You hardly need a reminder of just how good Tiger Woods is. We saw it all again last week at Torrey Pines when he limped to his third U.S. Open title. The PGA Tour should consider changing its campaign slogan from “These guys are good” to “This guy is good — No, Unbelievable.”
The rest of this year is going to be different enough, however, so the slogan change can wait for 2009. But before we talk about what to expect in this new Tigerless world, it’s worth noting two things that won’t change at all.
There’s a good chance Tiger will once again be named Player of the Year. He has won it nine of the last 11 years. He’s got four wins, two more than anyone else, and that includes a major. Phil Mickelson would have to win twice more, and one of them would have to be the British Open or the PGA Championship, just to match Tiger. Masters champion Trevor Immelman would need to win three more times.
It’s also almost certain that Tiger will retain the No. 1 spot in the world golf rankings. He’s got a ridiculous lead over No. 2, Phil Mickelson — about twice as many points. Adam Scott, the No. 3 player, has only about a quarter of the points. Mickelson is the only player with a chance to catch Woods, and he’d pretty much have to run the table from here on out to do it. It’s not going to happen.
So, what’s changing? Just about everything else. Tiger’s absence means Mickelson will assume the throne of golf. Think interim No. 1. For him and other marquee players, many of whom seem to have contracted terminal Tiger-itis, this will be a golden chance to win a major championship.
At the British Open at Royal Birkdale next month, you’ll have to go past No. 2 Mickelson and No. 3 Adam Scott to find the favorite. Mickelson is a high-ball hitter who doesn’t usually fare well in the wind, and the Open is often windy. Scott played at Torrey Pines with a broken hand, so he’s unlikely to take over the favorite’s role.
Based on his performance at Carnoustie last year and his playoff win at the Players, Sergio Garcia will be the man to beat at Royal Birkdale.
The PGA Championship is a different matter. Mickelson won it at Baltusrol in ’05 and has had close calls in a few others — Whistling Straits, Atlanta Athletic Club and Southern Hills. Unless someone else heats up, it’ll be Phil’s turn at Oakland Hills, although he tied for 94th in the ’96 Open there. Based on track records, it might make sense to watch for a couple of other veterans. Jim Furyk and Ernie Els shared fifth place in ’96, while Vijay Singh tied for seventh. There’s also Davis Love, who three-putted the 72nd green to miss forcing a playoff with the eventual winner, Steve Jones.
The PGA Tour’s biggest baby, the FedEx Cup, is going to miss Woods. He won the inaugural event and virtually carried it on his shoulders despite skipping one of the four so-called playoff events. He lost a high-powered duel with Mickelson in Boston, blistered Cog Hill with a 63 en route to a win there and lapped the field in the Tour Championship at East Lake. The first FedEx Cup was a success because it was essentially the Tiger Woods Show.
That won’t happen this year. Mickelson, second in the points race, takes over as the FedEx Cup man to beat. The top 144 point-getters qualify for the first round of playoffs at the Barclays. Tiger’s spot won’t be filled — 143 players will tee it up. His points total will probably make him eligible for the second round, the Deutsche-Bank Championship, and the third round, the BMW Championship, but it’s unlikely he will remain among the top 30 and qualify for the Tour Championship. If he were to qualify for the Tour Championship despite missing half the year and all of the playoff events, it would be an embarrassing situation and might force yet another point-system overhaul.
The American Ryder Cup team will have to make do without Woods for the first time since 1995. The Americans have a 1-4 record against Europe with Woods on the squad. Tiger’s spot will now go to the player who finishes ninth on the point list. At the moment, that’s Brandt Snedeker. Meanwhile, former Masters champion Zach Johnson is 11th, and the U.S. Open runner up, Rocco Mediate, is up to 15th.
Tiger’s record is 10-13-2 in the Ryder Cup. His 13 losses are more than any other American player except Raymond Floyd. Previous U.S. captains have had only modest success finding a suitable partner for him in team matches. That won’t be an issue this time, although Tiger’s expertise will be missed at Valhalla, where he won the 2000 PGA.
Mickelson has quietly discussed his desire to win the money title at some point in his career, but since the arrival of Woods, that has seemed impossible. Vijay Singh proved it wasn’t, winning it twice, but Woods has led in winnings in eight of the last 11. Now the door is open for Mickelson to achieve his goal. Woods has won more than $5.7 million, and Mickelson is next with $3.9. He may have to win once and have another high finish somewhere to make up that difference, but with Tiger out, it can happen. Phil’s closest remaining competitor is Justin Leonard, who trails by about $1 million.
Tiger won’t win the Vardon Trophy as the player with the best adjusted scoring average. Woods has been dominant in this category, too. His scoring average of 67.65 was almost two shots better than Mickelson, 69.45. Woods won’t play the required minimum number of rounds, 60, so he won’t be eligible to win it for an eighth time. Mickelson will face some competition for the trophy. Luke Donald is at 69.58 while Bart Bryant and Garcia are at 69.66.
The PGA of America’s post-season, made-for-TV tournament, the Grand Slam of Golf, will have to find a substitute.
There is no way to judge Tiger’s affect on tournament attendance, but this summer’s schedule is likely to feel his absence. He was planning to play the Buick Open near Flint, Mich., and his own second-year event, the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in the Washington, D.C., area. Woods will also will miss the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.
Missing Tiger may have the biggest effect with the public and the media. Some may quit paying attention to the rest of the season with Woods out. Will these next two majors need asterisks to indicate that they were Tiger-free? No. They’re still major championships. For someone other than Tiger, it’s going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.