Eagle Eyed Darren Kilfara looks at the Major Leads in 2014
arly in the fourth round of the third dull major championship of the year, Peter Alliss said something to Frank Nobilo in the BBC commentary box at the Open Championship which irked me greatly. Sergio Garcia had just holed a long birdie putt at the third hole to pull within six shots of runaway leader Rory McIlroy, and Alliss suggested the monstrous roar which greeted the birdie showed the crowd had turned against McIlroy, which to Alliss seemed a bit unfair. “They just want a contest, Peter,” replied Nobilo. “Oh shut up, Frank!” barked Alliss. “The people here don’t want a contest – they want to see Rory winning by 82 shots! Pull yourself together!” Alliss has finally jumped the shark and is ready for retirement: I’ve loved his meandering commentary for decades, but he has now passed from drollery to doddery. But this attempt at banter touched a raw nerve in me. How much truth is there in Alliss’ response? And why does it annoy me so much that the answer isn’t “none”? For me, drama is fundamental to great tournament golf. The 1986 Masters is my favorite ever tournament, partly for its dramatis personae but more for the narrative which Nicklaus, Norman, Kite, Ballesteros and others created: that final round was littered with attacks and counter-attacks, heroic birdies and desperate bogeys and the result remained in doubt until the 72nd hole. I’m not alone in wanting
52 August 2014
drama like this: NBC’s Sunday telecast at this year’s US Open, which Martin Kaymer won by eight shots, was probably the lowest-rated final round broadcast in US Open history. (Nielsen ratings were down by 46% relative to the 2013 finale.) But when Tiger Woods is involved, everything changes. The final round of the 1997 Masters, which Woods won by 12 shots, was watched by 1 out of every 7 households in America, a staggering figure for a golf tournament. And the 2000 US Open, which Woods won by 15 shots, received an 11% higher Sunday rating than the 1999 US Open, in which Payne Stewart holed a dramatic final putt to defeat Phil Mickelson. At his best, Woods sucked the drama out of Sundays, and I hated him for it: if I wanted to see a procession I’d watch a royal wedding, or the final Sunday of the Tour de France. But most people loved him for it. Which leads us back to young Rory, who is rapidly becoming a specialist in Sunday drama-sucking (major championship division). McIlroy’s eight-stroke US Open win of his own, in 2011, got a 35% higher Sunday rating than Kaymer’s win this year, and the Sunday galleries at Hoylake grew rowdy in Tiger-esque fashion, so clearly he has some star power. Maybe that’s my issue: how many golf fans crave celebrity more than golf itself? We knew Tiger transcended golf in ways a Martin Kaymer never will; are Rory’s promise and personality enough to keep
Rory McIlroy dealing with stardom PHOTO © WWW.TOURPROGOLFCLUBS.COM
the milling throngs transfixed? How many people at Hoylake wanted Rory to shatter the Open scoring record so they could say “I was there” decades from now, happy to have jumped on the McIlroy Bandwagon at an early station? And why did his mastery at the Open depress me so profoundly, to the point that I was cursing Royal Liverpool for its stupid flat greens and its stupid young spectators pleading for high-fives, desperate to touch their hero as he walked to each successive tee? Ultimately Rory is neither the fifth Beatle nor the second Tiger. He’s simply Rory McIlroy, a streakily excellent golfer with a youthful exuberance many people – myself often included – can find charming. I don’t hate him for winning so convincingly; if anything, I hate myself for rooting against any golfer just for the sake of narrative drama. After all, I don’t root for crashes in car races. But I do earnestly hope ‘the field’ puts on a better show at Valhalla in August, and at Augusta, Chambers Bay, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits in 2015. Major championships only come four times a year, and whether you crave celebrity or not, we all deserve more drama than we’ve had so far in 2014 Darren Kilfara formerly worked for Golf Digest magazine and is the author of A Golfer’s Education, a memoir of his junior year abroad as a student-golfer at the University of St. Andrews. His new book is a novel called Do You Want Total War?.