Commentary

For Tiger's tourney, it's one weird week

Originally Published: December 6, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Around here, they have put up a brave front, painted on happy faces. There is no other choice. They are in the business of raising funds for the Tiger Woods Foundation, and a big part of the mission occurs annually this time of year.

But behind the smiles, you can only imagine the true feelings. Nobody, of course, will say anything negative. That would be crazy. But surely there is disappointment, if not downright disgust.

The man they all ultimately work for is at the forefront of an embarrassing scandal, and they are supposed to proceed as if nothing happened?

Against that backdrop, the show awkwardly went on this week at Sherwood Country Club, where Jim Furyk won the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday and the Tiger Trophy was not presented by Tiger Woods.

[+] EnlargeGraeme McDowell
Harry How/Getty ImagesGraeme McDowell only got into the Chevron World Challenge after Tiger Woods withdrew. The Northern Irishman parlayed that good fortune into a second-place finish and a likely invitation to the 2010 Masters by virtue of the world ranking points he earned.

For the past 10 years, Woods has hosted this event and been on site to hand the hardware over to the winner -- which four times was himself. (This time, the chairman & CEO of Chevron did the honors.)

Furyk did not get to experience that pleasure Sunday, but the $1.35 million check is likely to suffice as will the satisfaction of shooting back-to-back 67s on the weekend to capture a tournament that had 14 of the top 25 players in the Official World Golf Ranking.

"He's the best player in the world, the host and his foundation is the [tournament's] beneficiary, so obviously it has a different feeling," Furyk said. "He and his wife are friends of mine and you want to support them and wish them the best. Tough times. So they need the support of their friends right now."

While the golf was supposed to make us forget about all the tawdry talk of the past week, even the leaderboard at times took us back to Woods.

Heading into Sunday, Y.E. Yang and Graeme McDowell shared the tournament lead, which at the very least added some irony.

Yang will always be associated with Woods, the first and so far only player to ever knock off the world's No. 1 player when he held the 54-hole lead in a major championship. Yang rallied to beat Woods at the PGA Championship in one of 2009's most shocking developments -- until the scandal erupted. Yang finished ninth after a final-round 74.

And then there is McDowell, who last week played in the World Cup in China and is only here because Woods withdrew on Monday. He was the unwitting and somewhat sheepish beneficiary of the Woods mess.

"Not having him here is obviously a huge disappointment," said McDowell, who nonetheless took full advantage of the opportunity, finishing second to jump into the top 50 in the world rankings (for the first time, the tournament was awarding world ranking points) and all but assuring himself an invitation to the Masters. "It's a huge disappointment for golf in general really. I mean, he is everything that's good about our sport. He's an iconic image in our sport.

"Hopefully this can all finish quickly and correctly and we can get him back to where he belongs, at the top of our sport, and obviously doing good things for the sport."

The likelihood of that happening remains the source of great conjecture. For every expert who believes the game will be unaffected, there is another who thinks golf and Woods are in for some tough times.

For the 18 players in the field, this was a weird week as well. Woods has indirectly enriched them all through the years by nearly single-handedly driving up purses to astronomical levels. Since he can't win all the money, they cash in by default.

Then there is this season-ending, no-cut boondoggle that puts big money in their pockets. Last place pays $150,000.

So it is no surprise that a player such as Sean O'Hair -- who has been mentored by Woods -- wanted no part of the discussion. Or that others have chosen their words carefully.

"It is very much now a personal thing," said Padraig Harrington, who tied for third. "Yes, he's going to have to deal with it, and that's the nature of the fact of being the No. 1 sportsman in the world, highly profiled. You have to take it with the territory."

Kenny Perry's all-over-the-map assessment of the situation probably serves as an example of mixed emotions for many.

"I think Tiger's held at a higher standard than everybody else, and I think that's unfair, I really do," he said. "I mean, they have punished this kid. What he did is definitely wrong, and I wouldn't have approved of it, either. But then again, half of America does it. I mean the morals in our country are pitiful ... but they beat him up. He may deserve it, he probably deserves it. But we all make mistakes.

"We're all sinners and we all make mistakes and we all do things wrong. But it just hurts me to see everybody beat him up. They just want to jump on him and just want to wear him out, and he's done a lot for the game of golf. He's done a lot for kids with his foundation."

For what it's worth, attendance at the tournament, whose proceeds go to the foundation, was in the same ballpark as it was two years ago -- about 65,000 spectators for the week -- when Woods played and won (he missed last year's tournament due to injury). That could be due to the fact that many bought tickets expecting him to play.

They were offered a refund or a 20 percent discount next year -- one way or another that affects the bottom line -- and who knows how the events of the past week will impact the charitable efforts?

That is why you can't help but feel for some of the folks who work for Woods. More than 40 are employed by the Tiger Woods Foundation, which raises money through this tournament, the AT&T National and two other events called Tiger Jam and The Block Party.

The cloud that hovers over Woods spits rain on them, too.

At least he offered thanks to his "tireless, dedicated staff" in a statement Sunday on his Web site.

Perhaps he realizes, along with everything else, the predicament he's put them in.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com