By his presence, by his absence, Tiger influenced the decade in golf

Rex Hoggard

Martin Laird hit the first official PGA Tour shot of the decade, a perfect drive on the opening hole of the 2010 Sentry Tournament of Championship. Tyler Duncan hit the last, a putt from 15 feet on the second playoff hole to win his first Tour event last week at the RSM Classic.

In between, there were 477 Tour events played since golf in this decade began in Maui and ended at Sea Island Golf Club.

It was a decade defined by the familiar brilliance of Tiger Woods as well as his periodic setbacks. For Woods – who won just 11 of his record-tying 82 Tour titles, and just one of his 15 majors in the '10s –

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it was a decade of dominance, downfall and, eventually, redemption.

“Obviously Tiger," Zach Johnson said last week when asked what defined the last decade in golf. "He's still very relevant and still very current, we know that. The last start he had, he won, so I would say that's beyond relevant."

For much of the last 10 years, Woods was defined by what he couldn’t do, more than what he could. It began when Woods withdrew from the 2010 Players Championship with an apparent neck injury and an MRI revealed he was suffering from an inflamed facet joint. Although he was back at work a month later at the Memorial his early exit from TPC Sawgrass set the tone.

Timeline: Look back at Woods' injuries

In April 2017, Woods had his fourth back surgery and seemed to indicate his playing days might be over. “I don’t know what my future holds for me,” he said at the 2017 Presidents Cup.

Always the showman, Woods did return and in dramatic style. He won the 2018 Tour Championship and added the 2019 Masters to his résumé, before closing his season with a victory last month at the Zozo Championship, which tied him with Sam Snead on the all-time wins list.

“[Woods] was to a point of not really being able to walk. When an athlete is having surgery for quality of life, well above even quality of golf, and then to come back and win the Masters, I still say that stands out,” Charles Howell III said. “I know it's later in the decade, but I think that's got to be the story.”

While Woods’ shadow will always cast wide over golf, for many it was the vacuum that his periodic absences left that created an alternative storyline for the decade.

“The portion of the last decade where [Woods] couldn't participate because of injuries and the like, the game moved on and it still was really good,” Johnson said. “The product was really good, the torch was carried by other guys, younger guys, studs, and that's impressive. You add the J-Days [Jason Day], obviously the Rory’s [Rory McIlroy], Jordan’s [Jordan Spieth], JT’s [Justin Thomas] and some other guys now that are coming behind them that can carry the torch if need be.”

McIlroy won four majors this decade. Brooks Koepka collected his own Grand Slam foursome and Speith was a three-time major champion. Dustin Johnson, Thomas and Day all won majors and all traded time atop the world ranking.

Think you're impressed with Tiger's 82? His peers are amazed

During Woods’ hiatus from the game, and maybe because of it, golf’s celebrity became dominated by a star-by-committee concept. Each time a player would emerge from the pack there would be a younger and seemingly more talented version just behind him creating a new dynamic for a sport that had been dominated and driven by a single player for so long.

“We're talking about the old days when I started, golf really wasn't even on 'SportsCenter' and it wasn't that big a deal, and now, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy and obviously Tiger Woods are superstars in the world of sport, not just in golf,” Davis Love III said. “You never thought the Masters could really be much bigger when I started playing and it's incredible how big the Masters and how big the U.S. Open are.”

Towards the close of the decade that trend continued with younger and impressive players like Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa emerging as ready-made stars. There are now players who arrive on Tour early and are fully prepared to immediately excel at the highest level.

For players like Love, whose career spanned four decades, it was the depth of talent that made the last 10 years appointment viewing, but like the previous decade it always came back to just one player.

“Obviously, Tiger is affecting a generation,” Love said. “I don't think there is any limit, it's just going to keep going.”

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