By Jim • 

Sports Fan: Can a healthy Tiger win another major?

In fact, TV ratings were down substantially in events that Tiger missed due to surgery to alleviate the effects of a pinched nerve in his back.

How substantial? Well, the Masters was down 28 percent from a year ago while the Players Championship ratings were down an alarming 54 percent. And, figures at the U.S. Open illustrated that a Tiger-less event with the stature of the Open was still adversely impacted as the ratings were down 46 percent. Those are astounding numbers, and while they’re not all tied to Tiger’s absence, his presence benefits every tournament and draws more fans’ eyeballs to the TV set as well as to the venue than any other single player.

While Tiger is not the only great player competing in the PGA now, he’s everyone’s magnet, the one who lures fans to the course in droves when he plays, as they come to follow the “chosen one,” hoping for some magic emanating from his sticks and perhaps another majors’ win even as he nears 40.

Now that Tiger has announced his return to the game (the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club set for June 26-29 was to be his return to the sport), fans, TV officials and even his fellow players are getting excited again, realizing the value of one of golf’s greatest players in both dollars and emotional draw.

Since the glory days of Jack Nicklaus, no one has caught the public’s eye like Tiger Woods, and his presence at “The Open” (known in America as The British Open), which began Thursday at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, will draw an even greater crowd than usual to watch Tiger go for his 15th major. Remember, he won at Royal Liverpool in 2006, and if his game has rounded into shape by then, he’ll be a contender since he’s so driven to compete — and win.

Tiger’s doctors have given him the green light, and he says he’s able to swing without pain for the first time in months, so he’ll have the Quicken Loans National and a few weeks of practice to get ready for The Open with all its rough, pot bunkers and other hazards including the wind, which often can wreak havoc on players who hit the ball too high or inaccurately.

Sure, his slightly rusty swing will be tested as he makes his way back from yet another medical issue, but he still has the power, the grace and the determination that catapulted him to 14 major wins (none in the past five seasons, though) and 79 PGA victories overall, just three behind the great Sam Snead, who finished his career with 82.

So, obviously, Tiger still has his sights set on Sam’s record and probably realizes he’ll have to be more consistent to win four more majors and tie the Golden Bear. But at 38, which really isn’t that old, and as an athlete who always keeps his body in shape, many feel Tiger Woods will surpass both Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus before he lays down his clubs. I’m one of those fans who believes Tiger will get the job done.

And, like other golf fans, I would like to see the bar lifted even higher for the next Tiger or Jack or Sam to shoot for. I think it was former American Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, among others, who said, “Records are meant to be broken.”

Maybe it’s time for these two.

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