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Golf majors don't need Tiger in hunt

The realization came over me late Sunday afternoon, as Bubba Watson was making his run up the leader board and setting up one of the most memorable finishes in Masters history:

I did not miss Tiger Woods.

In fact, Woods hadn't crossed my mind in the entire final round. That's a good thing for golf. For too long, the majors have been all about Tiger. I've said many times that the majors are more compelling when he's around, chasing Jack Nicklaus and driving up ratings.

But at some point, we need to move on. No sport should rely on a single player. Golf can survive without Tiger, in the same way the NBA carried on without Michael Jordan.

So what if the ratings are lower? The tournaments are still on TV. When Woods isn't in contention, I don't sit there lamenting the fact that marginal fans are out mowing the lawn. The PGA Tour players won't go hungry.

The Masters would have been more interesting if Woods had been in contention. But it was fine without him. We got a stirring finish and a charming champion in Bubba Watson, an enormous talent whose wedge from the trees on the second playoff hole will go down as one of the great shots in golf history.

Watson won the hearts of the American public with his audacious play and winning personality. He wept in his mother's arms on the green afterward, thinking about his late father and the baby he and his wife had adopted two weeks before.

It was the sort of genuine emotion we rarely get from Woods, a robotic star who guards his feelings. That is, unless he's reciting some well-rehearsed lines to explain his sexual indiscretions in a news conference.

The lasting memory of Woods at this Masters was him drop-kicking his 9-iron on Friday after driving into a bunker on the 16th.

Nick Faldo, commentating on TV, said Woods had "lost his game and his mind." Paul Azinger chimed in on radio, comparing Woods to the "south end of a northbound mule."

Woods is famous for his boorish behavior on the course. That's why it's been hard for fans to embrace him over the years. His genius was apparent, but his humanity distant and unreachable, like an overlong par-4.

Two years ago, when his philandering became public, Woods promised to be a better man. He also vowed to be more respectful on the golf course. It rang hollow at the time. It seems even more so now.

As a role model, Woods is a continual disappointment. Kicking a club might not seem like some major offense to a weekend duffer. But it's a poor example for younger players, who typically struggle with their emotions.

When Woods won at Bay Hill two weeks before the Masters, it seemed he was on his way back. But he still has issues with his game and his psyche. If he's kicking clubs, can he really have kicked his personal demons?

The PGA should make its feelings clear by fining Woods and suspending him. The rule book says players can be disciplined for "conduct unbecoming a professional."

Of course, even if Woods gets punished, we might not find out. The PGA doesn't announce discipline. The tour never confirmed John Daly's six-month suspension in 2008, though Daly revealed it publicly.

You have to think it would leak out if Woods was suspended. It's hard to fathom, but imagine if the PGA gave Woods a suspension that included the U.S. Open, taking away a chance at another precious major?

I don't know about you, but I'd still tune in.

email: jsullivan@buffnews.com