Couch: Without Tiger, The Masters Was Just A Golf Tournament, And Not A Very Good One

Let’s be honest about The Masters: It was terrible. The winner, Hideki Matsuyama, was way ahead Sunday but choking down the stretch, trying his best to give it away. And everyone following him said, roughly, “Uh, no. Not me. No thanks. I’ll just hit this next shot in the water so people will stop looking at me.’’

The headline should read: Matsuyama Doesn’t Lose Masters.

Still, the golf media, the softest media this side of tennis, are desperately trying to promote their game instead of cover it or hold a mirror to it. They are talking about how Matsuyama made history, becoming the first Japanese man to win a major. It’s true, he did. And we all like firsts. But Japan is golf-crazy. Japan has a lot of money. Japan rewards its sports heroes beyond belief. And Japan is about to hold the Olympics. Is there some grand hurdle here, some systemic oppression to golfers that I’m missing?

Well, I lied about one thing. The headline shouldn’t have been about Matsuyama at all. It should have been this:

Golf Woefully Unprepared for Life After Tiger Woods.

That really was what stood out from golf’s most important tournament. Woods has missed the Masters with injuries before, but this time there is a sense of finality now that his legs were smashed during a single-car crash back in February. This Masters seemed to mark the beginning of post-Tiger life for golf.

Yet, he still dominated The Masters anyway.

Woods brought in more than half of golf’s fans over the years. A lot of them weren’t really watching golf, but instead just him. That’s the difference between a niche and something in the mainstream.

So most people probably don’t even know that Woods hasn’t been dominating all along. He has won just one major -- the Masters two years ago -- in the past 13 years.

“Making Japan proud Hideki,’’ Woods tweeted after Matsuyama’s win, doing his part to promote the game. “Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical @TheMasters win will impact the entire golf world.’’

The impact is that the powers of golf are shaking because their game is headed back to being a niche. Golf can’t survive in the mainstream solely on the tweets of Tiger Woods.

The thing is, it’s not just Woods’ personality or his social meaning. He also just made golf aggressive and fun. He was attacking the hole, attacking his opponents. 

I mean, golf without Tiger Woods is just golf.

On the final holes Sunday, when champions are made, Matsuyama was hitting trees, knocking the ball in the sand or over the green and into the water.

He had just about blown the lead after the 15th hole. It was down to two shots with the makings of a fantastic finish: Would Matsuyama find his nerve? Or would Xander Schauffele or young Will Zalatoris do something special? Or maybe it would even be Jordan Spieth, who has slumped the past three years since post-Tiger golf seemed comfortably in his hands.

Golf was looking for someone to make a last-second, Michael Jordan-like shot.

Instead, Schauffele pantsed himself on 16 and making his first triple-bogey in a major in 1,041 holes during his career. Zalatoris teed off into the sand on No. 18. And Spieth chipped short, then missed a putt.

All Matsuyama needed on 18 was a bogey, and after hitting into the sand, he got one.

That was the least Tiger-like finish possible.

It’s not easy replacing a superhero. It took basketball years to find a replacement for Jordan. And it’s not as if LeBron James is anywhere near as good Jordan, but at least he gives the sport a name, a face and some style. Football has already replaced Tom Brady with Patrick Mahomes even while Brady is still winning Super Bowls.

Matsuyama seems like a nice guy, though a little boring. And I’m sure Japan is thrilled to have a major golf champion, though Hinako Shibuno won the 2019 Women’s British Open. 

So it’s hard to see why Japan wouldn’t have produced a major men’s champion before now. 

But no, the story was about Woods. Justin Rose’s early lead Thursday and Friday were trumped by the police report of Woods’ accident: Woods had been driving nearly twice the 45 mph speed limit, never hit the brakes, didn’t turn when the road turned. And an empty, unmarked pill bottle was found in a backpack. No one checked to see if he was sober.

Woods’ off-course life remains golf’s spectacle. His made-for-TMZ life has included his famous crash of 2009, his mugshot, inpatient therapy, multiple women alleging affairs, multiple knee and back surgeries and a DUI in 2017.

His Masters championship in 2019 was the comeback story of a lifetime. We saw him with his son on the golf course, so happy. And now this.

Let’s be honest about The Masters: When Woods crashed his car, he took golf with him. 

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.