Tiger's layoff gives others opportunity

Somebody needs to confiscate all sharp objects from the offices of the PGA Tour. And please remove the belts and shoestrings from the officers of the PGA of America as well.


The chilling news was delivered via e-mail on Wednesday, confirming what anybody with eyes and intuition had seen over the span of 91 holes in five days at the U.S. Open. Tiger Woods wasn't faking the pain.

Woods will undergo reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the golf season rehabilitating both the knee and the double stress fracture in his left leg that developed in the weeks prior to his awe-inspiring victory at Torrey Pines.

This is obviously devastating news to the golf organizations that have developed a dependency on the star-driven stature of one player more than at any time in the game's history. The guy who moves the needle will be missing from action for at least the next seven months.

That means no British Open.

No title defense at the PGA Championship.

No wondering if he'll play in every FedEx Cup event.

No Ryder Cup.

"We wish him the best toward a speedy recovery," said a tear-drenched statement released by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

OK, the tear-drenched part was inferred, but you get the point. Golf without Tiger Woods simply doesn't have the same zing.

Do you think the U.S. Open in prime time Sunday draws a record 13.5 rating the last half hour if Woods isn't stalking the lead? Do you think 25,000 people return to the course to witness the Monday playoff if Rocco Mediate is taking on Lee Westwood? Do you think work productivity shuts down while millions of interested fans flood the USGA's playoff-tracking Web site if the world's No. 1 player isn't involved?

The answer to all of the above is an emphatic no. Woods drives golf ratings and interest like nobody else. If Phil Mickelson was the economic engine driving a Tiger-less PGA Tour the last decade, players would still be playing for half the cash and flying commercial. That's no knock on Phil, it's just the truth.

And in this economic climate, you know Finchem really is wishing for a speedy recovery so that more tournament sponsors don't consider conserving pennies. Woods' health and well-being and the tour's health and well-being are simpatico.

If there is a bright side in all of this, it's that maybe Woods' sabbatical will give others a chance to flourish in the vacuum.

Maybe Mickelson can finally win a money title.

Maybe Sergio Garcia can finally win a major.

Maybe the FedEx Cup can actually be competitive.

Maybe the American team can foster a collective identity and be successful.

That's all well and good for the short term and will enhance the product. In the long term, we want and need Woods back on the stage trying to track down Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and all the records we assumed he would break before he was done.

We know what Woods is capable of healthy. We now also know what he is capable of at limited strength. Woods' camp finally admitted that he originally tore the tendon in his knee while jogging at home shortly after last year's British Open. Even so, Woods won nine of 12 starts since then -- finishing runner-up twice and fifth in those three non-victories in case you thought he was slacking off. He is head-and-shoulders better than every single other golfer in the world, even on one good leg.

If you weren't impressed enough by what Woods did at Torrey Pines, you should be now. It wasn't as meaningful as his 1997 victory at Augusta National. It wasn't as dominant as his 15-stroke triumph in 2000 at Pebble Beach. But on both the degree of difficulty and satisfaction scale, Woods called it his best. He knew what he was risking and he deemed the reward worth it.

Let's hope he doesn't have to take those risks anymore. Let's hope surgery and his rehab are successful and he resumes his quest to catch the immortals next year, at least by the Masters.

"My doctors assure me with the proper rehabilitation and training, the knee will be strong and there will be no long-term effects," Woods said.

Now will someone please call all of those six-figure PGA Tour vice presidents in off the ledge.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.



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