Thursday, March 24, 2005

Today's National Post golf column

Rivalries make golf interesting again
Resurgent field may save game from big, boring Singh


From the March 24 National Post.

Robert Thompson
On Golf


Tim Finchem must be breathing a huge sigh of relief heading into this week's showcase at Sawgrass.

After all, Finchem, the PGA Tour's commissioner, spent all of 2004 hoping Tiger Woods, the game's biggest star, would overcome his knee problems or a spat with then-fiance Elin, or whatever was keeping him from holding aloft trophies on Sunday afternoons.

In place of the biggest draw in sport, Finchem was saddled with Vijay Singh, golf's big bore. Sure the big man from Fiji had a remarkable run last year, winning nine times and making a fortune in the process, but did anyone really care? Apparently not television viewers, who tuned out whenever Tiger didn't lurk near the lead.

Though Singh is now back as the world's No. 1 player -- for this week, at least -- Finchem has to be delighted with the state of the game and the fact that golf is at its most competitive in more than a decade.

Heading into The Players Championship at TPC at Sawgrass, which starts today, golf has five players all capable of calling themselves the best in the world.

Last week, Singh regained the title of the world's best player despite dunking his approach in the water on the final hole at Bay Hill. That made it two weeks in a row that Singh couldn't close the deal. It was a hollow move, and hardly indicative of just how interesting golf has become.

Suddenly Phil Mickelson has returned to the form that helped him win The Masters last year. While Woods continues to have trouble finding fairways, he has started playing with the creativity we last saw three years ago.

Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, splitting time between the PGA and European Tours, have both stepped up their games and have five major championship wins between them.

For the first time since Woods emerged as a superstar in 1997 with his win at The Masters, golf is truly fulfilling its potential as a top-tier sport.

It couldn't come at a better time.

Not only does a three or four-way battle make for good copy, but it is also something Finchem can take to the networks when he attempts to renegotiate the Tour's current US$900-million arrangement that expires in 2006.

In that respect, he has got to be hoping Singh's days as the No. 1 player in the world are nearing a permanent end.

Singh's lack of charisma means he is a tough sell. Has there ever been a top player with fewer endorsement deals than the aloof Singh? Or someone who felt he was above talking to the media, as Singh did after dropping his last two tournaments?

Singh simply isn't a good story, refuses to co-operate and comes off as brusque to all concerned.

Thankfully, there are strong options, including a resurgent Tiger and the affable Mickeleson. Even Els could be sold to the American public, given his "Big Easy" persona.

Regardless, nothing sells a sport more than a rivalry and that's something the PGA Tour suddenly has, especially if Woods or Mickelson, two players who don't get along, battle it out heading to the masochistic island green at Sawgrass on Sunday.

In fact, the game would be more interesting than it has in the past few years if Els, who recently won two weeks in a row on the European Tour, and Woods, who has also won twice this year, become golf's modern-day version of Arnold Palmer taking on Jack Nicklaus, fighting it out heading into the 18th at Augusta.

What could be better?

© National Post 2005

1 Comments:

At 11:34 AM, Blogger A WALK IN THE PARK said...

too true, Mr. Thompson! big name battles are the saslvation of golf telecasts. But I still love guys like Toms and Dimarco and Goose and Funk.

Love the new green banner!...and the bold face, easy to read type;);)

 

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