Tiger's future a mystery

KEN FIDLIN, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Let’s see now. There have been supposed sightings in Cape Town, in Manhattan, in Phoenix, in the Bahamas and, most recently, in Hattiesburg, Miss.

So far, Tiger Woods has eluded the very best efforts of the celebrity media since wife Elin attempted oral surgery (or maybe she was just trying to carve the turkey) with a knockdown wedge at their home on American Thanksgiving night.

Tiger’s on his yacht. Tiger’s in rehab. Tiger’s in therapy for sex addiction. Tiger’s partying like it’s 1999 a wer in New York. Tiger’s taking a year away from golf. Tiger’s coming back to the links next month.

One thing is certain: Tiger is not in Palm Springs today as the PGA Tour (remember them?) returns to the continental United States for the Bob Hope Classic. That doesn’t mean his name won’t come up a time or two during the proceedings, but the PGA is soldiering on for the near future without its signature player.

That future is just as uncertain for the tour as it is for Woods.

“If he and Elin decide to work it out, it could take a long time,” John Cook said in an interview with Golfweek Magazine. “If they decide not to stay together, I think he goes out pretty quick. If he works on the emotional things he needs to heal, I could see 2011. It wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Cook was one of two touring pros who attended Woods’ wedding in 2004.

Just this week, tennis star Roger Federer, another friend of Woods, said he had talked with Woods and that (Federer) expects Woods back in the game sooner rather than later.

Everybody has an opinion. But nobody knows.

When Woods turned pro in late August 1996, the PGA Tour was playing for total purses of about $67 million. In 2009, the Tour competed for purses of about $280 million, a four-fold increase in 13 years. There’s little doubt that Woods was the primary engine that drove those increases, through the expansion of TV money, as well as greater ticket demand from the public. The tour also greatly benefited from sponsorship dollars, much of it generated by Woods’ charisma.

A strong argument can be made that the Tiger effect may not be as great as it seems when you compare the PGA Tour with the expanding economies other major sports where there have also been huge gains during the past 15 years, but the fact is, he remains its greatest attraction.

We’re thinking when he does return, that first tournament back might draw a crowd. Just a guess.

Even before Woods’ infidelities were revealed, threatening his marriage and forcing his temporary withdrawal from competitive golf, the PGA Tour was preparing for a period of flat growth.

“Overall, I’d say over the next five or 10 years, you won’t see the kind of increases we had the last 10 years, even in an up economy,” commissioner Tim Finchem said last September. “They’ll be more modest. But that’s our intention, to continue to grow.”

All things considered, at the dawn of the 2010 season, the Tour appears to be in good shape despite the worldwide economic downturn that began in the last quarter of 2008 and continues today. They have been able to maintain their full schedule of 47 events and the only tournament that lacks a title sponsor is this week’s Bob Hope Classic, which lost Chrysler as its sponsor because of last year’s bankruptcy protection filing.

At the end of the 2010 season, as many as 10 title sponsorships are up for renewal, but Finchem is optimistic. Just this week, Farmers Insurance came on board to sponsor the San Diego event next week and, on Tuesday Finchem announced a totally new sponsored event for Sea Island, Ga., in November. Earlier, BMW announced it was renewing sponsorship of its Chicago-area tournament.

Total purses have increased slightly for 2010.

“I’m not saying that I think everything is fine,” Finchem said in a recent conference call with reporters. “We’re in a down economy; it’s harder to sell. And having the No. 1 player in our sport not play is not a positive thing, and it does hurt television ratings. But I look at it in the reverse. I look at Tiger spiking ratings off of a solid base when he plays, and particularly when he’s in the hunt, and I want that spike. And I certainly want the attention he brings to the sport.

“Here’s the real world: I know some pundits will say: ‘Tim is trying to spin this and spin that,’ but facts are facts. First of all, I’ve been answering the question about what we do with tournaments where Tiger doesn’t play for 13 years. The Tour has 46, 47 events, Tiger plays in 16. How do the other tournaments make it happen?

“It’s because we have a lot of players that people want to watch and we give sponsors good value.”

Canadian Mike Weir, coming up on his 40th birthday, will be making his season debut this week in the desert, along with tour rookie Graham DeLaet from Weyburn, Sask. DeLaet is coming off a 25th-place finish last week at the Sony Open.

With Pebble Beach (U.S. Open), St. Andrews (British Open) and the breathtaking Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (PGA), on the menu following the annual pilgrimage to Augusta for the Masters in April, it should be a good year for major championships.

There is also a Ryder Cup scheduled at Celtic Manor in Wales and you may recall the thrashing the United States gave the Euros in 2008 in Louisville when Woods was away rehabbing his reconstructed knee. Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie are the captains and Montgomerie had this to say about Woods’ absence that could see him miss another Ryder Cup.

“He will come back, but whether he will retain that mystique as an iconic player, I don’t know,” Montgomerie told the Irish Times.

He’s right about that. Nobody knows. All we know is that they’re playing golf in Palm Springs and Tiger’s record will stay intact: He has never played the Bob Hope and probably never will.

And yet, like golf itself, it survives and thrives. Imagine that.

ken.fidlin@sunmedia.ca


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