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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Entering the Tiger-Free Zone

So here we are at last. It's the final "big" tournament of the season, and the striped cat is nowhere in sight. (Yeah, I know the Fall Finish is big to those players still trying to secure their cards. Don't be so literal; just go with me here for a while.) This is uncharted territory, and there are many without a star to steer by.

Tiger Constellation picture by ~paliden42

The sponsors and TV networks are probably drinking themselves silly right now, trying to ignore all the lost revenues from lost viewers.

The players are mostly licking their chops, knowing that even if Tiger suddenly gets it together this week, it won't matter. They get the entire pie this year.

The fans are split between those who feel Tiger got what he deserved and those who don't watch golf unless they watch Tiger. Most of those (in both groups) will probably be watching football.

And Tiger? I suspect he's more concerned about getting his game together for the Ryder Cup next week and those appearances he'll be making around the world later this year. Actually, he's probably glad just to know what he's going to be doing from one day to the next, and what he's needs to work on to get his game back.

Is any of this a big deal? It depends on who you ask, I guess. 2010 has certainly been a strange year for golf. While the LPGA Tour has struggled through one of the toughest years in its history, the PGA Tour has discovered the meaning of parity... and to be honest, I'm not sure they liked it all that much. Their obsessive focus on Tiger and Phil, to the relative exclusion of the other players, finally left them high and dry when the stars stopped shining for a while. Not that Tiger and Phil are the problem -- the Tour needs stars. But the night sky would be pretty boring if you only had two stars shining in it, don't you think?

This year has been the first real chance for the rank-and-file to shine without the big names in the way... and more than a few of them have done so. Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson have both positioned themselves to become better-known and command a little of the spotlight, even after Tiger and Phil return to form. Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, and Jim Furyk have given the "old guys" a presence missing since Vijay started struggling, and several of the "young guns" (like Jason Day and Hunter Mahan) stepped up to the plate as well. And some established names recovering from injuries they experienced over the last couple of years (Paul Casey and Luke Donald come to mind), as well as some who have been in their own recent funks (Adam Scott, K.J. Choi, and Camilo Villegas, to name a few), are also back in the picture.

And all of those guys made it to the Tour Championship. If they all put on the show they are capable of, this could be one of the best tournaments we've seen in years.

So I'm looking forward to this tournament. I know there's been a lot of talk about "the changing of the guard" but, unlike past Tiger-free zones when only a few players briefly made a little noise, we've got a fairly large group of players who seem eager to strut their stuff.

Perhaps this week will be their launching pad -- not for just a few stars, but several entire constellations!

2 comments:

  1. You have to admit - it's pretty amazing that this is the first tournament in more than 14 years on the PGA Tour that Tiger Woods is not eligible to play in. I don't know if Mickelson was eligible for the Tour Championship his rookie year or not. He's the only other player I can think of who might have a record like that. (do you think the thought has gone through his head that he have really used that $10 million check after his bank account got cut in half ?) :-)

    The greens are perfect at East Lake. A claim not many courses in this area can make with the miserable summer weather we've had this year. The rough is wirey, but playable. The fairways are hard and fast. These guys could have a really spectacular week of scoring.

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  2. At least early on, it looks like the course is holding up pretty well. Nobody is on a big run of birdies and pars. It's taking solid putts to go down.

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