It's safe to watch the PGA Tour again.
The portion of the schedule I refer to as "The Tiger Tour" picks up tomorrow in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Quail Hollow Championship.
Tiger is back; he's playing the Pro-Am today with Peyton Manning. I wonder how Woods would fare as a host on Saturday Night Live? That's a question for another time.
More importantly, after suffering through the last two weeks, and fielding questions from casual golf fans like, "Who is Jerry Kelly?" I'm ready to get back in front of the television.
Quail Hollow is a marquee tour stop that boasts a great course, and a choice spot on the calendar right before The Players Championship. The result is that it gets one of the best fields of the year, and that includes Tiger, the prize that no tournament director could put a price on.
It has to be the first question on any potential sponsors lips, "Will Woods be there?"
I certainly wouldn't spend the money if I wasn't getting Woods.
Tiger has become more important than ever to the Tour, a recession-proof superstar who carries events, TV ratings, and possibly even the future of the Tour itself on his back.
For all of this, however, Tiger's real value is that he creates other stars. When you play in Tiger's World you suddenly get noticed. The classic example of this is Rocco Mediate, who lost the U.S. Open playoff to Tiger last year and became an overnight fan-favorite. Mediate wouldn't have been doing late-night talk shows if he'd lost the playoff to Stewart Cink.
The scenario doesn't need to be as dramatic as last year's U.S. Open. I'd argue that Sean O'Hair greatly increased his visibility by collapsing down the stretch against Woods at Bay Hill. He lost, but everyone saw it. More golf fans knew O'Hair after the week was over, and that is all that counts.
It could happen again this week.
There are dozens of young, great players on the Tour, and these weeks that Tiger plays are the best chance to get to know them.
Think of what it could do for Nick Watney's career if he were to successfully duel Woods down the stretch this week. Watney won on tour earlier this year, was a popular sleeper pick at Augusta, but probably doesn't even raise the eyebrow of a casual golf fan. Give him four hours in Tiger's TV shadow, and that could all change. Tiger will never have just one rival, so it is essential that he have as many recognizable challengers as possible.
The golfers that occupy the level of fame just below Woods are the ones that battle him the most on the course, but challenging him in any way instantly increases exposure.
Rory Sabbattini and Stephen Ames are the most obvious examples of taking this root to notoriety, but Tiger can't be challenged if he's not around.
He has to show his face, play events, and win. Standard Tiger procedure. That is the only way to start this process.
If the fans can take their eyes off Woods long enough, they might notice that there are some other guys worth watching out there.
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