Jim McCabe: Father Time winning but golf will survive after Tiger Woods

Somewhere along the rocky rode he has travelled in recent years — maybe after back surgery pushed him to the sidelines, or maybe when his ‘glutes’ didn’t activate in San Diego; it’s so hard to keep track of his ailments, comebacks, and soap opera episodes — Tiger Woods let it be known that “Father Time was undefeated”.

It probably ranks as one of the few times that you didn’t have to question him or peer through a shroud of mystery to figure out what he meant. It was definitive stuff when he said those words, because, indeed, not even the incomparable Woods has been able to stop time from marching on.

Duly noted is the fact that hours after Woods left Whistling Straits on Saturday afternoon, a victim of the cut for a third straight time in a major championship, one of the most electric rounds in recent major championship history broke out.

Low red numbers came fast and furiously, and at a course where Woods made just five birdies in 36 holes, Jordan Spieth made six on his back nine in round 3 and Branden Grace made eight in his 64.

Delightful stuff, the sort of offence that stuffy golf officials don’t often allow in the major championship, so give a round of applause to the lads who set things up for the PGA of America.

The integrity of the game wasn’t compromised at all when the field averaged 70,623.

Truth is, the roars were loud, passionate, and plentiful and that they rang out for a strong corps of golfers in great form — Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer — speaks volumes for the current health of the game.

That they plugged an electricity into the 97th PGA Championship while Woods was 1,500m away was further proof that golf fans are not the shallow and uninformed group that so many in the media have made them out to be.

For far too many years now we have read and heard the nonsense about how golf fans only cared about Woods and that when he walked away, they’d be right behind.

Wrong, and for evidence, we’re pretty sure that was a half-mile-long line waiting for tickets at the ‘will call’ window before Sunday’s final round commenced.

Woods was a massive reason behind the growth of PGA Tour popularity around 2000. No argument there.

But neither should there be any debate as to how the enthusiasm has remained vibrant even as the famous one has faded from the competitive scene — be it for health reasons or swing change explanations.

Shrewd enough to appreciate great talent, the public has embraced a new generation of young golfers and motivated by Woods, these youngsters have seen how the game can be conquered at an early age.

Certainly, if this year’s set of major championships has been a quality litmus test for the game, then you’d have to say it passed handsomely.

Not only has Woods been a shell of his former self, missing three cuts and playing 10 rounds to a whopping 22 over par, but Spieth, 22, exploded with a sort of major-championship season Woods used to script, and Day at 27 has proven himself capable of piling up major championships.

It becomes silly to start the comparisons, though when Spieth won two of the first nine majors in which he played as a pro, it was duly noted that Woods had only won once in his first nine.

Woods’s intake of eight majors in his first 24 is more impressive than McIlroy’s four in his first 24.

And so on and so on, because you can make numbers speak any language you want, but the point is, fans appreciate that the sport is always evolving and just as Jack Nicklaus came in on the heels of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson followed Nicklaus and Greg Norman arrived after Watson, it is only the cycle of sports that has seen Woods yield the stage to Rory McIlroy and Day and Spieth.

Will any of them be as dynamic and dominating as Woods? Unlikely.

Which is okay, because it’s as fans have come to know all facets of life; Father Time, as Woods accurately said, is undefeated.

But what has also proven to be a sure thing is the power of youth — in life and in sports, golf included.

McIlroy, no matter what the world rankings might say this week or in coming days, is the best player in the world and Spieth has captivated everyone’s attention. Day needn’t concede anything to either of them.

McIlroy, unfortunately for him, was out of the competitive mix at the PGA, but Day and Spieth were more than capable of carrying the PGA Championship — and their share of the game.

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