Tiger Woods turned back the clock last week, but presumably he did not turn it back to the 2000s, when any tournament without him was consigned to the remainder table.
The world of golf has changed. Woods, a fifth green jacket notwithstanding, is not likely to dominate, not at 43, battered and bruised and unable to commit the time he once did to preparation, while also facing a surfeit of talent unafraid of the challenge. Presumably.
For golf not to devolve again into a tour of the haves and the have-nots, the latter tournaments with fields sans Tiger, it needs the best players in the world to do their part to ward off apathy when Woods is not there to do it for them.
This was what the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., was facing. Masters fatigue and Easter weekend double-teamed the tournament, which seemed to effectively counterpunch with the best player in the world rising to the top of the leader board.
But if the RBC Heritage was a test, Dustin Johnson, World No. 1, failed spectacularly, a week after tying for second at Augusta. Johnson took a one-stroke lead into the final round, was tied for the lead after an indifferent front nine, then played a five-hole back-nine stretch in seven-over par, including consecutive double bogeys.
Has anyone seen the remote?
Johnson, 6-foot-4 and as athletic and talented as anyone in golf, shot a 77 (41 on the back nine) and tied for 28th. The tournament was won by C.T. Pan, a 5-foot-6 package of professional mediocrity prior to posting his first PGA Tour victory. In nine previous starts in the calendar year, he had not finished better than a tie for 42nd.
Good for him, of course. But players ranked 113th in the world don’t generally outplay the No. 1 by 10 shots in the final round of a tournament the latter is leading.
Johnson hit half the 14 fairways and half the 18 greens in regulation. His score equaled the second worst of the day, only better than the 82 from Satoshi Kodaira.
At least the indestructible and ubiquitous Matt Kuchar did his part to breathe life into the proceedings. Twice a winner this season and ranked 16th, he birdied the 18th hole to take the clubhouse lead at 11-under par. Pan, however, played the difficult three closing holes in one-under par to win by one.
“Another great week,” Kuchar said. “You come here, you try to win a golf tournament. I certainly had a chance. I had to make that birdie on the last. That was a thrill. I thought that might be good enough. Hats off to C.T. for closing strong. Those last three holes, 16, 17 and 18, are tricky holes with the wind. To play those steady is well done.”
So the tour is on to New Orleans and the two-man team event, the Zurich Classic. The field has Brooks Koepka (teaming with brother Chase), Jon Rahm (with Ryan Palmer) and Bubba Watson (with J.B. Holmes) to elevate it in the absence of Tiger.
The onus, in the absence of Woods, now falls to them.