RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now to golf and this question from Commentator Frank Deford.
FRANK DEFORD: Are you enjoying the new PGA 2009 Tour? Oh, you didn't realize there was a PGA Tour anymore? Well, I can certainly understand that. Please don't be embarrassed. It's easy to misplace something so suddenly insignificant.
I mean, let's be honest. At some point the PGA Tour became a wholly subsumed subsidiary of Tiger Woods. Without him anymore, there's simply doesn't appear to be any there there. The PGA: Professional Golfer's Anonymous.
It isn't just that Tiger is away recovering from knee surgery. His magical exit, winning the U.S. open in a playoff last June while manifestly in pain, playing on a rotten leg was so exquisite; it is as if he then left for the heavens and not for rehabilitation.
And slim pickings remain behind. It isn't Wood's fault, but it's just a very fallow field that he has plowed under. Consider the talent Jack Nicklaus had to battle, Palmer, Player, Trevino, Watson, all four of them superior to any of the Lilliputians who have been in Woods' thrall.
It's all the more understandable then that the tour and its sponsors and televisions producers came to depend more and more on Woods. Just think how many times the cameras would stay on him as he merely strolled down the fairway, while other players presumably actually hit golf balls.
In that sense, golf let Woods become the very face of the whole sport and no one stopped to consider that as he blocked out the sun, no other golfer could grow identity.
Woods has been such a phenomenon that when he won that playoff over Rocco Mediate, he even brought commerce to a halt. Trading that day on Wall Street fell by 71 million shares, almost ten percent. TV ratings used to regularly double in tournaments when he played. And perhaps more than any statistical measure, Woods gave golf buzz. Without him, the sport seems to have pretty much dropped out of the cultural conversation.
Woods is hoping to return to the tour in time for the Masters, early in April. Golf's plight now is reminiscent of the situation the country went through recently with a lame duck administration technically in charge as we awaited the arrival of the anointed. But we know for sure we had a new president on January 20.
Now not to be a Cassandra, but the left leg is a vital cog in the golfer machine. There's hardly any guarantee with Wood's health, so it will be even more agonizing if the sport has to keep running place, waiting, without really knowing, when its meal ticket may finally return.
Or worse, suppose the Tiger Woods who finally does come back is not the deity who left. Not even Tiger Woods may be able to come off serious surgery and wish himself back to the power and glory he once knew.
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RENEE MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from Member Station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.
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