Masters Missed Woods Terribly

Of course, it's not fair.

Bubba Watson won the 2014 Masters at Augusta National. In fact, it was second time in three years.

Still, the Masters wasn't the Masters.

Tiger Woods' absence was so noticeable and took the buzz off one of America's premier events.

We know Woods, forced off the course for at least the next couple of months with back surgery, hasn't won the Masters since 2005. It doesn't matter. It's about Woods being in the hunt, the idea that he could have picked up his 15th major championship.

 We also know he hasn't won a major since his scandal/divorce took him out of action. For you ancient history buffs, Tiger's last major was 2008 when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the US Open.

Still, it just wasn't the same for many who enjoy watching the Masters. The last time Tiger wasn't in the mix at the Masters was 1994. That's a long time ago.

The man who changed golf in so many ways – adding color to the tour, raising the tournament purses for golfers and helping TV ratings soar – was MIA and it hurt.

Woods made golf go from a niche sport for the elite to one the masses joined in on, especially African Americans in record numbers.

Brothers and sisters all over this country started tuning in to see Woods perform. African Americans also started playing golf in record numbers as many finally saw someone like them excel in a sport that was historically, for the most part, all white.

In 1997, when Tiger broke through and ran away with his first major – a win at the Masters, my then-wife and I were glued to the TV, watching that suitable-for-framing performance.

One more thing. We were on our honeymoon – in Japan, no less. And yes, we were watching golf, watching Tiger. It was amazing, something most who watched will never forget.

This time around, many simply tuned out with Woods not in the field. Watson might have collected a record $1.6 million for winning, but people weren't compelled to watch the action or drama unfold .  

In fact, ESPN's opening round coverage without Woods dropped 30 percent. In 2013, about 2.8 million watched. This year, 800,000 viewers passed on the Day 1.

The ratings were a record-low for ESPN since it first started broadcasting the event in 2008.

Woods' absence also hit scalpers in the wallet as well.

Ticket prices dropped overnight after Woods announced he wouldn't be able to play.

According to a report by Yahoo Sports, some prices for a one-day badge on dropped 10 percent within the first hour of Tiger's announcement and overnight were off nearly 20 percent.

By 11am the day before the opening round, those badges had dropped 19.3 percent to $940. "No single athlete has a greater impact on our ticket prices," said Glenn Lehrman, a spokesman for StubHub.

Despite all of his issues on and off the tour of late, Woods is still a major draw. He's still must-see TV. In the past, most marveled to see if he could keep winning at the pace he was. Early on, it was a forgone conclusion that he would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors.

That has slowed big time. Many doubt he has enough left in the tank to get there.

Recently, in a radio interview, Nicklaus said he hasn't counted Woods out. "I feel bad for Tiger," he said. "He's really worked towards my record. I still think he'll break my record."

Nicklaus, 74, is a nice man. But there's a lot of people out there that openly root against Woods after his fall from grace.

That's why they tune in, too. They want to see Woods fail.

That's not a bad thing for golf. You would rather fans care either way. There's nothing worse than apathy, when fans aren't moved.

The fact remains that Tiger still has a long way to go, probably another 10 solid years on the tour to get the last five majors he needs to be considered the best golfer there ever was.

And if the Masters is any indication, people will watch and want to witness his attempt at immortal greatness.

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