PGA getting early taste of life without Tiger

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

LAS VEGAS -- Beneath the jagged peaks of the mountains surrounding Red Rock Canyon, it was well over 37C last week and even residents were complaining about the temperature.

But the hottest topic was the same in the desert as it was everywhere else in the microcosm that is golf.

At TPC Las Vegas, Badlands, Siena Golf Club, or any of the other green carpets that roll out around the JW Marriott Las Vegas resort in nearby Summerlin, the sweaty denizens were in shock that U.S. Open winner Tiger Woods was shelved for the season a couple of days later.

If those who play the game for sheer enjoyment are having trouble dealing with the absence of Tiger, imagine how an industry that makes money off pro sport feels?

Not that it's obvious on the Strip here, but rumour has it that betting is big business in Vegas and, with Woods out, the favourites for next month's British Open are Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. There is a predictable trio to take to the bank when placing your wager on a major, but nobody bets on golf, do they?

And we haven't even mentioned the angst of TV execs who now have to, temporarily, get out of the all-Tiger-all-the-time mindset.

However, the time is now to think seriously about the end of Tiger's career ... and don't get the wrong idea with that statement. Tiger will return as good as ever next year. Combine his fitness level with his steel resolve and it isn't difficult to see his 15th career major on the horizon.

The question is not whether Woods will be ready for 2009, but how long will he hang in afterwards? That may not be a topic even he has considered, but he always has been a man with a plan. In seven to 10 years, the tour may be getting used to a more permanent version of life without Tiger.

It's only a personal opinion, but it's difficult to imagine Woods The Golfer lasting beyond the age of 40 -- just more than seven years away -- for those who think of him as a Superman. He isn't, as his recent knee and leg problems illustrate.

Anyone who thinks Woods isn't already the greatest player ever is spending too much time in the Vegas sun. But there will be no doubt of that by 2015, when he will be an automatic entrant into the World Golf Hall of Fame and the holder of the record for most career major titles that he cherishes so much.

He will be a billionaire by then, looking to spend time with his family while pursuing new interests such as golf course design. He is too intelligent to not develop interests outside of playing the game.

Look back a few years and recall how Annika Sorenstam began looking at other aspects of her life. She even worked as a chef for a while. Also a budding course designer, Sorenstam also is undergoing changes in her personal life and she is now on her farewell spin around the LPGA Tour at the age of 37.

STAR TRANSITION

The difference there is that Sorenstam leaves the LPGA Tour with the transition in star power complete after the emergence of Lorena Ochoa as the No. 1 female player in the world. And there is also a solid cast behind Ochoa.

On the PGA Tour, an entire generation has been raised with the idea that golf is Tiger. The kids who were 10 when Woods played his first full year in 1997 are now in their early 20s and now represent the present.

Woods remains the marquee name in golf, but the PGA Tour needs to find a way to convince casual fans who will be watching AT (After Tiger) that it is more than a one-trick pony.

If and when ratings start to fall and galleries begin shrinking this season, imagine what it will be like when Woods retires or, at best, is making only special appearances at big events?

The tour can't afford to just get through the next few months without Woods and be satisfied with damage control. As difficult as it is, his injury should serve as a wakeup call.

The Tiger factor was credited for drawing so many fans to the game and it could be responsible for waning interest once he exits for good. At that point, the heat on the PGA Tour will make a summer day in the desert seem pleasant by comparison.


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