Starstruck Media Muddies Golf’s Picture

The latest television ratings for The Masters are in, and they’re about as pretty as Phil Mickelson’s score on the 12th hole in the second round.

That was a triple-bogey six (without a penalty shot, no less) for those of you who were snoring at home.

According to the Nielsen ratings, the Masters attracted an average audience of 8.6 million viewers last weekend. The number was the lowest since 7.9 million watched the 1993 event, which saw Bernhard Langer suck the drama out of the final holes much like Bubba Watson did last weekend. The Sunday telecast drew a 7.8 percent rating (as in households), a 24 percent plunge from a year ago, when Adam Scott won the green jacket in a playoff.

Yes, Captain Obvious, the absence of Tiger Woods had a lot to do with it. The fact that Mickelson didn’t make the cut didn’t help matters, either. The tournament marked the first time since 1994 that both were nowhere to be found in the final round. The last day of The Masters without Mickelson and Woods is an Oreo cookie without the filling.

Yet for so many so-called golf fans to tune out simply because Mickelson and especially Woods weren’t around screams about the state of the sport these days. Woods hasn’t won a major tournament in six years. He’s not old news any more. He’s older news. I mean, Moses wandered 40 years in the desert, but at least he had orders. How long are we going to wait with bated breath for Woods to find the promised land again?

At 38, Woods may have at least one more major in his bag. But until he does, we’re sure to miss too many good stories along the way. The PGA Tour may lack compelling figures at present, but it doesn’t want for talent. Eighteen different players have won the last 22 tournaments, which speaks to the parity in the sport. Quick – how many of the one-time winners have you heard of – Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Zach Johnson, Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Jason Day, Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, John Senden, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones?

Bet you’re familiar with a handful of them but know less than squat about almost all of them, right? See, that’s the problem. It’s not that there’s a bunch of boring, talentless snobs on the tour but that their stories are the biggest secrets since Al Capone’s vaults.

For that, I blame the media. No, really.

Golf coverage is as stagnant as sewer water. If Phil or Tiger didn’t say it, then nobody said it, as far as too many sportswriters, editors and producers are concerned. Too many wouldn’t know a worthwhile human interest story if it bit them on their back twos. Worse yet, they don’t much care. If it doesn’t involve vulgarity or juicy gossip, they want no part of it. And as long as Woods isn’t around, the game doesn’t offer much of either one.

At its best, golf writer is a dream job. Forty-five events per season. Limited travel. Ridiculous weather. Relaxed atmosphere. Almost zero pressure. But it takes a self-starter to do the job the right way. At its worst, it can turn people into tent potatoes. It’s much easier to follow the event on TV and sample the hors d’oeuvres than to a dig deep and find out what makes the participants tick on and off the course.

The sooner the golf public finds out, the better. Mickelson and Woods aren’t hitting them any straighter, you know.