11 Ways Golf Has Changed Since Tiger Woods’ Last Start

August 19, 2016

The good ol’ days ended one year ago this week at the Wyndham Championship. It was at this tournament in 2015 that Tiger Woods (you remember him, right?) last teed it up on the PGA Tour. Woods was in contention in the final round until he triple-bogeyed the 11th and bogeyed the 12th. He bogeyed four of the last six holes to finish 10th, four behind the winner, 51-year-old Davis Love III. Woods hasn’t competed in an event since and has gingerly made only a few swings in public in the wake of his third back surgery. Plenty has changed in the 12 months since our last Tiger sighting on Tour. Let us count the ways:

1. The game has lost its Tiger-centric tilt 

Golf has made its return to the Olympics after 112 years, and even though Woods was a driving force in helping that happen, no one is talking about Tiger’s absence in Rio. In 2008, when he missed the second half of the season after knee surgery, there was talk about whether the British Open and PGA wins should come with asterisks because Tiger didn’t play. Preposterous talk, of course, but that’s how much he meant to the game. Tiger’s not in Rio? He hasn’t been missed all year, and now we’re used to it. Out of sight, out of mind.

2. The Golden Child had his first hangover 

That’s one of the nicknames for Jordan Spieth—one he hates, by the way. Spieth won two majors last year and chased the Grand Slam to the 72nd hole of the British Open while Tiger was still active. Spieth was already a star by the time he finished second to Jason Day at the PGA, then went on another run that ended with him winning the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup title and $25 million in winnings for the year. Spieth won at Kapalua and Colonial, but fumbled the Masters at the 12th hole during the final round and didn’t contend in any other majors. Two wins is good playing, but for Spieth, who’s already playing for history at 23 years old based on what he did in 2015, this year has to be considered a mild disappointment no matter how he fares in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

3. Parity now reigns 

A game of musical chairs for the world’s No. 1 ranking continued all year. Rory McIlroy, Spieth and Day have all had a spin in the big seat. Day looked as if he had the momentum and the all-around game to take it deep in 2016 and rack up a monster year after early wins, including the Players. It didn’t happen, and then he got outplayed by Jimmy Walker in the PGA at Baltusrol. Since Tiger exited, we’ve had five straight first-time major-winners—Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Walker. Golf has turned into the NFL. On any given Sunday…

4. Dustin Johnson has arrived 

The man known as DJ was just another talented underachiever when Tiger bowed out. By winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont, however, Johnson has a major title on his resume and all those other near-misses are now viewed as a positive. DJ could move up to No. 1 in the world thanks to his improved wedge play, and he may yet turn into a multiple major-winner and build a stellar Hall of Fame record. Count him as the turnaround of the year.

5. The Big Three/Four became a thing 

The trio was a media creation based on results but Spieth and Day certainly earned their stripes last season and joined former No. 1 McIlroy in a trinity known as either the New Big Three or, ultimately, the Big Three. Their play was dominating but they certainly are no match for the star-power personalities of the original Big Three from the 1960s—Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. In 2016, the pseudo Big Three had its moments. McIlroy won the Irish Open, a sweet home game for him. Spieth won at Colonial, an event that has special meaning for any Texan. Day won the Players, the next best thing to a major championship. None of them won majors, however, so close the door on this nickname for now. Plus, Johnson has to figure in now. So golf has an Almost Big Four. Work on a more marketable title at home and submit it for consideration, thanks.

6. The Tour dumped Trump

Donald Trump, whose courses once hosted two PGA Tour events on the same weekend, no longer has an affiliation with the Tour. The Trump exit—Trexit—meant that his expensive alterations to the Doral Resort’s Blue Monster Course won’t have PGA Tour players to push around anymore. The World Golf Championship event sponsored by Cadillac couldn’t find another American sponsor, possibly because Trump’s advertising footprint was too big, and has moved to Mexico. Trump’s resort in Puerto Rico hosted the Puerto Rico Open concurrently with Doral, but that event moved to a different site last year in the wake of presidential candidate Trump’s comments on Hispanic immigrants.

7. The rules ruled the U.S. Open, but not in a good way

Golf will be different in 2017 in the majors after the USGA screw-up at Oakmont. Johnson had a ball move on the green before he putted at the sixth hole in the final round, and he replaced it without penalty after alerting his playing partner and the rules official. Six holes later, USGA officials informed him that he may or may not have committed an infraction. Until the end of the round, nobody knew the U.S. Open leader’s actual score, an untenable mistake that can’t happen again. The USGA reacted quicker at the U.S. Women’s Open, when Anna Nordquist broke the rule about grounding a club in a sand bunker (an infraction noticed only by a Fox Sports super-close-up) during a three-hole playoff. A better process will be in place next year—at least, it had better be. Not knowing the leader’s score potentially changes the strategy of every other contender’s shot. And the rule about a ball moving on a green even if a player hasn’t touched it with his club or grounded his putter behind it needs another change because the USGA applied that rule inconsistently.

8. Anchoring is just a boating term again  

This year marked the start of a new era: the ban on anchored putting. Those players using belly putters or long putters had to adjust. Some long putters, such as Bernhard Langer, still used the club but stopped anchoring it against his chest and made it work by holding it just apart from the body. Others have gone to a claw grip or a conventional putting style, with mixed results. The anchor, however, looks permanently sunk.

9. Golf joined the Olympics — and it was actually pretty great

Justin Rose made history when he became the first player to make a hole-in-one in Olympic golf’s brief history. Then he made more history by winning the gold medal in men’s golf for Great Britain, holding off Stenson for the victory. Even third-place finisher Matt Kuchar was ecstatic about winning a medal, albeit the bronze. For all the doubts about Olympic golf leading up to Rio, the players put on a rousing show and made golf’s return an artistic success, which may have some bearing on whether it remains part of the Olympic Games beyond 2020.

10. Phil still got game

Phil Mickelson shot a bogey-free 65 in the British Open’s closing round at Royal Troon, but that wasn’t good enough to catch Henrik Stenson, who posted 63. Once again Phil finished second in a major championship. That just shows you, Tiger, that not everything changes in a year.

11. Tiger’s world ranking dropped 510 places

From 257 to 767. Come back, Tiger. We miss you.