February 3, 2008

A One-Man Show

It's gotten to the point where what the others do doesn't really matter. It's Tiger's show and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future

Even before a shot was fired Sunday, the TPC Scottsdale was a battleground littered with casualties, 69 of them, the entire field playing a final round that was anticlimactic before ever having an opportunity to establish itself as climactic.

Those who tuned in to the Golf Channel Sunday morning witnessed Tiger Woods sucking the oxygen from the day's golf proceedings. Woods birdied five of the final seven holes to beat Ernie Els and win the Dubai Desert Classic, hours before the leaders went off at the FBR Open outside Phoenix.

Tiger's sway is such that even from a half a world away he can make a tournament witnessed by nearly 600,000 customers for the week, the noisiest place in golf, seem as though it were played in a vacuum. One has to wonder what will happen when Woods retires one day. Can the game survive?

It can, of course, but the hangover is going to be brutal. Already the tour is divided into haves and have-nots, the latter category comprised of tournaments that don't have Tiger in the field. What happens when none of them have Tiger?

The FBR Open was not without drama, nor without intriguing contenders, including Phil Mickelson, who usually requires that you pay attention, at least. Once five strokes down on Sunday, Mickelson maneuvered his way into a playoff with J.B. Holmes, another player who warrants notice, a power hitter for whom the lay-up is contrary to his nature.

Holmes won with two tape-measure homers from the 18th tee box, each leading to a birdie, one that got him into a playoff and one that gave him the victory. It was Holmes' second PGA Tour win, and his first since winning this same tournament in 2006.

The have-nots who would be better served were players like Holmes, a free swinger who hit his final drive on Sunday 355 yards, to win on a more routine basis, giving the tour some thunder to counter Tiger's lightning.

Meanwhile, when does Woods play again?

Not soon enough, to be sure. He'll probably reappear at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in three weeks, where he'll attempt to extend his PGA Tour win streak to four and his overall win streak to six.

There's nothing golf can do about its one-man show, incidentally. This is not the NFL, where the quest for parity is built into the system. The rewards for a successful regular season in the NFL are a more difficult schedule the following year and a lower berth in the draft.

Golf is not so egalitarian, however it tries. It went through it's so-called Tiger-proofing stage, back in 2002, when Augusta National was lengthened by nearly 300 yards, ostensibly as a means of countering Woods' dominance. He's won two more Masters since and is an odds-on favorite to add another in two months.

It's Tiger's show, clearly. We're all just waiting for the next episode.