The 2015 Masters is here, and while the golf world is buzzing about Tiger Woods’ latest attempt to regain his form, Rory McIlroy’s pursuit of a career grand slam and Phil Mickelson’s solid, final tune-up, this year’s “tradition unlike any other” at Augusta should be about someone rising up on golf’s greatest stage, to challenge McIlroy for the next decade.
Golf will never have another Woods. But it could benefit tremendously from Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed or Bubba Watson emerging as McIlroy’s nemesis for years to come. We need someone to rival the presumptive front-runner. That is what sports are all about. Tiger had Phil. Arnie had Jack, sort of. Magic had Bird. Ali had Frazier. Brady has Manning.
Sure, Tiger emerging from the doldrums would be one of the biggest stunners in the history of sports, but it would be only a short-term fix and highly doubtful, despite his 20-1 odds entering this week. Even if Woods, 39, were to win it, how long would it be until his next setback or injury, one that likely could end his career?
Mickelson already has won the Masters, and while another championship would be great for ratings, “Lefty” is in the twilight of his PGA Tour career.
McIlroy? Yes, capping the career grand slam at this early age, 25, would be magnificent. However, he already is the face of the game and has 20 more years to capture that elusive green jacket. It’s about finding his counterpart.
Enter 21-year-old Spieth. The baby-faced kid from Dallas already has two victories on tour and has had a handful of other tournaments slip from his grasp. I would say he is the odds-on favorite to be McIlroy’s adversary, especially after last year’s performance at the Masters. These two would electrify the sport for the next 15-plus years, and I’m hoping that happens.
Then there is Reed, a man who dons the Sunday red as Woods does and should be more feared on Sunday than Woods at this point. Reed has established himself on tour and in the Ryder Cup as a gritty, fiery and borderline-cocky competitor. He would be the complete opposite of McIlroy and give him a run for his money for a decade.
That leaves us with Watson, who taught himself how to play the game, will chastise his caddie after a poor approach shot and who already has won two green jackets in the last three years. Augusta suits Watson’s eye, and the course layout fits the game of “Bubba Golf” perfectly. Factor in his length off the tee, and Watson is right there.
Watson might already be McIlroy’s stiffest competition, but the age of Watson (36) compared to Spieth (21) and Reed (24) leads me to believe that the PGA Tour would be better off with one of the two “young guns” prevailing on Sunday.
Golf Channel and CBS suits will most certainly be rooting for Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy to draw in the biggest number of viewers possible from Thursday through Sunday, and I understand that. A jammed leaderboard of “names” heading into Amen Corner on Sunday would be exciting, for one day.
However, if the sport wants to find its next one-two punch, its next great rivalry, a victory by Spieth or Reed would go a long way in making golf more viable from a ratings standpoint and luring in the fringe fan, looking to jump on the next bandwagon that is welcoming passengers.
Sunday is not about the past. It’s about the future, the golfer who will have the talent and temerity to push McIlroy for the title of today’s best.