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PGA boss Finchem plays down Tiger absence

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem believes American golf can do just fine without Tiger Woods -- but admits he would rather have the world number one back in the game sooner rather than later.

Woods announced on December 11 that he was taking an indefinite break from golf in order to try to rescue his marriage after revelations of several extra-marital affairs.

As speculation continues as to Woods' whereabouts and a possible date for him to return, Finchem predicted Woods will make a successful return to the game but said that, until then, the sport would be fine without him.

"There's a mis-perception about our business model," Finchem said. "People think because Tiger spikes ratings, which he does, and spikes interest, which he certainly does, that if he's not playing it just doesn't work. I've actually been answering this question not since November but really for the last 13 years (when Woods turned professional) because we've averaged about 47 tournaments per year on the PGA Tour, and in those years Tiger played about 17.

"That leaves 30 events, and those events have grown in the last 13 years exponentially and actually grown at a higher percentage basis than the events that Tiger basically plays in.

"Why is that? Because we've a huge fan base, 86 million Americans have played the game or are playing the game; 132 to 135 million people tuned in to our telecasts last year.

"We average a TV audience in any given week without Tiger, 24-26 million viewers, so (sponsors) look at that and they see the value in that, that we index higher in upper income (viewers) and decision makers, opinion leaders, than any other sport.

"We want our number one player back. I think he's going to be huge when he comes back but he's doing the right thing in dealing with his issues, as he said he wanted to.

"In the meantime, we're moving forward and we're going to have a great year," concluded Finchem.