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The Tour without Tiger

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Stewart Cink won the PGA Tour event on Sunday, somewhere near a river back East, perhaps even near a van by said river.

In this post-Torrey world, does anybody even care? In some respects, I’d rather have had a Web cam follow Rocco Mediate on his weekend chores than watch the Travelers Championship. You know the drill: Rocco goes on a Bed, Bath and Beyond run, Rocco takes an afternoon nap, Rocco knocks back a couple of brewskis, Rocco butters a dinner roll.

I know, it’s only Rocco and roll, but I like it.

Bottom line: I feel like today’s column should be shrouded in a black veil, mourning the loss of Tiger for the ’08 season. If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is there to hear it, we’re not sure if it makes a sound. But if the PGA Tour season rolls on, and there’s no Tiger to play, we’re pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

I feel like the Dad from the comedy classic “A Christmas Story." When the Bumpus Hounds barge into his kitchen on Christmas morning and devour his roast turkey, the narrator launches into a wailing list of the loss sustained: No turkey sandwiches! No turkey hash! No turkey gravy!

That’s how we all felt when the word came down that Tiger was on the shelf for ’08: No British Open! No PGA Championship! No Ryder Cup! No turkey gravy!

It feels like an existential moment, with Sartre on the bag. If Burt Bacharach cared to pen a tune about it, he might ask: What’s it all about, Stevie?

I’m lost, and I feel like we all need to gather ‘round the conference table for a “How-To” cope session. Perhaps Phil can book us a room at the Crowne Plaza: Meeting For People Who Are Totally Bummed That Tiger Is Out.

Our options consist of the following: Deal with it. We’re in that “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment where we see what the Tour is like without Tiger, just as George Bailey saw the world without his sweet, loving soul in it. Unfortunately, like George found out, the Tour sans Tiger has all the appeal of Pottersville.

But this is no time for whining. We have to form our post-Tiger rules, and the only question worth pondering is this: Do majors count when Tiger doesn’t play?

There are two schools of thought. One is the Harsh School.

In the Harsh School, Majors are de-valued without Tiger. So what if Sergio wins the British at Birkdale? Tiger didn’t play. So what if Phil wins Major No. 4 at the PGA in August? Tiger didn’t play. Majors won without Tiger would be like the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA title in the strike-shortened season of 1999, or any home run record set after BALCO opened for business. By that, we mean the accomplishment will always be formally toasted with: “Yeah, But…"

The other school is the Forgiving School.

In the Forgiving School, we find our inner humanitarian and congratulate any major winner for lifetime achievement. In the Forgiving School, it is pointed out that Tiger played the ’08 Masters, and Trevor Immelman was better. It is pointed out that Tiger played the ’07 Masters, and Zach Johnson was better. It is pointed out that Tiger played the ’03 British Open, and Ben Curtis was better.

Wait. Scratch that last one. Even a half-decade later, there’s still no explaining Ben Curtis at Sandwich.

In the Forgiving School, we even see the benefit of Tiger’s absence. Perhaps Sergio is emboldened by a major win, or perhaps Adam Scott wins a big one and is ready to take on Superman upon his return.

The Forgiving School requires some willful suspensions of disbelief, as you can see.

I’m sure by the time the British rolls around, and we see the big amber scoreboards, and the familiar Rolex clocks on the tee box, and see the relentless slate gray sky of the U.K. in the summertime, we’ll get the warm fuzzies again. Until then, you have 30 minutes to write your essay on whether the Harsh School or the Forgiving School is the better way to go. Open your blue books now.

Me? I’m still trying to figure out what Sartre is saying when he’s clubbing me on a par-3.

Scorecard of the week

66-64-65-67 – Stewart Cink, 1st place, PGA Tour Travelers Championship.

No asterisk on this one, Stewie. Tiger never plays the Connecticut Tour stop, so this one is clean. And, for one of the Tour’s nicest guys, well-earned.

Cink had that brutal label of guy who couldn’t close on Sunday. Alternate definitions of that same guy include the word “choker," but nobody wanted to say that about Cink. Why kick a guy when he’s down?

Choke, however, was what everyone was thinking when he pumped his tee shot right and into the rough with a 1-shot lead on 18, then hit his wedge long and left himself a precarious, short-sided, downhill chip. That he summoned up a bundle of nerves and putted to 2 feet, then made his par, meant we all got to feel good for Cink, and also got to see him doff his cap and show us all his cleanly-shaven dome. Cink’s one of those guys who’s been prematurely bald for years now, so we all feel his pain when we see him take the risk-reward move of shaving off the horseshoe ring of hair.

Sunday was a day to applaud Cink and his 5th career win, not to mention his ascent to No. 6 in the world, a career high. We’ll reserve judgment on the Mr. Clean look and let Stewie enjoy the glow of holding down a 54-hole lead.

Broadcast moment of the week

“I wouldn’t play on the Champions Tour … this is the Show. This is where the money’s at.” – Tommy Armour III, asked by Bobby Clampett if, at age 48, with a winner’s 2-year exemption, if he would wrestle with the decision of where to play when he’s 50.

The only downer of Cink’s win was, we were deprived of seeing Armour play more golf. Imbued with the bloodline of golf royalty, mixed with a partier’s mentality that belies his birth certificate, Armour is a tour throwback. He’s got the golf swing of a man who doesn’t kneel at the alter of David Leadbetter’s Golf Digest tips, and who believes in making his own move through the ball.

Plus, he’s known for throwing the best sushi party this side of Malibu every year at the Byron Nelson. It’s a sushi party so good, his buddies from ZZ Top reportedly make the scene every year, if they’re not touring. Armour, sushi and ZZ Top: What more do you need?

Plus, he speaks not with forked tongue. Not many players admit it as openly, but when Armour speaks, he breaks it down.

“This is where the money’s at!" With money, one can buy fine sushi, too.

Mulligan of the week

This is a tough one, because this column is a big fan of Retief Goosen. The appeal goes beyond the buttery putting stroke, beyond the eerie calm in the most pressurized situations and all the way into the Goose’s off-course wit, emblemized by his epic line after playing in the final pairing with Tiger in the 2002 Masters: “Do I get the green pants for finishing second?”

This time, the Goose stepped in it.

He suggested to the Times of London that Tiger might be playing up the injury at Torrey Pines, and noted that Tiger only seemed to wince in pain after a poor shot. In total fairness to Retief, I felt the same way, and said as much on my radio show on KNBR in San Francisco.

Turns out we were both more wrong than Phil Mickelson’s no-driver strategy.

Only problem is, I’m just a schlub. I get a few pieces of hate mail, I admit my error publicly, and move on to the next day’s topic.

Not Retief. He has to face Tiger at every major for the next five or so years, and at every Presidents Cup, World Golf Championships event and major Tour stop they both play. The Goose can pretty much rest assured that Tiger will make it his personal mission to beat Goosen so soundly, Goosen’s entire family will feel the pain.

Poor Goose. Somebody give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

To Grand Blanc, Michigan, for the Buick Open, a tournament that usually doubles as a birdie-fest and a Tiger showcase.

Get out your hankies. Tiger ain’t playing. No birdies for Tiger. No Tiger for us.

The pain begins.