Finchem: Not first time no Tiger

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods is not at TPC Sawgrass this week to defend his Players Championship title, a blow to the PGA Tour's signature event but one that commissioner Tim Finchem looks at with far less concern.

Finchem, who is about to complete his 20th year on the job, helped negotiate the robust television contracts and, by extension, larger purses for his players since Woods turned pro in 1996.

But Finchem simply sees Woods' presence as a bonus, his absence as something that can be overcome.

"It's not the first time we haven't had Tiger, with injuries and whatever,'' Finchem said. "We're kind of used to it.''

Woods is out indefinitely after March 31 back surgery. He missed the Masters for the first time since 1994 and appears likely to miss next month's U.S. Open, which would mean a sixth major championship he would have to sit out in seven years.

Without Woods at the Masters, television ratings plummeted to their lowest since 1993.

"There was all this publicity about Masters ratings were off,'' Finchem said. "The Masters is a great tournament, they had a great rating. It's just that when Tiger plays, it's higher.

"Everybody looks at it (as) when Tiger is not going to play, there are bad things happening. I don't look at it that way. When Tiger plays, good things happen. When he doesn't play, it's fine. And I really mean that. That's not to say. ... we'd love to have not only the No. 1 player in the world, but he's defending.''

Finchem said Woods' absence is an opportunity for young players to get attention and for others to get the spotlight.

"When Tiger is in a tournament, I don't care what tournament it is, he dominated the media focus, and that's fine,'' Finchem said. "But the negative to that is that the young players coming up don't get the kind of attention that they need to develop and become athletes that the fans really recognize. So it holds back the development of our stars.

"When he's gone, that goes away a little bit, and opens up more time to capture them. That's a real advantage. It may not feel like it at the moment but over time it means a lot. The history of the tour is more and more stars, and we need that.

"It's like any bad situation, there's always some silver lining, and I think that's certainly the case here. So we're not really concerned about it, but we're hopeful that he gets through his rehab and gets out here playing.''