Tiger Woods, Vegas And Golf

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The PGA Tour is now in its off-season, and as we discussed previously in this column, ratings were a dud for the majority of the year. Many attribute the poor ratings to the loss of Tiger Woods for three months due to an injured left leg, as well as uninspiring play when the sticks were in his hands. But Woods did end the season on a high note. He finished third at the Australian Open, helped the United States win The Presidents Cup, and closed the season by stroking a six foot birdie putt to win the Chevron World Challenge.

While Woods’ finish was exciting, it was still his first win in a two – plus year period that spanned 26 tournaments. Despite all this, Woods is the early favorite, at 11/2 odds, to win the 2012 Masters. Does that say more about the state of the PGA Tour or the quality of Woods’ recent performances?

At 11/2, that means the odds makers give Woods an 18 percent chance of winning the Masters. Rory McIlroy is second at 8/1. It’s amazing that Vegas believes Woods has such a great chance. Even though the Masters typically has a smaller field than the other major championships (because it is an invitational event), there are still close to 100 participants each April.

If these had been the odds heading into the 2001 Masters, when Woods had won the previous three majors, an 18 percent chance would make sense.

Since Woods won his last major, the 2008 US Open, the story in golf has been parity. The ensuing 13 majors have seen 13 different winners, from eight different countries and four different continents. With this kind of parity, Tiger may have been the odds on favorite to win the 2012 Masters had he just made the cut at the Chevron World Challenge and the Australian Open.

The argument can certainly be made that Woods is playing as well has he has since 2008. Woods and swing coach Sean Foley are finally starting to click. And Tiger’s personal life appears to be as stable as it’s been in over two years (or at least he’s doing a good job of staying out of the public eye).

Since no one player has dominated the game since Tiger’s demise, I can almost buy Tiger as the favorite. But, isn’t this a little like naming the Boston Celtics the favorites to win the 2012 NBA Finals?

The Celtics are a very good team but, their best years are behind them. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen are a year older and the team is over three years removed from its last NBA title. There are plenty of younger, up and coming teams that the Celtics can’t beat consistently. Yes, they sport the sixth best odds to win the Championship, but behind younger, more energetic teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls.

The early Masters odds prove the PGA is still searching for its future. While a Tiger Woods win in Augusta next April would generate massive ratings, it might simply put a band aid on the problem.

At age 36, is it realistic to think that Tiger has that many quality years ahead of him? Probably not, but he remains in fantastic shape. And can you think of any athlete with greater mental toughness? If countless hours of instruction and practice can overcome age and injury, then don’t count Tiger out.

Nonetheless, golf will continue to hunt for its future. It could be a college player we haven’t yet heard of or it could be McIlroy, Johnson, Bradley, Hass, Rose, Fowler or some combination thereof. But, it’s entirely possible golf fans are longing for something that will not exist anytime soon. Most likely, Tiger spoiled us. Maybe the future of golf won’t look anything like the last 15 years.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He can be reached via email at Peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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