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Archive for Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Commentary: Tiger’s absence leaves void at PGA

August 6, 2008

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There's a surgeon general's warning attached to this PGA Championship:

Beware that constant exposure to a Tiger Woods-free major championship might contribute to chronic disinterest among those equating the phrase "Buick Open" with an old Skylark with the passenger's door ajar.

It's still a major championship, always a worthwhile attraction. But when Tiger participates, a major championship becomes a march toward immortality. And that he'll miss Oakland Hills this week while recovering from season-ending knee surgery defuses much of the electricity approaching this event.

Yet there will be stars.

Phil's coming. Maybe this time Mickelson can keep his drive away from Lahser Road, unlike that disastrous rock concert-frenzied pairing with Woods on Day 1 of the Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills' fabled South Course four years ago.

Maybe international lady magnets, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia, can stir the imaginations of all in their galleries by finally removing themselves from the fraternity of Best Golfer Without a Major Championship.

And there's a certain blue-collar appeal to two-time PGA champion Vijay Singh, only the hardest-working man on the practice grounds.

But it will lack celebrity.

The diehards will come.

They'll know that 23-year-old Anthony Kim, one of the young cannons off the tee, became the first to win multiple PGA Tour events before his 25th birthday since Tiger. They'll know that some guy named Boo Weekley is a virtual U.S. Ryder Cup team lock and not a shadowy character from "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Three years from now, nobody will remember or even care that Woods didn't participate in the PGA Championship. There will be a winner and that'll become history's only interest in these four days in Bloomfield Township. But Tiger still dominates the moment - even in his absence. Does knowing that the world's premier sports champion isn't there prowling along the leaderboard steady another guy's usually yippy putter?

It's one thing if Tiger isn't playing well. It's a wholly different matter if he's not even present.

That's why, barring few exceptions, the PGA champion will initially wear an asterisk.

Maybe that's a disservice to some extraordinarily gifted players, but these are the residual side effects of one individual or one team dominating a sport's promotion and marketing. It's all you know because it's all you see. Suddenly remove them from the equation and you're scrambling for a contingency plan for maintaining mainstream interest.

Yeah, "these guys are good" according to the PGA Tour's advertising slogan, but the problem now is "that guy is phenomenal."

What next?

The British Open did quite nicely without Tiger last month.

But that had more to do with the freak-show appeal of 53-year-old Greg Norman taking the lead into the final round than it did with defending champion Padraig Harrington joining him in the final pairing.

It was high drama watching Norman fall back to earth as Harrington won for the second straight year.

But the closest PGA parallel this week would be 2005 champion Mickelson paired with 53-inch waist John Daly on Sunday afternoon.

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