Alongi: Tiger’s back, and there’s no stopping him now

Tiger Woods hits from the first hole during the final round for the Masters golf tournament Sunday, April 14, 2019, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Photo by Associated Press)

What a Sunday it was.

And no, I’m not talking about the Red Sox grabbing a win. Or the Celtics showing that they can actually play basketball in their playoff opener. I’m not even talking about the epic return of Game of Thrones (although I was on the edge of my seat the whole time).

Nope, none of that. I’m talking about Tiger Woods taking his rightful place at the top of the golf world after winning The Masters for the first time since 2005.

As someone who plays golf regularly and someone who got into golf almost entirely because of Tiger Woods, it was quite a day for me. I personally had been saying for the past six months or so, ever since Tiger won The Tour Championship last September, that Tiger was going to win The Masters this year. Having watched his game progress over the past year-plus since returning from his fourth back surgery, it just seemed like all signs were trending toward this. Thankfully for the game of golf, I was right.

It’s no secret that golf is a tough game to market to the masses. It costs a lot to get equipment, it costs a lot to play and it’s the hardest game on Earth. And that’s without even mentioning the fact that it hasn’t always been a very welcoming sport for minorities, whether they be people of color, women or people of lesser means. But then Tiger Woods came along in the late ’90’s and lit the world on fire with his stellar play, his fierce competitiveness and his utter domination of the game.

He inspired an entire generation of new golfers who wanted to be just like him, and some of those fans who grew up following Woods are now competing against him on the PGA Tour. Tony Finau, who was in the final group with Woods in the final round Sunday, admitted that he decided at seven years old that he wanted to play golf after seeing Tiger dominate at The Masters in 1997. A number of current PGA Tour professionals have expressed similar notions. Woods also, by becoming a massive global superstar, helped grow the game around the world by bringing more sponsors — and in turn more money — into tournaments and other “grow the game” initiatives.

Now, Tiger’s going to inspire yet another new generation of golfers.

There’s no way around it, the guy just moves the needle. Sure, he’s not at the top of his game anymore. He no longer outdrives every other golfer by 35 yards like he did in his prime (he’s currently tied for 51st in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year). He doesn’t even sink clutch putts at the same rate he did back in the early to mid-2000s. But what he does do is compete in the biggest tournaments on the biggest stages, and now that he’s healthy again he’s going to continue to contend in every single one of them.

That’s going to bring in new golf fans. The Masters was the No. 1 trend on Twitter in the United States during (and just after) Tiger’s win Sunday. The television ratings were the highest for any golf event in the past 34 years — yes, that includes Tiger’s run of domination. No offense to the multitudes of talented golfers on Tour, but Brooks Koepka isn’t the reason for that. Neither are the likes of Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson. There’s only one person who’s responsible for that, and that’s Tiger Woods.

And he’s not done by a long shot. After his win at The Masters, Tiger’s now the No. 6 ranked golfer in the world. He’s currently the odds-on favorite to win the PGA Championship next month at Bethpage Black — a course where he won the 2002 U.S. Open. He’ll likely be one of the favorites at this year’s U.S. Open in June at Pebble Beach — a course where he demolished the field and won by 15 shots at the 2000 U.S. Open.

Here’s the bottom line — Tiger Woods is back, and there’s no stopping him now.

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