There is PGA Tour golf, and then there is PGA Tour golf with Tiger Woods. You all know the difference, I'm assuming, since you've probably spent a day or two with both.
PGA Tour golf is highly skilled athletes competing against each other for a trophy and a check, hoping to leapfrog the next with more red than black.
PGA Tour golf with Tiger Woods is highly skilled athletes hoping Mr. Woods has a down week so they might have a chance at a title, which still isn't guaranteed since even Tiger's B-game is sometimes good enough for victory.
Starting today, we'll get the former, the type of golf we had before 1996 and will have long after Tiger leaves the game, but something we might never totally appreciate. It's similar to if Michaelangelo was filmed painting the Sistine Chapel and artists could watch it on YouTube whenever they'd like. "Yeah, this modern art stuff is great, but just watch him paint!"
This is Year Two of No Tiger, a time when the PGA Tour kicks off but doesn't really kick off, because it isn't the same without him no matter how hard we try to ignore it. He's the elephant out of the room, and we all just wish he'd run back in and make it weirdly comfortable again. The difference is obviously apparent now -- it isn't injury (well, injury we know about) this time; it's deceit, lies, cheating and sex that is keeping Tiger away from the game he has changed.
It's a totally different beast, but the results will be similar. No matter what happens in the next few weeks, or months, or hell, year, if he decides to stay away that long, there will be an asterisk, one that says, "Yeah, so-and-so won ... but Tiger wasn't playing."
It's a disappointing reality, but a reality nonetheless, and something that will continue to haunt the game of golf long after Woods decides to hang up his red polo and fist pump. The day Tiger decides to leave for good will be a day we get this feeling prolonged, but for now we have to sit and wait for our date to show up way longer than expected.
The feeling we have for Cheating Tiger will go away. The anguish we had when we started hearing those rumors will fade. Ask Kobe Bryant, our 2008 NBA MVP, if people forget, and he will probably smile and point towards his ring and his trophy and his millions of loyal fans. "Yeah," he'd probably say with that ear-to-ear grin. "People will remember Tiger for Tiger before you know it."
The problem is, Tiger missing out on the game is the thing that will hurt us, the fans and the writers and the enthusiasts. We, the bogey-chasing galleries who wait in line at golf course well before the sun comes up just for that one or two great shots a round, have to wait to see when PGA Tour: Tiger is back on shelves.
The PGA Tour starts today. But for most of us, the date the season kicks off is still scarily undecided.