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Tour prefers to see its Cup as half-full

With Woods out for the year, official says others will get a chance to grab the spotlight.

June 20, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

They're still trying to assess the potential damage that Tiger Woods' prolonged absence may cause the PGA Tour and all of its entangling business alliances.

Television ratings may decline, the casual fan may disappear, attendance at tournaments may drop . . . but it's also possible something good may come out of all this, according to Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president for communications and internal affairs.

"We see a vast amount of potential for something that's drastically different than doom and gloom," Votaw said Thursday, one day after Woods said he was out for the year and needed surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

So it's pick-your-scenario time in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the PGA Tour's headquarters, where a $63-million question is what happens to the fledgling FedEx Cup when the defending champion doesn't play in it?

That $63-million sum is the payout this year for the four-tournament playoff, at $7 million each, plus a $35-million bonus pool. FedEx is financially committed to the arrangement through 2012, with NBC and CBS sharing the broadcasts.

With $63 million on the books for each of the six years in the deal, that's a financial commitment of $378 million, which makes the FedEx Cup a crucial part of the PGA Tour fiscal landscape. FedEx is investing a reported $40 million in the playoff process.

Support from its key players -- notably Woods -- is critical to the playoff format's success, which can't be helped by Woods' absence.

Last year, when the series made its debut, there were a few rocky moments, such as when Woods skipped the first playoff tournament and Phil Mickelson skipped another, but there were smiles all around when Woods emerged victorious and claimed a $10-million bonus.

The corporate sponsor says there's much more to the competition than Woods.

"There is continued excitement surrounding the FedEx Cup and the strong play of the field of golfers promises to make this year's competition incredibly exciting," said Carla Boyd, a spokeswoman for FedEx.

That's just what Votaw expects, although he's realistic about the impact of Woods' being away, not only for how it affects the FedEx Cup but also the PGA Tour events Woods misses the rest of the year.

"There's no question it's a negative, you can't sugarcoat that, and there will be some negative fallout," Votaw said.

"But, look, Tiger doesn't play every tournament, he usually plays 17 or 18 and we have 47 events. Tiger's impact to these events won't be felt as much. What you hope is that other players are going to get a bigger share of the TV audience, the media's interest and the fans' imagination."

Votaw suggested that some of the players who won while Woods was sidelined for the two-month period after the Masters -- Adam Scott, Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia and Mickelson -- represent a mix of branded stars and a rookie with an upside who offer an appealing alternative to Woods while he is sidelined.

"If this is prologue to what we have ahead of us, we'll see other players and their story lines come to the fore," he said.

Woods hasn't announced when he will have surgery or who will operate, but it's realistic to assume it will be Thomas Rosenberg in Park City, Utah. Rosenberg has operated twice on Woods' left knee since 2002, including surgery to repair cartilage damage on April 15, two days after the Masters.

Neal ElAttrache, director of sports medicine at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, says he believes cartilage problems in Woods' left knee are likely to be long-term.

"He could have a situation when there is arthritis in his knee," ElAttrache said.

Woods will miss the first majors of his professional career, at the British Open at Royal Birkdale in mid-July and the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in Michigan in August, as well as the Ryder Cup in September.

He will also miss the $6-million AT&T National, to be played July 3-6 at Congressional Country Club, an event he hosts and one that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. Tournament director and foundation president Greg McLaughlin said he isn't sure whether to expect Woods to be on hand in a non-playing role.

"He's very committed to the event, but it's too soon to tell what he's going to be able to do physically. I'm sure he'll just follow the lead of his doctors."

Woods also serves as host of the $5.75-million Chevron World Challenge, an unofficial event Dec. 18-21 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

"It's so far away, it wouldn't be right to speculate what he's going to be able to do. I don't know what his rehabilitation routine might be," said McLaughlin, who is also the Chevron tournament director.

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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