Commentary

Even though he's not playing, Tiger will still be at the top of everyone's mind

Originally Published: June 19, 2008
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Well, if we're not going to see Tiger Woods for the remainder of the year, at least he left us with a strong impression. After suffering through 91 holes to win the U.S. Open with a torn ACL in his left knee and a double stress fracture in his tibia, Woods announced Wednesday that he won't tee it up competitively again until the 2009 season.

Consider it the ultimate Costanza moment. Dude went out on a high note.

What we're left with is a second half of the season devoid of the game's top-ranked player. What are we missing? Plenty. Here are some story lines we won't be paying attention to -- and some that are still very much alive.

Still an award winner?
Let's start with a stat I didn't even have to look up: No player has won the PGA Tour's player of the year award during a season in which he made only six appearances. Until now. Yup, you read it here first. The 2008 Jack Nicklaus Trophy will go to … Tiger Woods! Simply put, it will take a pretty good run for some player to surpass his total of four victories, which includes one major and a WGC event. Unless Masters champ Trevor Immelman takes one of the year's final two majors or the same player wins both the British Open and the PGA Championship, the award -- which is voted on by PGA Tour members -- will go to Woods for the 10th time in the last 12 years.

Will You Watch?

ESPN.com golf writer Jason Sobel is taking your feedback on how Tiger Woods missing the rest of the 2008 PGA Tour season will change your appetite for golf. Submit here

Must be the money
Woods has finished No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list eight times during his 11 full years as a pro, including each of the last three. Although he is the current cash leader, that streak could come to an end this year. Maybe. Right now, Tiger leads second-ranked Phil Mickelson by $1,815,500. If Lefty matches last year's total of 22 starts and can continue at his current pace of $282,821 per appearance, expect him to pass Woods' earnings by the end of the summer. Any less, though, and it could be revolution No. 9 for Tiger.

Just like Jack, no back-to-back
On five separate occasions during his career, Woods has followed a major championship victory with a win at the next Grand Slam event. The man whose all-time major record he is chasing, Jack Nicklaus, managed this feat only twice during his march to 18. Tiger won't be able to make it an even half-dozen at Royal Birkdale, where he finished solo third at the 1998 British Open.

There goes the three-peat
The only player to win at least three straight PGA Championship titles is Walter Hagen, who accomplished the feat from 1924 through 1927 (he actually won four in a row), 31 years before the tourney became a stroke-play event. After victories at Medinah in 2006 and Southern Hills last year, Woods will not defend his two-time title at Oakland Hills, meaning Hagen still has the three-peat claim all to himself. That is, at least until 2011, when Woods presumably will have three more PGA starts in a row.

No easy Ryder this year
Strangely enough, many members of the 1996 United States Presidents Cup team -- including Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker and Justin Leonard -- might also earn spots on this year's Ryder Cup roster. At least they'll know what it's like to compete on a U.S. squad without Woods, who will fail to wear the red, white and blue this year for the first time since that event in '96. Then again, maybe it's no big loss. Tiger owns a 23-24-3 overall record in the annual international competitions.

Others have their eyes on the prize
In case you dozed off after last year's PGA Championship and didn't remain glued to the edge of your seat for the inaugural season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, here's a hint on who won: His first name is Tiger, and his last name is Woods. And here's a hint on who's going to win the second edition of the PGA Tour's self-proclaimed "New Era in Golf": Someone else. Avoiding a potential PR disaster, the tour's formula for determining a champion already has Woods mathematically eliminated if he indeed fails to play any more events. As if there wasn't enough incentive with him on the shelf, now another player stands to win the $10 million payout.

The final WGC is wide open
No, the initials WGC don't stand for "Woods Golf Championship," but they might as well. In 27 career starts at World Golf Championship events -- a series that now consists of the Accenture Match Play Championship, CA Championship and Bridgestone Invitational -- Woods owns 15 victories; no other player has won more than two. He has been especially dominant at the Bridgestone, with six wins in nine starts, including three in a row, but another player will take home the trophy at Firestone this time around.

No rematch with Phil
If the AT&T National is also known as Tiger's Tournament, then the Deutsche Bank Championship is Tiger's Other Tournament, since he serves as spokesman for the Labor Day weekend event. At last year's edition, Woods was with Mickelson in the penultimate pairing of the final round but fell short in a bid to defend his title as the second-ranked player bested him by one stroke to earn the trophy. Somehow, Mickelson versus, say, Brett Wetterich doesn't quite have the same excitement factor.

Looking out for No. 1
Figuring out the formula behind the Official World Golf Ranking is no small task, but know this much: Woods currently owns 21.54 average points; second-ranked Phil Mickelson has 10.21. (Other than a brief time after Mickelson's recent win at Colonial, Woods has doubled up the No. 2 man in every week since August 2006.) Do the number-crunching, and you'll find that if Tiger returns for next year's Buick Invitational -- likely his first start of the 2009 season -- his point total will have dropped to 11.06. That still would be more than Mickelson's current number, but it might not be enough to retain the top spot upon his return.

Looking ahead to '09
If all goes according to plan -- if Woods has successful surgery on his ACL, if the tibia heals, if he recuperates, rehabilitates and recovers in time to start the 2009 season as scheduled -- he likely will next tee it up in a competitive environment at … Torrey Pines. The home of Tiger's latest U.S. Open victory also has been the site of his season debut in each of the last three seasons.

Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.