Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lots of (yawn) parity in golf

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ST. LOUIS -- Parity and dissemination can be good. For instance, it would be nice to have parity where owning an iPad is concerned. And in-ground swimming pool parity would be a plus.

Sports is lousy with division and parity these days. The eighth-place Los Angeles Kings are in the Stanley Cup final, the 9-7 New York Giants won the Super Bowl, and the 2011 Cardinals -- with the eighth best record in baseball -- slipped in the back door to win a World Series.

For those teams and those towns, it's great stuff. For fans of Cinderella, it's fun to re-live the fairy tale.

But parity has a flip side. If Cinderella gets to the ball every time, it's not special. You need a sinister, prevailing stepmother for the fairy tale to happen. With parity, there is no David and Goliath, no Bronx Bombers, no Big Machine. There are only Davids, bombers and machines. The capital-letter attrition alone is alarming.

Parity is prominent in professional golf these days, and it's not an especially good thing. With the U.S. Open fast approaching, the game is listing without oars in the water, without identity.

Fred Couples gave the Champions Tour a charge last summer, but the spark seems to have faded. The leading winner on the tour this season is someone named Michael Allen.

The LPGA seems to spend most of its time in foreign countries, places like Brazil, Thailand and Galloway, N.J. The top four LPGA players, and eight of the top 10, are Asian, difficult for American audiences to fully embrace.

But where this diversity is especially relevant is at the axis of golf, the PGA Tour, or post-Tiger-mania PGA Tour. The situation was exemplified by the recent Masters. The game's "Big Three," i.e. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, were easily the most enchanting players at Augusta National in April. Problem was, they were just ceremonial starters.

Once the actual tournament began, things settled back into a more anonymous, diluted state. Coming off his first victory in 30 months, Tiger Woods offered up his worst performance as a professional at Augusta and tied for 40th. Bubba Watson won the tournament, but hardly won the ratings. Viewership was down 22 per cent from a year earlier.

Strange isn't it? A left-hander had not won at Augusta until Phil Weir in 2003. Now a lefthander has won five of the last 10 Masters. Now, that's parity.

Bubba's breakthrough continues a trend. After Woods won the Battle of Wounded Knee at Torrey Pines in 2008, and then took the year off, Padraig Harrington lifted the environment by capturing two majors in succession. Since, there has been 13 majors won by 13 different players. Two of the 13, Phil Mickelson and Angel Cabrera, had won a major previously. None have won another.

Watson now becomes the flavor of the week. He joins Rory McIlroy, Charles Sc hwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and even Harrington as players the golf press props up to fill the void. People got especially carried away with McIlroy, suggesting he had the perfect swing, perfect disposition and perfect opportunity to take the reins.

To be fair, he does have the perfect ancestry, but since winning the U.S. Open last year, McIlroy is an imperfect 0 for three in the majors. Don't misunderstand; McIlroy is a terrific talent and just 23. There is every reason to believe he will win many more tournaments, even more majors. But to this point, he's not unlike like Schwartzel, Watson, McDowell, Trevor Immelman and others. All moved to the head of the class but stopped raising their hands.

The PGA Tour is 22 events into the season and has 20 different winners. This decade of golf is in a strange place right now. It has no stars, just lots of...yawn... parity.

-- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2012 B6

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