Once again, Tiger's absence overshadows PGA
This isn't exactly what Tim Finchem, FedEx and NBC had in mind.
When Tiger Woods missed the PGA Tour playoffs two years ago as he rehabbed following knee surgery, television ratings sagged, as they had all season, even though Camilo Villegas provided some drama by winning the last two events to finish second behind Vijay Singh in the FedEx Cup standings.
Now Woods will miss the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for the second time in four years, and even Phil Mickelson couldn't believe it.
"Is that for sure?" Lefty asked reporters after the top two players in the World Golf Rankings played side-by-side in the final round of the BMW Championship two weeks ago. "Are you sure he's not going to be there?"
Mickelson must not have been paying attention because it was well-publicized that Woods needed a top-five finish at Cog Hill to have a chance of getting into the top 30 in the standings and thus qualifying for the finale. He missed by 10 spots.
Woods seemed resigned to the fact that he wouldn't make it. He knows he did not play well enough after returning at the Masters following five months of tabloid scandal over his infidelity, which led to his recent divorce from Elin Nordegren.
"Obviously, I would rather be (in Atlanta)," said Woods, who instead is at home in Florida preparing for the Ryder Cup next week. "I've played better (lately) than I have all this year. But it is what it is. I didn't qualify."
Mickelson wanted Woods in Atlanta because he claims Tiger brings out the best in his game, and golf's powers that be needed him to boost television ratings and fan interest with college and pro football and baseball's pennant races in full swing.
Love him or hate him, people pay attention when Woods is playing, perhaps now more than ever.
There are still many die-hard Tiger fans who were hoping their hero will suddenly become the player he was before last November, and there undoubtedly are a lot of people who watch in hopes of seeing him continue to struggle.
Now, how many from either group will even pay attention?
Golf got exactly what it wanted last season when Mickelson and Woods battled through the final round of the Tour Championship. Lefty took home the title, while his chief adversary claimed the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize that goes with it for the second time in its three years of existence.
Last week, the best the PGA Tour could come up with in its weekly press release was that there will be a new FedEx Cup champion with Woods and Vijay Singh failing to qualify to play in Atlanta. Matt Kuchar trying to win the Cup this year at East Lake, across town from his alma mater, Georgia Tech, is a nice story, and the locals will be out in force -- on Thursday and Friday, at least.
But what will their interest level be on Saturday, when Georgia Tech plays host to North Carolina State and Georgia battles Mississippi State, or on Sunday, when the Atlanta Falcons meet the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints? And the Atlanta Braves, battling Philadelphia for the NL East title, will be playing a three-game weekend series against the Washington Nationals.
Football and baseball are two reasons Finchem steered the PGA Tour into its playoff format in 2007, but golf in the fall always is going to be a tough sell, especially on the weekends.
Even the Ryder Cup next week will have to fight for space on the front of the sports section and on the evening news.
The Kuchar angle seems to be the best one the Tour Championship has going for it this week.
"I'm really excited about it," said Kuchar, the FedEx Cup points leader, who lives in Atlanta. "I'll actually get a chance to play East Lake a couple more times, being at home (the week before). I've probably played it 30 or 40 times; probably three or four times a year is what I would average.
"Nice to be home. I live about 20 minutes from the course, so I can get a few extra practice rounds in.
"It's a fun course to play. There's a history there. It's a special place. Every time I go in the clubhouse, I get goosebumps looking at all the Bobby Jones memorabilia. It's a fantastic place."
With Woods having his problems and Mickelson struggling through the middle of the season after winning the Masters, Kuchar and Dustin Johnson are two players who have stepped up their games.
Those rising American stars might be battling for Player of the Year honors at East Lake.
Still, it's not exactly Tiger vs. Phil