A World of Possibilities

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AT&T NationalBETHESDA, Md. -- The AT&T National is missing eight of the top 10 players in the world, only one of them on crutches.
 
As everyone knows, Im not going to be there to play in the event, Tiger Woods said.
 
He wont be at Royal Birkdale or Oakland Hills for the final two majors. He wont get to wear a tuxedo for the gala dinner at the Ryder Cup. And he wont be at East Lake for the TOUR Championship to see who will be the first to kiss the FedExCup.
 
The PGA TOUR sees this as a wonderful opportunity to showcase so many other stars in golf. But why should that be anything new? There have been 28 tournaments this year, and Wood played only six of them before season-ending surgery on his left knee.
 
The real opportunity belongs to the players.
 
Who stands to gain the most from the worlds No. 1 player spending the next six months on his couch?
 
Everyone, Robert Allenby said Tuesday on a quiet practice range at Congressional, where Woods was nowhere to be found except on the promotional posters. Theres anywhere between $300,000 to $1 million every week thats up for grabs.
 
He was close.
 
In the 11 tour events that Woods played after he heard his ACL pop while jogging after the British Open last year, he picked up seven checks worth at least $1 million, and the smallest was $285,000 for a fifth-place finish at Doral.
 
The British Open is in two weeks. It will be the first major without Woods since Mark Brooks won the 1996 PGA Championship, a week before Woods captured his third straight U.S. Amateur.
 
Woods was a 5-to-2 favorite at Royal Birkdale after winning the U.S. Open. Three days later, when he announced he was done for the year, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els were installed as co-favorites at 12-to-1.
 
You look at guys who havent won majors, Hunter Mahan said. You think of Adam Scott and Sergio. But if they do win, there will be an asterisk because Tiger wasnt there. Theyre going to be the Houston Rockets of the mid-90s when they won back-to-back titles after Michael Jordan retired.
 
Winning a claret jug without Woods around would not bother Allenby.
 
If I win, Im going to have it on my mantle, drinking the best wine in the world out of it, he said. Everyone else can go get stuffed.
 
Who has the most to gain?
 
The answer starts with Phil Mickelson, and not just because he is No. 2 in the world.
 
Lefty probably wont be able to replace Woods atop the world ranking unless he wins a major, a World Golf Championship and one or two other events worldwide, which is more than hes ever done in one season.
 
But there is much more on the table.
 
Only a dozen players have won more PGA TOUR events than Mickelson, who has 34 career victories and three majors. Just his luck he came around in the era of Woods, which is why someone of that caliber has never won a PGA TOUR money title, player of the year or the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.
 
One of his best years was in 1996 when he won four times, and Mickelson looked like a shoo-in to win the money title. But in the final event of the year, Tom Lehman won the TOUR Championship to earn $540,000, edging out Mickelson by $82,630.
 
Then Woods came along, and that was that.
 
Mickelson finished No. 2 on the money list four more times, including 2001, when he still thought he had a chance late in the season for player of the year. He was only $229,366 behind Woods and in the hunt at a World Golf Championship.
 
If I can have a good finish this week and get to No. 1 on the money list, I think that I would have shot, Mickelson said that day.
 
Two days later, Woods won Firestone in a seven-hole playoff.
 
Mickelson, who has won at Riviera and Colonial this year, trails Woods by just over $1.8 million on the money list and he still has at least six tournaments left, all of them with at least $7 million purses. He might not have a better chance than now.
 
Then again, a resurgent Kenny Perry is about $400,000 behind Mickelson after two victories in the last five weeks. The 47-year-old Perry is also closing in on Mickelson for lowest scoring average on tour.
 
Phil would be the one expected to do it, Fred Funk said. But if one of the other guys did it, I think that would be a bigger story than if Phil did it.
 
Woods absence certainly wouldnt hurt Ernie Els. The Big Easy has been runner-up to Woods seven times, more than any other player. British bookmakers think enough of Els to make him a co-favorite at Royal Birkdale, and he probably will have just as good a chance at Oakland Hills for the PGA Championship.
 
Garcia is the best player without a major, and he already acknowledged Woods absence in a playful manner when he thanked him for not being at Sawgrass when Garcia won THE PLAYERS Championship.
 
Pat Perez heard a rumor that Woods had such a big lead that he could still win the FedExCup. Woods might be the No. 1 seed, but he has no mathematical chance of even reaching the Tour Championship.
 
Oh, really? Perfect, Perez said.
 
But the more he thought about Woods being gone, the more he wished he were here.
 
Everyone is trying like hell to beat him, which is hard, Perez said. But to be the best, youve got to beat the best. He gives everybody something to work for. I hope he plays another 10 years.
 
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