Open Looking for New Hero

The premier event of the international golfing season takes place next week when The Open welcomes all the best players in the world to Royal Birkdale. Well, almost all the best players, given the absence of Tiger Woods.

Woods is forced to miss the final two majors of the season so he can recover from knee surgery, which was the result of an injury made worse after his victory at the US Open at Torrey Pines in June.

Since Woods ended his season after the US Open, there has been conjecture as to how it would affect golf.

The San Francisco Chronicle has the figures to show that interest in the game has dwindled after Woods announced his enforced sabbatical, with the British Open expected to suffer slightly as well.

Apparently, the final two rounds of Woods’ own event, the AT&T National near Washington DC recently, dropped 40 per cent for the Saturday and almost 20 per cent for Sunday, compared to 2007.

The Buick Open is a popular Tiger event, although he has missed the past two years, last year because of the birth of his daughter.

Television ratings for 2007 compared to 2006, when he did play, suffered drops of more than 40 per cent over the weekend. That figure dropped further for this year’s tournament, going down another 13 per cent, compared to last year.

Buick tournament director Robb Grainger said in the article that events that normally feature Woods can expect a 20 to 30 per cent drop in all facets of the tournament should he withdraw. He said:

“Tiger is so good and so popular, take him out of the picture and everyone is in crisis mode – as opposed to four or five guys contending every week and forming a base for the tour. Long term, it would be healthy if we develop more superstars. The barometer for an event now is just, is Tiger there or not?”

However, Woods or no Woods, The Open can bank on its rich tradition and prestige to overcome any supposed crisis. Early favourites for the title include Spain’s Sergio Garcia, South African Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Many will also be rooting for a player like Anthony Kim, who has won twice on the PGA Tour this season, to win at Royal Birkdale and establish himself as a genuine rival to Woods, once he comes out of retirement.

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