Tiger's abdication leaves a sport on tenterhooks

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 September, 2004, 12:00am

It was more than the end of an era. It was an industry exhaling as the bull run may have come to an end for Tiger Inc, otherwise known as the PGA Tour. The bean counters are now left to rue the simmering of once overheated cash registers.

A child had put a sport on his back and single-handedly turned it into a multi-billion dollar industry like no athlete ever. Not even the accomplishments of the mythical Michael Jordan can match those of Tiger Woods.

For five straight years he was the number one ranked gofer in the world. His aura was so brilliant that Woods was the first golfer to ever become the most recognisable athlete in the world.

When Vijay Singh beat Woods last week in a dramatic final-round showdown at the Deutsche Bank Open, he also overtook Woods' top spot. It was the first time in 264 weeks someone other than Woods was ranked number one. During this remarkable run Woods was voted player of the year five straight times and in perhaps the most dominant stretch of golf ever played, he won seven of 11 Major championships.

It got so routine, so Shumacherish that many around the game were questioning the heart of his competitors while bemoaning the imminent demise of golf. But Woods built the modern game and even when he was dominating he was still compelling viewing.

This is what happens with transcendent athletes. They transcend. They bring the neophytes out of their seats and the money out of their pockets. Sure, golf has exploded in popularity over these last 10 years. But there are still many more Woods fans than there are golf fans.

Without Woods on tournament leaderboards, ratings drop off significantly. Even when he was 10 strokes ahead of the field, people would still watch because they knew that they were watching history. You want to watch history today or do you want to watch Singh shoot six under, again?

They say Woods was caught by the relentless Singh, but the truth is he was caught by himself. Over the last year or so, Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have been better golfers than Woods.

Woods refused to acknowledge anything was wrong with his game. He left his results to acknowledge that.

His self-belief and confidence, which were the root of his dominance, now became the seeds of his demise. He is one stubborn guy.

It's scary to think that we may have seen the best of Woods already and he is only 28-years-old. The golf industry is praying that he hasn't peaked. They could use another 15 or so competitive, even borderline dominant years from him. But who knows where Woods' priorities will be in the future.

At his age, he could knock around in the wilderness for a few years and then have an Andre Agassi-like revival in his early 30s. He could knock around again for a few more years and come back to have an early 40s revival like Singh. He could knock around some more and come back and dominate the senior tour in his early 50s. We could well see three or four Woods cycles over the next 30 years.

The problem is, despite Singh's rise to number one at age 41, the tour is getting much younger. Just like the NBA, kids like Ty Tyron and Kevin Na are skipping college and going straight to the tour.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were just warming up at 28. Wood is something of an old fogey at 28.

But never mind the future, what about the immediate future? It's obvious that the sometimes prickly Singh cannot carry the game. He would be the first to tell you he has no desire to do it as well. The Fijian is the consummate professional and, according to everybody in the game, no player works as hard. His ascension to the throne has been remarkable considering only a few years ago the native of Fiji was working at a golf club in Borneo. He has a silky smooth swing that is a treat to watch.

But he is still Singh and how often does someone come home and say, 'Honey, grab the kids and hop in the car, Vijay Singh is playing nearby'.

It won't happen and the mega purses of today's events were built on the dollars being spent by the casual, first time fans. The Tiger fans. While purists have lamented the lack of etiquette from the legion of Woods fans, the golf industry, which has overbuilt itself lately, know who butters their bread. For them, there is no such thing as too much Woods. For them, number two is still number one.