Although the MRI results are not in yet on golf's most famous neck, it appears as though once again, this sport will have to sustain itself without its most recognizable player.
If Tiger Woods is indeed headed to the shelf again, can golf get a boost from some of its other players to keep it chugging along?
It is no secret TV ratings drop like a seven-iron tossed into a pond when Tiger is not in a tournament.
Sure, golf can survive without Tiger, but at what level?
The answer to that question undoubtedly lies in the ability of many tour players (not just one left-hander) to step up their games and try and dominate.
Golf does not need parity. Parity will destroy the game. Golf needs Ben Hogan, and Arnie Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
Phil Mickelson is the logical choice to carry the torch for a bit, but he can't do it alone. He isn't equipped, mentally or physically, to do it alone. There must be others.
Who will step up? Who NEEDS to step up?
Here are a few names that might be able to. If even two or three of them could step it up to the next level, 2010 won't be lost of all drama.
Here are 10 (actually 13 including honorable mentions, but we'll call it 10) guys who could help the game a lot by separating themselves from the rest of the pack.
If two or three of these names came through, golf will be fine. If no one does, and we have a different winner every week on tour, we're in for a long year.
The young Irish lad is having a break-out year, and he's only 21. He is ninth in the world rankings and earned a win at the Quail Hollow Championship earlier this month, where he shot a course-record 62 in the final round to win.
Last year, he had two top-10 finishes in majors, including third at Hazeltine in the PGA Championship. Missed the cut at the Masters in April of this year.
Battles inconsistency, but how many 21-year-olds don't? Bright future, just not sure the future is going to be now on a regular basis.
The once-great Els is having a bit of resurgence in 2010. Two wins on tour, four top-10s, first on the money list, and first in FedEx Cup points.
All sounds good, right?
Then Ernie promptly goes to the Players Championship and misses the cut.
He cannot fall back into this pattern. He relies too much on confidence. A couple more poor outings in the near future, and Ernie could disappear again faster than you can say David Duval.
Ernie is liked by everyone, and would be a great player to rally around in the this time of "need" (meaning, needing someone to rally around).
Yea, that's Paddy, bent over, examining the underbrush at Sawgrass. Too much of that so far in 2010.
He is starting to miss the cut often, and has fallen to 13th in the world rankings. He is 42nd in FedEx Cup standings and 34th on the money list.
Quite a fall from where he was in '08.
Another guy everybody likes, and he is easy to root for. Coming off another missed cut at the TPC Harrington,, and needs to find his game quickly to be a factor at all this year.
He is laughing in the photo, but it might be because he put another ball in the water, and all he can do is laugh.
Only one top-10 finish this year and is missing cuts left and right, including last weekend at the Players.
He has fallen to (hold yourself now) 46th in the world rankings. Vijay is 94th in FedEx Cup points and 87th on the money list.
He's 47, but don't give him a cane just yet. A lot of golfers do well at this age, including Fred Couples, who started contending again a few years ago around age 47.
This is a long shot, but if he could turn it around this summer, golf would be better off for it.
Another likable chap, and he's won twice this year.
Furyk turns 40...hey, on May 12th. Happy Birthday, Jim!
He is currently fifth in the world, second in FedEx Cup points, and third on the money list.
Yet, you kind of feel like there isn't much more there, you know?
He is a very good golfer, but will never will be remembered as one of the greats of his time.
This would be a good time to step it up. Multiple majors and player of the year sound good? Lehman did it at a similar age, and did not have the background that Jimmy brings to the 2010 table.
Who is this guy anyway?
Seriously, Sergio does have the personality that we all love, but does he have the game?
Not lately. He has dropped to 27th in the world. He did make the cut at The Players, but is that really how we should judge a great golfer?
There is no reason to think Sergio will do anything in 2010 and take advantage of a possibly absent Tiger. Yet, that would make it an even better story if he suddenly did do something.
Baby steps. How about a top 10 for starters?
Tom Watson won several tournaments in these very same pants. Exact pair!
So he's got the wardrobe, but does he have the game to go with it?
The 34-year-old Englishman is currently sixth in the world. Of course, he folded like a cheap checkered pink suit at The Masters, but let's forget about that.
He can win majors. Well, maybe he can. Think he needs to lose the blue shoes, though...
Poulter's fellow countryman, Westwood, is currently fourth in the world.
Of course, he's starting to carry a really heavy suitcase around that keeps getting heavier and heavier. It's filled with a big pile of "The greatest golfer never to win a major."
Phil Mickelson used to carry it around. Then Paddy Harrington had it for awhile. Sergio still has his own suitcase, but it's empty now. Colin Montgomerie is going to take his luggage to the grave.
Westwood might too, unless he can figure out how to keep his hands from wrapping around his own neck on Sunday afternoons.
Playing great though, except for those darn Sundays.
Wouldn't St. Andrews be a great place to get that first one?
This one was so obvious I almost didn't include him.
The world's soon-to-be No. 1 player, Phil somehow has to find consistency.
Phil needs to be able to do what Tiger has done for the last few years: Win even when he is off.
If he can do that, Phil could step up and not only carry the torch awhile, but seriously challenge Tiger Woods for the next half dozen or so years.
Phil has never won a U.S. Open or a British Open. Never going to be a better time. He turns 40 in June.
Young rising superstars or old legends who refuse to go away. Those are the best two stories. So, my apologies to young Ryo Ishikawa, but he has to share No. 1 with Tom Watson.
Ishikawa is a remarkable talent who seems destined to take over the golf world—someday. It might be asking a bit much of the 18-year-old to take it over right now.
He has won seven times already on the Japanese Tour, including his first win at the age of 15 three years ago. He posted the first professional 58 in a golf tournament in Japan earlier this month en route to his victory at The Crowns.
The other half of the No. 1 is 60-year-old Tom Watson. Now, I don't want to put any pressure on Tom, but he does continue to amaze. His incredible performance last year at the British Open was one of the great stories in the history of not just golf, but of sports.
Of course, it is unlikely Tom could do such a thing again, but with him, you just never know. He did play very well at the Masters and made the cut.
Tom is actually 31st on the Ryder Cup point list for the U.S.
Wouldn't that be a heck of a story? What if he was a captain's pick? He'd have to earn it, but my goodness, that would be a story.
Of course, it doesn't have to be Tom.
I'm calling it the Tom Watson factor, but that could be changed to the Fred Couples factor or the Greg Norman factor—or someone else with gray hair.
Some blast from the past to get us riled up again, like we were last July watching Watson.
Somehow, I didn't include Anthony Kim or Steve Stricker, which isn't right.
Kim is having a great year, and emerging as golf's next star. Currently 10th in the world, you feel like he's headed up that list, not down. You feel like on any given weekend, he could win.
Stricker, when healthy, is Mr. Consistent. Might be the boringest guy on tour, but you can't blame a guy for that. Currently, and very quietly, ranked third in the world.