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Article:Pro golf sans Tiger is almost irrelevant

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As riveting as the last two days of the 2008 U.S. Open were, including the 19-hole Monday playoff, the rest of the season will be bland, boring, a snoozer.

One reason: the absence of Tiger Woods.

For the first time since Woods joined the tour, commissioner Tim Finchem will discover just how lame the PGA Tour is when the world's best player is at home every week of the season. And there's nothing he can do about it. He needs a great player to capture the public's attention, but that's not in his hands.

Phil Mickelson? Despite his risk-taking, his sporadic play is no fun to watch.

Sergio Garcia? He's also way too inconsistent, even without the painful preparation routine before each shot.

Of course there remain plenty of capable players on tour, and the final two majors of the season could contain their share of back-nine drama, but Woods is in a league of his own when it comes to talent and the ability to play in any condition. Name one other player who would have played last weekend's tournament with one good leg -- yeah, there aren't any.

As a casual golf fan, I'll probably still tune into the final-day coverage of the British Open and PGA Championship, but without Woods I'll have no rooting interest. I'll simply watch if a good, exciting finish is in store.

Woods is almost like the Yankees. Either you're rooting for him or against him -- and regardless of your stance, you're admiring the amazing shots he pulls off. I was at my family reunion Sunday, sitting in a room full of Lloyd's as Woods snuck in his tying putt on No. 18.

Earlier in the day, I had bet my uncle Chuck $5 that Woods would win the tournament, so I gave a slight fist pump when the putt dropped. Other family members cheered, while some "we want 45-year-old Rocco Mediate to win" folks let out groans. It was one of those great family moments shared in front of the TV screen.

I guarantee you hardly anyone would have been watching if Woods wasn't in contention -- that's how popular he is among the general public; how else can good television ratings for Monday afternoon's back-and-forth battle with Mediate be explained? Put another golfer in Woods' place, and much more office work would have gotten done on that day.

The name "Tiger Woods" sells itself.

Now, the tour has to figure out a way to attract attention and TV viewers while Woods rests at home. Finchem is billing the coming months as an opportunity for young players to build name-recognition among golf fans, and I'm sure that all tour players see the rest of the '08 schedule as a great chance to win a few tournaments.

Which is all gravy for the pros, who will continue to play from the same tee boxes and for the same large purses -- and not have to deal with a man wearing red on Sunday afternoons.

But Finchem better hope that Woods returns healthy and with his game intact come 2009, because the rest of this season will prove just how irrelevant the tour is to the casual golf fan when Tiger isn't striding toward the green, determined to make that tournament-winning putt.

Especially during an Olympics/election year.

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