Can Tiger help golf get its groove back?

    Tiger Woods is perceived as golf’s billion-dollar stimulus package, and now that he has returned to the game this week after an eight-and-a-half month absence – here in Arizona, no less – everything in golf is back to even par or better, correct?
     Unfortunately, I’m not so sure.
     The signs are certainly looking up in Tucson, where the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is totally “in the green’’ thanks to Woods. That the No. 1 player on the planet kept everybody guessing until the last moment (Friday) added to the excitement and made his comeback an even bigger deal.
     But to all those PGA of America types, golf course operators, green-grass retailers and PGA Tour junkies who think Tiger is the end-all, let’s stop and take a deep breath. Hey, this is kind of like the “other stimulus package’’ in that we really don’t know yet how it’s all going to shake out.
    My suggestion: Enjoy the moment. It’s something we all tend NOT to do when times get hard, and these are the hardest. Just lean back and smell the roses, and hope that Woods gives us five days of great golf down in the Old Pueblo.
   Besides, we’ve got plenty of time to worry about other things like:
  *The FBR Open is desperately seeking a new title sponsor in order to continue doling out millions of dollars to local charities. FBR has agreed (at least in name) to go forward in 2010 on the original deal that was supposed to end in 2012. But what if FBR goes BK in the meantime and the Thunderbirds can’t find a replacement?
  * Hopefully, The LPGA’s sudden leap to Papago Golf Course turns out well despite the almost impossible timetable of a little less than one month until the March 26-29 event. Don’t you think such expectations are almost unfair, especially when the course won’t even be six months out of renovation?
  *Hotels in the Valley and across Arizona in general are off by 40 to 60 percent in early 2009, according to numerous sources. Do you think that has anything to do with recent rounds on area courses being flat to 10-20 percent off?
  *An informal survey by of 12 middle- to upper-end courses in Arizona revealed that all have made significant reductions in staff – an average of 10 to 25 percent – in 2008-09 to counter lost revenues. But how many of those stories of lost jobs involving assistant pros, outside service, cart girls and maintenance workers have you read about?
  *According to recent statistics from the National Golf Foundation, factors like time, high costs and difficulty have kept participation in the game stagnant during the 21st Century. Is there anything we can do to revive the game?
   True, TV ratings for NBC will be large this week due to the return of the Mighty Tiger, a complete reversal from the abysmal ratings that plagued the rest of the West Coast Swing. But they could fall flat just as quickly if Woods ends up making a quick exit. And he might, considering the length of the layoff and the fact that his rebuilt left knee remains an unknown factor.
   Having viewed his new swing up close and personal a couple of times, I’m not so sure it’s the same one that earned him 65 wins and 14 major championships. I thought it was enlightening that Frank Nobilo of The Golf Channel noted the “snap movement’’ at impact that Tiger was known for is missing these days.
    How that new swing on the rebuilt leg equates into “Ws’’ remains to be seen. But I was troubled before Tiger showed up in Tucson by a comment made by caddie Stevie Williams, who revealed that his boss had “some trouble walking’’ following his surgery.
     Woods told a reporter who asked about the healing process, “Don’t go through it. It is not a lot of fun.’’ He cited “quite a bit of pain’’and “a lack of strength and mobility that’s all taken away from you.’’ And even though he said that he has started to feel “really good,’’ I’m not so certain that he believes that as much as he wants to believe it. Unlike his peers, the game really is 100 percent mental for Woods.
   It also was a little unsettling when Tiger revealed that it was nice to take a swing without having his “bones move,’’ and that for years he had, essentially, played with no ligament in his kneecap.
    “That’s why you saw me jumping off the ball (at impact), is to get off that leg,’’ he said of the aforementioned snap movement. “But it’s nice to be able to hit into it (the left leg) for the first time.’’
    The first time? You mean El Tigre accomplished everything he has on only one leg? That if his left leg holds up in the future, that he will be even mightier than ever before given the fact he’ll be driving the ball with two legs?
     Seriously, it all sounds too good to be true. It’s like the “other stimulus package’’ in that you hope it’s not another Ponzi scheme that seems to pop up almost every day. The cold reality is, we’ve had enough bad news to last a lifetime, and chances are great that Tiger can’t save the game all by himself.
    So please, golf gods, allow us to enjoy the return of the United States of Tiger Woods without the pressure. But even more than living vicariously through the one-and-only Woods, help all of us to get our groove back, which is the real deal when it comes to re-energizing the game.
   Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.