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9:11PM

No Tiger, but plenty of Phil — and Scott Piercy

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So he’s not here. That’s the way it goes. Sport isn’t always what we would wish. Tiger Woods withdraws. The Giants blow a ninth-inning lead.

You can’t always get what you want, the Rolling Stones lyrics advise. Life goes on. The games go on.

Woods was one of a kind. Still is, although he hasn’t played a tournament round in more than a year. In a sport dependent on personalities, Woods was a transcendent personality.

He reached the ultimate status, known by people who don’t know much — if anything — about golf. The way Pavarotti was known by those who didn’t know anything about opera.

The method of Woods’ withdrawal, pulling out the three days after making a formal commitment, was vexing to some, irritating to others. Too much about someone among the missing? Probably, but that complaint was lodged back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the issue dealt with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“Why are you always writing about people who aren’t playing?” wondered unhappy executives from the PGA Tour. “Write about the others, then people will want to watch them.”

As we know, that’s a false hope. It’s the Steph Currys and Buster Poseys — and Tiger Woodses — who, through success and charisma, draw the fans.

That said, the first Safeway Open is under way at Silverado Country Club. (First, because the event previously was sponsored by Frys). And in the opening round Thursday, Scott Piercy, who if he’s not Tiger also isn’t anonymous, shot a record 10-under-par 62 on the North Course.

The slogan, “These guys are good,” is an understatement. The guys who play the Tour are great — even though Silverado isn’t Oakmont or Olympic, a 62 is a 62 — and in a way Tiger’s fame helped others come to the understanding.

If the fans bought tickets because of Woods, well, they were privileged to watch somebody else, Piercy, go seven-under-par on his first 10 holes and finish with 12 birdies out of the 18 holes. Remarkable.

The Safeway is the first tournament of the Tour’s rather confusing wrap-around season. The calendar may read 2016, but the schedule says 2017. The idea is to make the autumn tournaments seem important, even if they’re lost somewhere among the baseball playoffs and college and pro football.

“Oh man,” said Piercy of his spectacular round, “I think I made more feet of putts than I did all last season.” Last season, of course, ended only two weeks ago, as if it matters. There’s a course. There’s a tournament. Play on.

Phil Mickelson has his own schedule, but fortunately the Safeway is on that schedule. This is Phil’s farewell until the Career Builder Challenge, the former Bob Hope Desert Classic, in January. Maybe there’s no time off for the Tour, but there will be for Mickelson, now 46.

He began the Safeway with consecutive bogies but came in with a three-under 69 and, although it was 5:21 p.m., with the day’s largest gallery. And why not? As Tiger has, Mickelson earned the following. Five majors and a lot of smiles gain anyone a high degree of respect and approval.

“I have to be careful energy-wise,” said Mickelson of his slow start, “because it’s been a very emotional and long year, ending and culminating with the high degree of the Ryder Cup.”

Mickelson led the British Open at Troon in July, then finished second behind Henrik Stenson. Two weeks ago, he was the de facto leader, and as a competitor he was a major factor in America’s first Ryder Cup victory since 2008. His presence at the Safeway should not go unappreciated — and it hasn’t been.

“I didn’t have much time off,” said Mickelson after the Ryder Cup triumph, ”so I’ve got to maintain energy. I got off to a slow start. I wasn’t as focused as I need to be, but I put myself in position where (Friday) I can get hot on the greens, get perfect greens in the morning, get it going, shoot six, seven, eight-under-par and get right back in it for the weekend.”

No Tiger at the Safeway, but plenty of Phil and Scott Piercy. It could be worse. Much, much worse.

7:55PM

At the Frys.com Open, a glimpse of the Tour without Tiger

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — This is what golf will be in the coming years. This is the way golf is at the present. They’re playing the PGA Tour without Tiger Woods, at least for a while. A new season but old worries. What happens to the game?

The Frys.com Open starts Thursday at Silverado Country Club. It’s a place with a great history, a place where Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus have won, as if that has any effect on the game in 2015.

They keep telling us golf is in great shape. That people such as Rory McIlroy, who is entered in this Frys.com, and Jordan Spieth, who isn’t entered, will keep the fans attentive and interested. But golfers have always followed the game. It’s the non-golfers that golf needs.

Bill Veeck understood sports and show business. He owned several major league teams, the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. The Browns — awful, trapped in the shadow of the St. Louis Cardinals — would eventually become the Baltimore Orioles, but in St. Louis they were all but ignored. Until the stunt.

Veeck signed a midget, Eddie Gaedel, then sent him to bat. Gaedel walked on four pitches, of course, and whether the idea was brilliant or idiotic didn’t matter, it would not go unnoticed. “If you had to depend on baseball fans for your support,” Veeck reminded, “you’d be out of business by Mothers’ Day.”

Golf isn’t going out of business, for certain. And yet, neither is it going as it did when Woods was the attraction. He was golf’s Eddie Gaedel, in a matter of speaking. He brought in an entire new constituency, people unfamiliar with game, who probably didn’t know a sand wedge from a sandwich. But after Woods’ spectacular introduction, the 1997 record Masters win, and the “Hello, World” commercial, they were Woods fans. Not golf fans, per se, but Woods fans.

So now there’s no Tiger Woods, as he rehabs from a second back surgery, so now that his 40th birthday is some two and a half months away, what happens to the Woods fans? Will they shift loyalties to someone like Rory or Spieth or Jason Day — or even Phil Mickelson? Or will they just end their brief relationship with the sport?

Golf is an individual sport. If you’re a Cubs fan and have suffered through the years you remain a Cubs fan, whether it’s Ernie Banks in the lineup or Kris Bryant. But if you’re a Tiger fan, especially one never previously involved in golf, it’s different.

Arnold Palmer was golf’s first superstar, starting in the late 1950s when golf and television formed a happy alliance. As he declined and later as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman declined — not to imply they had the unique appeal of Woods — some connected to the Tour advised journalists to write about the new guys and not the old ones.

“Let your readers know about all the great players out here,” was the usual admonition. The trouble was they knew but often didn’t care. And not much has changed, even with 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose grouped in the first two rounds of this Frys with McIlroy and AT&T Pebble Beach winner Brandt Snedekder. Great players without Tiger's magic.

Tiger’s gone for a while, until next February or March. After that, let’s say another five years, because of the injuries and operations, two on the back, four on the left knee, Woods may be forced to retire and, barring a commemorative appearance, gone forever.

And for those who think it won’t make a difference, look at what occurred during the Wyndham event in August. He made an unscheduled appearance in an attempt to qualify for the Tour Championship events, and the crowds were far greater than in previous years without him in the field.

Woods, as the line goes, still moves the needle. Some dislike him, after the stories of his personal life. Some idolize him, acknowledging the 14 majors he’s won. But nobody disregards him. He’s still a story, even now when he’s not a story.

The golf tour without Tiger Woods? For better or worse, that’s the way it’s going to be.

7:22AM

Bleacher Report: Golf Will Tiger Woods Salvage His Season After Vintage Round 1 at Wyndham?

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

It’s not really about the season, he said a week ago. It’s about the year. Tiger Woods had his own judgmental way of looking at the past several months, which were not at all pleasant, and at the future.

So many of us saw his result in the PGA Championship a few days ago, and in the U.S. and British Opens — missed cuts alland said it’s over for 2015.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

3:00PM

Bleacher Report: What's Next for Tiger Woods After Tumultuous 2015 Season?

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

HAVEN, Wis. — What's next for Tiger Woods?

In the short-term, it will be the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina next week. That’s probably the next tournament on his journey, his search. The indication is Woods will be at the Wyndham this coming week, which may be a mistake.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

4:50PM

Bleacher Report: Tiger Woods Going from Bad to Boring in Early Stages of 2015 PGA Championship

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

HAVEN, Wisc. — Out on the man-built hillocks and swales that make Whistling Straits more difficult for fans to walk than for most pros to play, on the 17th green alongside side Lake Michigan, Tiger Woods had an 11-foot birdie putt. He missed, of course.

There barely was a response from the fans who made the risky walk to that area, a murmur rather than a gasp. And in the virtual silence, a young man trying to whisper. As Woods failed with the putt, the man sighed: “Those used to go in.”

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.