Tiger Woods announced this week he won't be participating in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in a couple weeks:
Did that come as a surprise to anyone who pays attention to golf?
It shouldn't have, considering the man just had back surgery in April.
But it has created a bit of a buzz, the kind of buzz he normally stirs every time he participates.
Of course, there will be negative buzz from the networks televising the tournament, because no Tiger means ratings won't be as good as with him.
From a purely golf perspective, however, does that silver lining exist in the absence of the man who has been the No. 1 player in the world more than anyone else in history?
I'm saying there is plenty of silver lining.
For nearly the last six years, the PGA Tour has been stuck in these "What will Tiger do next?" and "When will Tiger win the next major?" questions. The weeks leading up to each major focused on those questions, and once he didn't win, the questions would build to the next one.
In my mind, that stuff dragged the game down a bit. Regardless of who won, there was always that undertone of Woods not winning, the losing streak continuing.
But the positive side of this is: Look at what has happened in Woods' absence.
The world of professional golf, and its major championships, has been opened to quite a collection of players. Some new, some old and some of the game's current stars have made names for themselves with great performances.
Youngsters like Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson; unknowns like Y.E. Yang, Louis Oosthuizen, Lucas Glover; veterans like Angel Cabrera, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson; and strange personality guys like Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner have seized the moment in the game's biggest moments.
And all of that, to be perfectly honest, has been a wonderful breath of fresh air for golf.
The accomplishments of Woods during his decade of dominance can not be discounted, nor will they ever be forgotten. But as Woods and his persona began to overshadow his game, the conversation took on a different tone, and it seemed at times as if there was a dark cloud hanging over the game.
Without Woods being out of action and not a major player for the last half-dozen years, the media has pursued other stories that might not have been noticed had all the focus been on Woods and his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' 18 career majors.
Things like Rory McIlroy rising from the ashes of a disastrous Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club or Darren Clarke becoming an unlikely British Open champion in 2011.
Just as Woods being golf's Alpha male is good for the sport, so is having a group of players that take advantage of the kinds of opportunities that hadn't been available for many years.
Charl Schwartzel and Oosthuizen have won majors with Woods out. They were no doubt very good players in South Africa, but their names didn't ring off the tongues of anyone when discussions of great players came up.
Jordan Spieth is a heck of a player. So is Rickie Fowler. And Jason Day and Harris English and Patrick Reed and Chris Kirk.
Those players, as well as the other 20-somethings trying to create their niche on the PGA Tour, are being presented their chance now. No one knows how Woods will come back when he comes back.
It would be a safe bet that Woods won't be playing at an extremely high level when he returns. It may take him some time before he becomes a major player again.
Whether or not he does that, his latest absence has been good for the game. As noted earlier, TV ratings were down for the Masters and will no doubt droop at the U.S. Open.
But there has been plenty of great golf played while Woods has been gone.
In reality, Woods on the sidelines has been a very nice preview of what the game might be in the not-to-distant future. Woods' body is not going to allow him to play at a high level forever.
Professional golf is in a good place, and its future looks just fine, too.
That bright future will be so regardless of how much of a role Tiger Woods plays.
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