It's been six months now since the Golden Gimp limped off to that place the paparazzi can't seem to find to lick his wounds and ponder upon a season bereft, cut short by injuries that would have rendered a lesser person (i.e., everyone) incapable of winning a kindergarten diaper dump-off, never mind a U.S. Open playoff.
\nYet his untimely misfortune has been a gift to almost everyone in the industry, with the exception of TV viewers and TV networks, who, having sold commercial spots based on the ratings that were pulled in by the same events last year, have been running more makeup spots than Halle Berry.
\nIn Tiger's absence I've noticed that more and more people have started referring to him as you-know-who, as if he is golf's equivalent of Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels. For both of you who aren't familiar with these books, Voldemort is the all-powerful dark wizard whose black magic is so terrifying that saying his name out loud can induce involuntary brown magic in ones Fruit-of-the-Brooms.
\n For the last six months, there has undoubtedly been a strange symmetry between these two characters, with Tiger's influence permeating every nook of the game while he remains invisible. Nobody wants to bring up his name or ask the questions: Should majors in which you-know-who did not play have an asterisk? Does Padraig Harrington have a small lightning- bolt scar anywhere on his body? (He went to Catholic school, so he must have some scars.)
\nMaybe Padraig has been honing his wand skills and studying more than golf in Glasgow under gnarly old wizard Bob Torrance, in vile weather up at the Inver-clyde training center, not far from Haggs Castle (where, incidentally, I accidentally won the Scottish Open in 1986 while focused on the single swing thought, "I wonder why they call this place Haggs Castle? I don't see any castle." It was only in later years, when I sobered up and noticed that Glasgow is a town where Sean Connery passes for a good-looking woman, that I at least understood the Hagg part).
\nYou see, it all makes sense! Bob Torrance fargles the English language (fargling is an ancient Scottish tongue that sounds like a cross between a fart and gargling) and prefers to be understood only by those whom he is teaching at any given time. Bob could be Dumbledore, and that mud-heap at which he teaches could just as easily be Hogwarts! Ordinary Muggles like you and I can't see it, just as ordinary commuters couldn't see the platform or the train that took Harry, Hermione and the Weasley brothers out of London.
\n To top it all off, the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, lives in Scotland, and Harry Potter's initials are H.P. Transpose those and what do you get? P.H. Padraig Harrington! This is exactly the kind of total crap that makes perfect sense to me!
\nSo what will happen when the Dark Lord returns? Believe me, I'm as proud as anyone of Padraig and everything he's accomplished, but like almost everyone else in golf, I want my you-know-who back.
\nFor years, I've been telling people how good the rest of the players on Tour are, and it's no insult to them that they have seldom been able to beat you-know-who, but the response I most commonly receive is, "Well, maybe, but they still look like duffers to me," and at worst, letters from illiterate Klan members in denial.
\nI can't help but think, though, that there is a silver lining to the cloud that has been partially obscuring golf since the U.S. Open. Without Tiger, the standard of play has still been stunning. It's a pity fewer people have been watching, but I know we did add at least one golf fan to our audience, who before the U.S. Open hadn't been tuning in. I'll give you a clue: his initials are T.W.