December 12, 2009
Tiger Woods' departure from golf, for however long it lasts, will fundamentally shape the game in both positive and negative ways. There will be significant negative blowback from the events of the last two weeks, but there's also considerable opportunity. Let's run down some of the potential winners and losers from Tiger's hiatus.
Phil Mickelson: Even without Woods' problems, golf observers were targeting 2010 as a breakout year for Lefty. After strong performances in the second half of the season, Mickelson appeared as ready as he's been in half a decade to legitimately challenge Woods for the top spot in golf. Now, it's his for the taking. Unfortunately, detractors will always cast aspersions on Mickelson -- or whoever steps up in Tiger's absence and in his return -- because Woods won't be at "full strength." But regardless of who's in the field, the game of golf is now wide open.
Augusta National (or whichever tournament gets him back first): An "indefinite" hiatus could last two weeks, or it could last six months. Woods wasn't scheduled to play until the end of January anyway, and it's a decent bet he'll return for Arnold Palmer's tournament in March to tune up for the Masters in April. His long-term goal has always been to win more majors than Jack Nicklaus, and he'll be as protected at Augusta from tabloid questions as he'll ever be at a tournament. And if he does come back at Augusta, it'll be the most watched golf tournament in history, guaranteed.
The tabloids: For all the criticism that the mainstream media and the American populace heaped on the tabloids, the fact remains that TMZ, RadarOnline, the National Enquirer and others were well ahead of everyone else in the Woods story. Sure, there were some major missteps, and yes, the air of celebrity frenzy they generated left everyone wanting a shower, but this entire scandal should bury once and for all the idea that tabloids are simply creating news out of the air.
Perkins: The restaurant chain got more free advertising than it could possibly have imagined when one of its waitresses was linked to Woods. If it's true there's no such thing as bad publicity, Perkins cleaned up.
Tiger and his family: Fundamentally, this is about one family's internal struggle. You can debate whether that struggle should be publicized -- there are very good arguments on both sides -- but anyone with an ounce of human compassion should pull for Woods and his family to mend damaged fences and, hopefully, move forward as one.
The PGA Tour: Ratings drop through the floor whenever Woods isn't in a tournament; he brings in literally half of all viewers. Without him in the field, the PGA Tour will be playing to half-full houses. Placing all the PGA's eggs in a basket named "Tiger" was always a sound short-term but weak long-term strategy, and now the PGA has to figure out how to market itself in the post-Tiger era a few years earlier than expected.
Pro athletes keeping secrets: If reports from Deadspin and other outlets are true -- and at this point, would you really doubt them? -- that pro athletes are tearing it up with extramarital affairs, Woods' actions have blown the entire world of athlete dalliances wide open. Odds are good that there have been plenty of very awkward conversations going on in multimillion-dollar mansions over the last couple weeks.
Sponsors: Tiger is now radioactive. How in the world can he credibly pitch a product now? Certainly, things will turn around for him before too much longer, but there are a lot of people scrambling for alternatives now that they can't hitch their wagon to Woods' image.
Tiger's charitable endeavors: Woods has always been one of the most giving golfers around, and has served as a role model to thousands of children. It'll be difficult for him to serve that role honestly now. And if his income suffers, so too might his charitable contributions.
The national consciousness: Readers and commentators decried how much attention was being spent on Tiger Woods, even as they clicked on Tiger stories in record numbers. This isn't a new phenomenon, or even an American one -- the need to gossip about others' private lives is a fundamental aspect of the human character. Still, with all that's going on today, the fact that there's been so much time spent on Woods says something about all of us -- we in the media who have broadcast this, and you out there who read it. If you're reading these words, you're part of the story. What that says about all of us should give everyone pause ... at least until the next celebrity scandal.
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