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Tiger's impact - promoting golf everywhere

The 2-mile stretch of road from Interstate 5 in San Diego to Torrey Pines Golf Course was bumper to bumper about 30 minutes before Tiger Woods teed off in the first round of the Buick Invitational.

Ticket sales were astronomical. Officials estimated the gallery at close to 40,000 for the final round and considered using the adjacent North Course -- where half the field played the first two rounds -- as a parking lot.

The overnight ratings? Only the highest for a PGA Tour event in the last 13 years.

No, this is not the Tiger Tour.

He will not win every week, as Mickelson proved Sunday. He will not play every week, as the Phoenix Open found out two weeks ago and Doral will learn when the deadline comes and goes a week from Friday.

But while Woods builds upon short-term streaks and long-term records every time he plays, he is bringing the rest of the PGA Tour with him.

Even Mickelson attests to that.

Mickelson could have felt slighted by all the attention on Woods. After all, San Diego is his hometown, Torrey Pines like a home course. And as far as his credentials, only one other player in his 20s -- Woods - has won more on tour.

Instead, Mickelson embraced reality.

'The way Tiger has played the last six events, and prior to that, has generated a lot of interest for the game of golf," Mickelson said. "Galleries were so large this week, they couldn't accommodate it parking-wise. And I'm a beneficiary of that."

Never mind that more people waited to watch Woods than stayed to watch Mickelson, who built a big lead and held off a gallant charge. After tying for the lead, Woods bogeyed two of the next three holes to squander a chance to win his seventh straight PGA Tour start.

But the only thing he really handed Mickelson was the size of the winner's check -- $540,000, three times greater than when Mickelson won the Buick in 1993.

The total purse this year will approach $158 million, most of that the result of a TV contract that was negotiated about the time Woods first broadened golf's popularity by winning the '97 Masters.

"I'm making more money because Tiger is helping increase these purses," Mickelson said. "He is creating more excitement in the game of golf. All the players are beneficiaries."

They benefit in more ways than one, and so does golf.

While Woods has raised interest and excitement in golf the way Arnold Palmer did 40 years ago, he is also raising the level of everyone around him.

Mickelson said the biggest asset from winning the Buick was confidence from knowing he had beaten the best.

Tom Lehman won the Phoenix Open, and later said the secret behind his first victory since 1997 was not wasting shots -- a trick he learned from playing with Woods.

Ernie Els went to the Mercedes Championships determined to reach the standard set by Woods. He went head to head with Woods the last two days and outplayed him from tee to green, losing in a playoff on the second hole on a putt that has defined Woods's mystique.

"The more I play with him in these situations, the better for myself," Els said.

He may get a chance this week in Los Angeles. Els is the defending champion, and Woods has finished second each of the past two years, losing in a playoff to Billy Mayfair two years ago.

But it won't be like that every week, simply because Woods plays no more than 21 out of the 45 weeks the tour is in session. That could lead to the only negative impact Tiger has on the tour.

If Woods doesn't play, does anyone care?

It is a predicament commissioner Tim Finchem has faced before. Five years ago, the value of a tournament was judged by the appearance of Greg Norman and Fred Couples, just as it was with Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus before them.

Woods played the MCI Classic at Hilton Head last year for the first time. Small coincidence that it was the first sellout in MCI history.

"He brings not just golf fans and sports fans, but people who just want to see him," MCI tournament director Steve Wilmot said.

What makes Woods's impact different from that of Nicklaus or Palmer is the depth of talent on tour -- and the ripple effect Woods generates.

"You don't have an incremental advantage of the extra eyes on television, the extra tickets, which is what Tiger brings," Finchem said today. "But he has uplifted interest in the entire sport, and that is paying dividends.

"When you have this kind of interest beyond our traditional audience, it can only broaden our appeal."

 

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