Hard times coming without Tiger

Say Tiger Woods’ name around his PGA Tour colleagues, and the reactions are swift and varied.

NAPLES, Fla. — Say Tiger Woods’ name around his PGA Tour colleagues, and the reactions are swift and varied.

From Mark Calcavecchia, there was disappointment.

Chris DiMarco, concern. Boo Weekley, unusual silence.

And from others, when pondering the worst-case scenario — Woods never playing golf again — there is fear.

“Golf needs Tiger Woods,” Brad Faxon said. “We wish them well and the best. I don’t know what the best thing to do is. Nobody does. But I know him on the golf course is good for everybody.”

Woods’ future is uncertain, his family forever affected by the infidelity he acknowledged Friday on his website when announcing his “indefinite” leave from the game. With that, a long shadow of doubt has been cast over golf, which has seen a financial boon since Woods stormed onto the scene and now can only wait and wonder what’ll happen with the world’s No. 1 player and the game’s biggest draw sidelined.

Will he come back? When? Where? At what level?

There’s far more questions than answers.

“The tour has got to be worried, because what’s the definition of indefinite?” asked Greg Norman, the former world No. 1. “Indefinite meaning, OK, it might be a year because a lot of issues have got to be resolved? That’s the word you’ve kind of got to drill in on.”

In Dubai, a tournament official said Sunday that Woods has not yet cancelled plans to play in the Desert Classic there in early February, and were willing to wait as long as possible for a decision.

When Woods was sidelined for eight months after his stirring win at the 2008 U.S. Open, television ratings were cut in half. Attendance is much higher when he is in a field, and even in a recession, it’s surely easier to sell sponsors on the merits of spending dollars to back an event that features Woods than not. There’s real concern among tour players for Woods and his wife, Elin, and their two children.

There’s some serious worry about the potential long-term effects for the tour as well.

“I don’t think it’s going to help anything, that’s for sure,” Nick Price said. “Especially in a recession like we’re in now. It’s hard enough to find sponsors out there and now to try to sell things without Tiger in the field for however long it is, it’s going to be a challenge. I hope he comes back. I hope he comes back a changed man.”

So do fans.

Take Dodie Mills, a 61-year-old pediatric nurse from Port Charlotte, Fla. She was at the Shootout to see Kenny Perry, among others, but says her real lure to watching and playing golf has been Woods.

Him, she wants to forgive.

The women whom Woods has reportedly been linked to, Mills has much harsher words for them.

“I think all the fame, all the money he has, all the women took advantage of it,” Mills said. “He and his wife love each other. I know they do, and Tiger will do what’s right. . . I can understand how a man in that position can be very easily swayed by women. I was 23 once. He’s in his prime. All these women wanted a piece of him.”

Mills was hardly alone in that assessment.

Noted sports lawyer David Cornwell also pointed out that the women — more than 10 by some counts — who have been romantically linked to Woods in the last two weeks should bear as much of the blame as the golfer himself.

“They’re looking to get paid after sex,” Cornwell said.

“They are in a different way, outside of Tiger’s very significant family responsibilities, engaging in something that’s very ugly and it needs to be pointed out. Their 15 minutes are soon to be up. But the destruction that they’ve created with this kind of salacious detail may never be repaired.”

Golf will quite likely need repair as well.

The game may not have ever seen something quite like this before, but glorious eras have certainly come and gone. Great players retire, sponsorships come and go, and golf has long survived.

Faxon is confident it’ll survive this Woods saga, no matter the final outcome.

“I think the statement that he made was a great statement, but like everything else, there’s still a lot of unknowns out there,” Faxon said. “What does indefinite mean? I don’t even know if he knows what that means. I just hope they do well. The forgotten thing is Elin and two kids and what they’re going through.”

Not by other tour players.

“I ain’t got no comment on that Tiger,” the normally loquacious Weekley said.

“I feel for Elin. I really do. I feel bad,” DiMarco said. “Any woman that goes through that, I feel bad for. They’re doing it privately and you have to respect that and let them do what they like to do and hopefully come back bigger and stronger and a better person.”

Graeme McDowell is a rare footnote these days in the Woods saga. He’s actually benefited from it, in a way.

He took Woods’ spot in the 18-player Chevron World Challenge last week, finished second in the tournament that benefits Woods’ foundation and essentially sealed a trip to the Masters by jumping to No. 38 in the world rankings.

And he said he’s as eager to have Woods back as anyone.

“We’re under no illusions. We’re much more prosperous golfers for having Tiger Woods playing in our era,” McDowell said. “There’s plenty of global superstars on the way up to replace him. But they’re not just quite ready to replace him yet. We need him to hang out for another four or five years.”

Until then, they wait. Like everyone else.

“I think he’s on the right track,” said Calcavecchia, both a fan and friend of Woods. “I think enough’s enough after the last couple weeks. Let him be and let him work on what he needs to work on.”

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