Will anyone step up in Tiger's absence?


Martin Kaymer found his way out of the fog.

He emerged from his funk Sunday, claiming The Players Championship with the return of his best form.

Maybe in a larger sense, he will inspire the game to follow him out of its own funk.

Bravo to Mr. Kaymer, who showed such fortitude holding it together after Sunday’s weather delay at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, but he takes this season on yet another tangent.

This continues to look like such a rudderless year, a season meandering aimlessly from one storyline to another with no theme emerging to tie it all together and no protagonist equipped to lead us to one.

Where are we going? Where is this PGA Tour season headed? What’s going to ultimately define it. Hey, as humans, it’s only natural to search for meaning.

More than halfway through the 2013-14 wraparound schedule, this season still feels lost.

More than anything, the year is defined by the absence of Tiger Woods.

It craves a compelling understudy to fill the void, and nobody’s stepping forward.

In that respect, it’s becoming a year of lost opportunity, from Jordan Spieth’s near misses, to Adam Scott’s backpedaling stumble to No. 1, to Phil Mickelson’s lost weekends, and Rory McIlroy’s maddening flirtations with form.

It’s a year so far defined by what refuses to develop.

“The game of golf is, unfortunately, a game of losers,” Sergio Garcia said Sunday at The Players. “We lose a lot more tournaments than we win.”

With Woods around, we forget sometimes. Without him, we’re constantly reminded.

There was McIlroy’s Sunday failure at the Honda Classic, Scott’s weekend collapse at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Mickelson’s Sunday fade with a chance at Wells Fargo and Spieth’s inability to close out on Sundays at the Masters and The Players.

The PGA Tour turns to the Lone Star state this week, which intrigues, because the tour feels like it’s in a No Single Star state. And yet maybe this is where Spieth follows Kaymer’s lead and seizes the opportunity. After frustrating falls short at the Masters and The Players Championship, Spieth returns home to Texas the next two weeks, looking to win the HP Byron Nelson Classic and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

Now there’s a hometown sweep that would give this year some definition, especially if it thrusts Spieth into position to become the youngest No. 1 in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Scott isn’t playing this week, but he will overtake Woods as the new No. 1 sitting on his couch. That’s a perfect turn to the year, because Scott’s ascension won’t be about the direction of his game as much as it will be about the direction of the game in general, without Woods leading it.

It would have been so much more compelling if Scott would have seized the No. 1 ranking after defending his Masters title, or by winning The Players Championship for a second time.

We’re a month away from the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and that brings us to Mickelson, who missed the cut at both the Masters and The Players Championship. In a year of aches and pains, Mickelson would cure what’s ailing him and the game itself by winning at Pinehurst.

If he claims that elusive U.S. Open trophy after a record six second-place finishes in the event, it’s a story that will tower over the year.

McIlroy has teased us with flashes of returning form, and he’s certainly capable of still becoming the story of the year with three majors, a World Golf Championship event and the FedEx Cup still looming.

If Bubba Watson adds to his win at Riviera and the Masters, this year might end up being all about Bubba Golf.

But this all inevitably boils down to Woods and just how successful that microdiscectomy surgery was on his back.

His much anticipated return, whether it’s at the British Open, or the PGA Championship, promises to shape whatever else this year gives us.