and the internet in general that Tiger Woods had taken the lead at the British Open.

Tiger was going to actually win a major!

For even the most casual golf fan, and really any sports fan, this was the kind of drama that makes you have to watch. Woods had parred four straight holes and was storming into the 11th hole at Carnoustie in a place few thought he would ever reside again -- atop the leaderboard.

But then came the double-bogey at 11. Two hours later, NBC was trying to make it feel important that the name "Francesco Molinari" was being engraved on the Claret Jug. In reality, it was about a two-hour-long sad trombone for most.  (For a complete recap of the British Open, click here.)

Some could spin it as a taste of what might still be, with Woods finishing in the Top 10 of a major championship for the first time since 2013. In the words of Lloyd Christma, "So you're saying there's a chance."

That isn't the lesson I took out of it. I was reminded how desperate some sports have become to hitch their wagon to a select few stars.

Woods is 42 years old and hasn't been a legitimate contender since running his car into a tree. Yet the networks and PGA are seemingly so desperate to have this guy do anything. He remains the sport's meal ticket, a notion that should make everyone in the sport uncomfortable considering what a long-shot it seems like Tiger remains, despite some moderate success of late. For about 30 minutes or so Sunday morning, that was a reality put in tastefully presented neon lights.

But it wasn't the only sport afforded such a wake-up call over the past few days.

Remember, it was Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred who bemoaned his sport's best player, Mike Trout, not promoting himself in a more audacious manner. Why would he do such a thing? Because baseball, like golf, is somewhat desperate. You get your Michael Jordan/LeBron James, you better take advantage of it because the drop-off when they leave can get really uncomfortable.

Football? That is a sport driven by the game itself, drawing in a wide variety of sports fans while having a powerful cross-section of superstars.. MLB and golf don't have the luxury of simply inviting sports fans in to watch with the expectation that outrageous ratings fill follow. That was a picture painted perfectly during the brief bout of euphoria that came with Woods' resurgence.

According to a study done by FiveThirtyEight.com, there hasn't been a golfer who has averaged a better final day Nielson rating when winning the Masters than Woods (11.8). The closest is Jordan Spieth, who averages 8.8 when winning, still 1.2 less than when Tiger merely finishes in the Top 10. This isn't a news flash, just a reminder.

Seeing Tiger matter was a great moment, no doubt. Just like the feeling a sports fan might get when watching Trout glide around a baseball field. The problem comes when we have to divert our attention to the likes of 35-year-old named Francesco Molinari.

It was nice while it lasted. Nice for a lot of these sports, however, isn't good enough these days.

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