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Mark Madden

Mark Madden: Golf needs Tiger Woods ... to keep finishing 2nd

| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 8:49 p.m.
Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 13th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship.
Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 13th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship.
Tiger Woods hits from the bunker on the first hole during the third round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Tiger Woods hits from the bunker on the first hole during the third round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Saturday, March 10, 2018, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Tiger Woods chips on the 15th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Tiger Woods chips on the 15th hole during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

"If you're not first, you're last." Ricky Bobby said that in "Talladega Nights."

He has since been quoted like he was Soren Kierkegaard, and not fictional.

But now, courtesy of Tiger Woods, second is the new first.

Woods finished tied for second Sunday at the Valspar Championship in Florida, and America reacted like it was VE Day. (Good thing we didn't finish second to Hitler.)

Most can't name who won the tournament, let alone who tied Woods for second. But golf celebrated nonetheless: TIGER IS BACK!

Yes, and finishing second. Not first, but second. Not gold, but silver. Not winner, but runner-up.

Golf and NBC were the real victors: TV ratings for the final round of the Valspar Championship were up 190 percent from last year.

Woods moves the needle. His popularity remains unabated despite a sex scandal that tarnished his golden reputation and back problems that made his participation sporadic from 2014 until now.

Woods is 42. He's earned $110 million in prize money and $1.4 billion total. He needs a sense of closure before his career ends, and nothing else.

Woods won't win four more major championships to tie Jack Nicklaus' 18.

That chase is over.

What would help golf most, in the twilight of Woods' career, is another chase: Woods pursuing past glories and coming up short.

Because of back problems, Woods has been largely absent from the PGA Tour since 2014 save the occasional start (and occasional withdrawal). Between being sighted infrequently and being nowhere near the top of his game, Woods never really got beat. He never passed the torch.

Now is the time for that.

The ideal scenario for the Masters (April 5-8) is for Woods to contend the entire tournament, and for a final-round showdown to form between Woods and one of the PGA's bright young stars. Like Jordan Spieth, 24, who has already won three majors. Or Justin Thomas, 24, who has won one.

It goes down to the wire — and Woods loses.

The same thing needs to happen at the U.S. Open, which is June 14-17.

Woods' presence and excellence will draw monster ratings. But getting beat, at long last, gives golf the best chance at popularity beyond Woods. Golf doesn't need the 42-year-old to beat the 24-year-olds.

Making the scenario perfect would be Woods eventually getting a last hurrah with one final major championship, like Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at 46 in 1986.

Golf can't be scripted. But, achieved organically, this storyline would be best for business.

Woods running roughshod over golf for a couple years would be very profitable. But what would be left after that?

But, despite Woods' odds to win the Masters dropping from 100-1 to 10-1 after he took second at the Valspar Championship, what seems a more realistic wager: Woods triumphing at Augusta, or missing the cut? Was Valspar a new beginning, or a last gasp?

Tune in April 5. (Everybody will.)

My dream narrative is based very much on pro wrestling, where the performer that's running out of gas puts over the next star. (By the way, it's almost never that simple.)

Maybe Woods' back is fine, his game perfect and his tank overflowing. Maybe he can yet overhaul Nicklaus.

But Woods is 42. Nicklaus won just one major and two other PGA events after turning 42. I'm betting on last gasp, not new beginning.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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