When Tiger goes missing, so does the audience

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/t/tigerwoods_AFP.jpg' class='caption'> As Tiger Woods' major sponsors plot their own courses in the enlarging wake of multiple accusations of Woods' marital infidelities, the PGA Tour and its players

Updated: December 14, 2009 09:17 IST
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As Tiger Woods' major sponsors plot their own courses in the enlarging wake of multiple accusations of Woods' marital infidelities, the PGA Tour and its players must also deal with the prospect of yet another protracted absence by its biggest rainmaker.

"We need him out here because of sponsorships and just the awareness in our tour in general," Steve Stricker told PGATour.com.

Stricker, the No. 3-ranked golfer in the world, was describing what came to be known as the Tiger Effect from the first day Woods joined the tour in 1996 - no Woods, no ratings.

Sponsors have reacted quickly after Woods announced Friday that he would take an "indefinite break" from the PGA Tour to work on his marriage. The global consulting giant Accenture ended its endorsement contract with Woods on Sunday, a day after Gillette announced it would reduce his presence in its advertising.

His presence on the tour is in question at least for the start of the 2010 season, which creates different concerns for the PGA Tour and golf in general. Most of his fellow competitors are prefacing or punctuating their remarks with expressions of concern for Woods' well-being, but all are aware of the effect he has on everything from the number of people who attend tournaments to the number of zeroes on the checks they deposit if they manage to beat him.

Although Woods is not solely responsible for the economic growth of the tour, he is given much of the credit for the quadrupling of prize money since he joined it - from $70 million in 1996 to $278 million in 2009. Most of the larger purses directly result from higher revenue from title sponsors, and the PGA Tour is in the midst of negotiating new deals with the sponsors of a dozen events that will expire by the end of 2010. Therefore, uncertainty about his availability will have a negative impact on the negotiations.

"We all know what kind of effect there is when he doesn't play in tournaments, let alone taking time off," the Hall of Famer Nick Price said. "The golf world is going to miss him."

The main uncertainties facing the tour in 2010 depend on what the definition of "indefinite" turns out to be. In 2008, Woods played six events, including the U.S. Open, before he had surgery to repair his knee and missed about 10 tournaments, including two major championships.

Television ratings for golf during his absence were down by an average of 50 percent from 2007, and down a similar level for the two events he missed from the 2009 schedule before returning to the WGC-Accenture World Match Play.

Was there an upside during the eight-month absence? There was the emergence of some new young stars. Anthony Kim, 24, and Camilo Villegas, 27, won twice - though neither has won again. The veteran Stricker rediscovered his game and rose to No. 2 in the world golf rankings. And Phil Mickelson, who regained the No. 2 spot with his win at the Tour Championship, re-established himself as clearly the second-best player in the world and the only player besides Woods capable of moving the needle.

Could Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old sensation from Northern Ireland who will join the PGA Tour in 2010, become the new world star? Could Adam Scott, 29, who recently broke his slump with a win in Australia, ditch the matinee-idol work ethic and finally emerge as the golf star he was touted to be?

Those are large question marks attached to any upside possibility for golf without Tiger Woods. Since no one, probably including Woods, knows how many events he will miss in 2010. Any forecast is guesswork. But should he miss six months, the tournaments that would suffer most based on his playing schedules from 2005-09 include the San Diego Open, where he started four of five seasons since 2006 at Torrey Pines Golf Course; the WGC-Accenture in Marana, Ariz.; the WGC-CA Championship in Miami; the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla.; the Masters in Augusta, Ga.; the Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, N.C.; the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla.; and the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.

It is doubtful Woods would play in the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif., without a prior competitive start. Should he choose to play the Open, he will probably play at the Memorial two weeks before Pebble Beach, where he set the U.S. Open record with a 15-stroke victory in 2000.

If Woods skips the entire season, he will also miss the remaining two major championships - the British Open at St. Andrews and the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. - and the AT&T, for which Woods is the host, at Aronimink Country Club near Philadelphia.

"Contrary to what everyone believes, the tour will go on," the golfer Chris DiMarco said in an interview with PGATour.com. "Anytime you take the greatest competitor of all time out of the game, though, it will miss him.

"Sometimes you think he is superhuman, and he is with some of the things he's done on the golf course. This is about Tiger and his family, though. Golf is secondary right now. We were without him and it was awful, but this is way worse. This is life. This is reality."

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