Woods' big idea makes a little too much sense

Golf

March 06, 2005|By LAURA VECSEY

IT'S A PLEASURE to see Tiger Woods associated with things other than his Swedish nanny/wife Elin Nordegren, the October wedding in Barbados complete with white-netted pagoda, the $57 million yacht "Privacy" on which Woods and bride were temporarily held in custody by the U.S. Coast Guard, not to mention any more psycho-investigations into Woods' lack of harmony with former swing coach Butch Harmon.

Talk about a year of living dangerously.

Woods was alone in second place, two back after three rounds at Doral yesterday, but on top of the leader board with his suggestion about how to restructure the PGA Tour. In a nutshell, Woods said less is more.

"It would be more exciting for the fans, and I'm sure the sponsors and TV and everybody, if we did play more often together," Woods said. "The only way you could do that is if we shortened the season."

Forty-three tournaments and purses that could reach $400 million by 2006 mean golf is a whole lot closer to the financial/spectator/TV ratings juggernaut of NASCAR than the currently locked-out, Loserville league known as the NHL.

However, Woods and some of the big swingers who chased him out of his No. 1 perch think the diffusion of focus and talent on a tour that goes nonstop from January through November is not good for the game.

That point was brought home last week when, in a wild and welcome departure from the norm, 11 of the top 12 PGA golfers reported to Miami for the Ford Championship. The field includes Woods, whose well-chronicled slide into the abyss - at least in contrast to his formerly undisputed position as the greatest golfer in the galaxy - officially ended in January.

Not that anyone was paying too close attention, but when Woods won the Buick Invitational, it was his first tour victory in 15 months, 18 days. Now he's in the hunt again, tantalizing even us non-golf fanatics with the idea that Woods might indeed be poised to reclaim his proper place in the pantheon of great golfers.

How much prettier will the azaleas look in Augusta if Woods isn't beleaguered by that off-kilter swing again, instead tracking down Phil Mickelson to the final hole come Masters Sunday? How much sweeter the tinkling of that sepulchral piano music on CBS?

Woods is back, and he's offering not only the temptation of stellar golf, but management advice for the people who think they run the PGA. When Tiger speaks, commissioner Tim Finchem listens, which is why the PGA is considering five new ways of packaging the tour. Just in time to negotiate that new TV contract, too!

Maybe Woods could loan himself out to the NBA and Major League Baseball, two other pro sports leagues that suffer the tedium of onerous overkill. Do we really need 82 games to eliminate the Charlotte Bobcats from the NBA playoffs, or 162 games to determine that the Devil Rays and the Pirates won't be the American League or National League wild cards?

Shorter seasons lead to more meaningful games. For the NBA, that would mean fewer games in which only the last two minutes of the fourth quarter were relevant. For baseball, a return to the 154-game schedule might mean the shoulders of those rare, capable pitching aces might actually not be worn out come Oct. 1, when the extra round of revenue-generating playoffs begin.

What Woods was talking about this past week is the pro sports equivalent to the tipping point. Woods speaks the truth when he decries the increasingly incessant need for cable TV programming that does more to weaken the overall product (the PGA Tour) than pump up its coffers and supply opportunities for "other guys" to score a win. If we wanted to root for underdogs, we'd get tickets for a few rounds at Q-school.

As aloof, arrogant and robotic as Woods comes across off the golf course, I can't say I dispute his attitude when it comes to structuring the tour. He ought to take a 3-iron to the skulls of critics, including some tour officials and fellow golfers who suggest the real problem with the tour is that the big guys, specifically Woods, do not play enough events to bolster the level of competition.

Maybe these people who say Woods ought to expand his tour schedule to 24 or more events have been drinking cold ones on the moon. All associated with the PGA should feel privileged that Woods deems it worthwhile to play 18 tournaments a year, considering he is the tour, no offense to the surging Mickelson or rock solid Vijay Singh.

The PGA Tour has reported ratings hikes of 65 percent for events in which Woods competed. Call him a spoiled, self-centered superstar, but the Michael Jordan of golf could take his Nike clubs and do as he pleases.

With the Masters a month away and the heart of majors season close behind, it's no time to pretend that the general sports fan, who certainly helps drive the tour's impressive TV ratings, will tune in to see Mike Weir or Rich Beem win the big one.

It's a good story when the Canadian guy or the underdog wins. Kevin Costner and Tin Cup were a blast, too. But that's a literary or cinematic point of view, not a hard-core, dollars-and-cents ratings booster as guaranteed by top-flight competition between Tiger and those few who can shine with him.

Tiger in Miami, lurking. Tiger on the microphone, micro-managing. All is right in the world.

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