A look at this year’s final major tournament on the PGA Tour

When it comes to a sports fan’s choices in any given athletic activity, our options are usually threefold. First we can participate in the sport. A second option is to go to the game and be a spectator at an event. The third, and perhaps most likely choice, is to watch a sporting activity on television.

Which option I prefer depends on the sport. Take auto racing, for example. I enjoy watching NASCAR racing, and going to a race and taking in the sights, sounds (loud would be an operative term) and smells is my option choice. In lieu of going to the track, I will sit glued to the TV watching the action. Driving a race car in excess of 200 mph will never happen for this sports fan.

As for the game of golf, well, let’s look at today. If I had a tee time I would be off to the links. Playing this great game is more fun than watching it. If I were in Louisville and could get tickets to Valhalla, I follow along watching the greats of the game. Since I will be home this afternoon, I will be tuned in to the year’s final major. Of course, I will be flipping back and forth from the action at Watkins Glen, but you get the idea.

As this week unfolded and we got closer to Thursday’s first round tee times, the big news was whether Tiger Woods would be able to play. Tiger had withdrawn from the previous week’s PGA tour event with back issues. Coming off back surgery just a few months ago, one had to wonder if he would be able to go.

While some golf fans waited with bated breath, I really didn’t care whether Tiger was in the field or not. If you pay attention to television ratings, it seems Tiger has to play to get people to watch. That’s not the case with me. Though I would prefer the man to be in the field, I am going to watch with or without him. Apparently that is not the case with some fans.

So what is the fascination with Tiger Woods? In my humble opinion it has to do with the fabulous golf he played for so many years. The golf public was mesmerized by the ridiculous scores he shot. Do you recall the margin of victory he had at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open? We were thrilled by the unbelievable shots he pulled off. Can you name the hole where the words “better than most” or “in your life” were spoken by the announcer broadcasting the tournament?

If you said the 17th at Sawgrass and 16th at Augusta, you are a true golf fan.

Most of us watch professional golf on TV to see shots that amaze us. We also smile when a professional hits a bad shot, one that make us think “geez, I can hit that shot” or “he’s no better than me” (though we know better). Fortunately we get to see more great ones than bad ones and Tiger hit so many of them that we tuned in and waited for him to thrill us again and again.

There are other golfers who hit shots that amaze. Rory McIlroy hits a 5-iron 245 yards. Are you kidding? Phil Mickelson hits one of his patented flop shots and we marvel. The shot he hit between the trees to the 13th green at Augusta may be as good as anything I have ever seen. How about Bubba Watson’s 50-yard hook in extra time at the Masters?

My goodness, I have just used a soccer reference. In case you are interested, for me, when it comes to soccer – none of the options apply. Sorry, I just can’t get interested in that sport.

So Tiger shows up on Wednesday and decides he can play after all. He goes out and shoots a pair of 74’s and will not be around for the weekend. Some fans are happy about that while others would like to see a return to greatness for Woods. The fact that Tiger will not be on the course for the last two days of the tournament will not mean the end to exciting golf.

Rory McIlroy is roaring. Coming off his dominant win at the British Open, he is poised to win yet another major. Does anyone else see a comparison with a young Tiger Woods? Phil Mickelson is charging and seems to have found his game which has been subpar by his standards for most of the season. A host of others led by Jason Day seem primed to win the trophy. Rickie Fowler, who has finished in the top five in each of the three other majors this year, is scoring low again. Will he break through and win his first major?

Today should be very interesting and I’m sure most of you will be tuned in. If you are on a local golf course, I understand. If you are watching the action from the Glen, I understand as well.

However, if you want to see some great golf, with or without some of the greats of the game, you must watch the action from Valhalla.

Several golfers have withdrawn due to injury, including Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner. With the Ryder Cup looming that is not good news for Americans. One golfer who is conspicuous by his absence is Dustin Johnson. He has taken a leave of absence from the tour for reasons that have golf fans chattering. Let’s hope some of the reports that have been surfacing are not true as Johnson is another golfer who hits shots that leave us shaking our heads.

Al Stephenson is The A-T’s golf columnist.

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