Well, it's official: Tiger Woods announced today that he's out for the season. As he explains on his web site, he injured his ACL after the British Open and had the arthroscopic surgery on the cartilage in his left knee when he did in an attempt to postpone the necessary ligament surgery, but his training regimen between the Masters and the U.S. Open resulted in two stress fractures in his left tibia. Since the only thing to do for the stress fractures is to rest, why not have the ACL surgery sooner rather than later? That way he can be back and healthy in 2009. I have no worries that Tiger will be back better than ever. As someone who's gotten to spend a lot of time with my girls in their transitions from early toddlerhood to early little girlhood, I can say for a fact that he and Elin will enjoy Sam's second year even more. So as disappointing as this has to be for Tiger after his most satisfying and dramatic win, there's plenty of good news in it for him and his family.
But this is almost unmitigated bad news for the PGA Tour. Not only has Tiger gone on one of the best victory runs of his career playing on an injured ACL, he was also able to win the Open with the least preparation and most pain he's ever dealt with on the course in his life, which suggests that his closest competition is several more light-years behind him than we ever imagined and will be even further behind once 2009 starts. Morever, there's no chance to capitalize this season on the golf-transcending nature of this year's Open and the newfound awe for Tiger's toughness and talent from people who never paid much attention to golf when his dominance was taken-for-granted.
All things considered, the PGA is in an even worse position than the LPGA was last spring when Annika Sorenstam announced she was taking significant time off to recover from serious neck and back injuries. By that point, Lorena Ochoa was weeks away from taking the #1 spot on the Rolex Rankings and building on her momentum from clearly outplaying Sorenstam (and a resurgent Karrie Webb) through the 2006 season (hence her first Player of the Year Award and Vare Trophy). Is there anyone on the PGA Tour prepared to make an Ochoa-like run and make Tiger win back the top spot on tour in his absence?
This is where the possibility for disaster mitigation for the PGA arises. If 40-somethings like Kenny Perry and Rocco Mediate can step up their games late in their careers and Vijay Singh can remain a top-10 player while slumping by his standards, why can't Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, K.J. Choi, Mike Weir, David Toms, and Geoff Ogilvy make that quantum leap to challenge Woods? Why can't 20-somethings from Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, and Adam Scott to Anthony Kim, Aaron Baddeley, Kevin Na, and Andres Romero make like the LPGA's young guns? Where are the developing rivalries that make the LPGA so compelling week in and week out?
If the PGA's players can answer these questions with their clubs the rest of this season, we'll be starting a new era in 2009--one where Tiger's dominance can no longer be taken for granted. But the odds are the Tiger Era is not even close to ending. In this, the PGA is quite unlike the LPGA, which is counting down to the end of the Sorenstam Era with each tournament and waiting to see who will next challenge Ochoa, Sorenstam, and Paula Creamer for greatness in women's golf this season.
So shed no tears for Tiger or the PGA. But take a look at the state of the women's game over the rest of the 2008 golf season. You won't be disappointed.