The National Golf Foundation issued a report last week predicting growth in the number of golfers and rounds played over the next 10 years "will be gradual and hardly noticeable," while also forecasting "a net decline of between 500 and 1,000 golf courses in the 2010s."
Meanwhile, the icons atop the American golf culture have never looked more vulnerable, in large part because they are so woefully outnumbered. Of the top 11 players in the World Ranking, seven are European — in other words all but Tiger Woods (No. 2), Phil Mickelson (4), Steve Stricker (5) and the First National Bank of Jim Furyk (6).
So perhaps it's only fitting that this week's $7.5 million Dubai World Championship will crown Europe's new No. 1 — the season-long Order of Merit winner will earn a $1.46 million bonus — and maybe even a new world No. 1.
Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old German who won the PGA at Whistling Straits in August, would run the table with a victory at Jumeirah Golf Estates' 7,675-yard Earth Course. He's about $400,000 ahead of Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell in the Order of Merit, and at third in the World Ranking would take over No. 1 with a win if the current No. 1, Lee Westwood, finishes worse than second.
Despite already shining at the PGA and the Ryder Cup, in addition to winning three other European Tour events in 2010 and seven others overall, Kaymer is calling this the biggest week of his young career.
McDowell is enjoying a similar run, having won twice in Europe and of course at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
"I'm feeling as good about my game now as I have all year," he said after placing fifth in Hong Kong last weekend.
Westwood shot an 8-under 64 to win last year's Dubai tournament and the Order of Merit, but after missing part of this season with a calf injury, and trailing Kaymer by $1.25 million, he has no chance to defend the money title this week.
In fact McDowell is the only player in this week's 60-man field who can catch Kaymer atop the money list.
The payday for winning the Dubai World Championship and the Race to Dubai (Order of Merit) on the same day would be just over 2 million Euros, or $2.7 million.
That's a far cry from the $11.35 million Furyk banked for winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, but as the Belfast Telegraph's Karl MacGinty put it:
"With Lee Westwood at No 1 in the world rankings; five of his fellow Europeans in the top-10 and three of the four major titles won by European Tour members this year, the megabucks on offer in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup don't buy as much prestige as they used to."
Now that Kaymer has announced he will join Westwood and Rory McIlroy on the European Tour (and therefore not on the PGA Tour) in 2011, that's never been more true.
The world's most scrutinized athlete penned a column in Newsweek and appeared on ESPN's Mike & Mike radio program ostensibly to tell us what he's learned: He had his priorities out of whack. And he still doesn't feel like talking about the particulars of the car crash that started it all.
Poised to make his last start of the year at next week's Chevron World Challenge — the tournament he hosts but WD'd from last year — Woods seemed to be trying to preempt the flurry of one-year anniversary stories in the works. He typed, talked and even tweeted a few lines on Twitter.
But has he changed? Despite blowback from his charm offensive — more than a few journos were, uh, offended — it's really impossible to say from afar. After the turkey that was Tiger's 2010, stuffed with crisis-management experts who said he should go on Oprah, the woman on TV mispronouncing "bulging disc," Internet spoofs, endless chatter about the roles of Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Mark Steinberg, Steve Williams, Y.E. Yang, PEDs, Buddhism and Brit Hume — after all that, at least this remains the same:
Woods is still haunted by his own celebrity. True, he leveraged that celebrity in ways that were clever, fruitful, manipulative and above all unprecedented, but he was and remains an awkward public figure. His next truly funny joke or insightful bit of self-analysis on the record will be his first.
As he matures, Woods may increasingly resemble an old quote attributed to Ben Hogan: "I don't like the glamour. I just like the game." And that would be fine.
What the PGA Tour, the television networks, Nike, the National Golf Foundation and countless other entities need is for the game to resume liking him back, post-haste.