On the current edition of his HBO show, Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel argues that "the next logical step" for Tiger Woods would be to "call some of his corporate partners" and start his own tour, so he could "keep more of the money he's now earning for others." As evidence, Gumbel points out that the International has just gone out of business because Woods wouldn't play in the event. It's only a matter of time before the same fate befalls other Tigerless tournaments, Gumbel says.
In so declaring, Gumbel gave mainstream-media credence to a rumor that's been floating around golf for the better part of a year, and in two clicks of a mouse the theory took flight on the Internet, where chat-room pontificators noted that Woods could forgo his Tour membership and still get into 14 events a year, including all four majors, because of his World Ranking and past champion status. By the end of the week the Tiger Tour sounded like a fait accompli.
Real Sports is a fine show, but in real life Gumbel added two and two and got five. The blogosphere checked the math and came up with seven.
The International, known for its use of the modified Stableford scoring system, had been playing by its own set of rules for years, and it went away for reasons as varied and complex as the man who ran it, Jack Vickers. The PGA Tour may continue to contract, but if it does it will be because there are too many events that not enough people watch, and that would be true even if Woods were playing in every last one.
Don't believe it? Anyone up for another Battle at the Bridges? Not Tiger. He got out after his contract mercifully expired. Same with the moderately viewed Skins Game. Even the Tour-sanctioned event he hosts, the Target World Challenge, fails to capture the imagination. Its 16-man field and mid-December date give it the feel of a chummy exhibition where there's little at stake -- for players or viewers. Can't wait for a whole season of those.
Gumbel either doesn't know or chooses to ignore that the FedEx Cup's compacted schedule was so designed in part because Woods and Phil Mickelson complained about the length of the season. (The Tour also needed a new idea to sell to the networks.) Both of them reportedly were briefed on the details as the FedEx Cup was being developed. Since each gave his nod of approval, it stands to reason that, for at least the first few years, Tiger and Phil will support the FedEx Cup, playing in a minimum of three of the four playoff events. (Although the arrival of baby Woods might muck things up this summer.)
Moreover, Woods is one of golf's foremost historians. As a child, he studied the game's past and hung a chart of Jack Nicklaus's achievements on his wall. He spent every Masters champions' dinner prying stories of Tour times gone by out of Byron Nelson, whom he always called Mr. Nelson. Yes, Woods is motivated by Nicklaus's 18 majors, but also by Sam Snead's 82 Tour wins and, as we've all been speculating lately, Nelson's "untouchable" 11 Tour victories in a row.
Woods wants to be remembered for breaking the records those men set, not for destroying the Tour they built.