While everyone is wondering how the PGA Tour can survive the absence of Tiger Woods during his indefinite leave, the underlying truth is that this scandal could be the biggest windfall for professional golf ever.
Tiger's newly famous "trangressions" have thrust him on the national media stage in a way few, if any, other golfers have ever experienced. TMZ is running a recurring "Tiger News Network" segment, and every gossip show on network TV can't get enough of this scandal. The result is that the entire country and maybe the entire world is talking about a golfer, and therefore to some extent golf. People that have never played a round of golf or have never watched the final round of a major are talking about Tiger and know every detail of his affairs.
Tiger did not retire. He didn't walk away from the game permanently, nor do I believe he'll even miss the 2010 Masters. When he does return, imagine the media circus. No matter how long he waits, every reporter will be ready, willing, and able to ask Tiger all the juiciest questions. Everyone will want to see if he still has "it" on the golf course, or if his wife has broken him. Maybe Tiger's mistresses are the equivalent of Samson's hair, take his sex away and he's got no golf game. Many of these people who are talking about the scandal will stick around to see Tiger on the course, at least in the first few weeks. And the ones who might have been interested in golf previously will stick around afterward. This is the ultimate teaser promotion. "Join our gym for free the first month, and then cancel if you don't like it." "Watch golf to see the Tiger Woods circus, keep watching if the circus isn't the only entertaining part." I'd bet this year's golf ratings after Tiger returns will be the best on record by a big margin.
In addition, there aren't many tournaments that Tiger would have played in January or February anyway. The few there are will be full of interviews with bitter-beer face Jasper Parnevik and others, ready to give their various opinions on Tiger. Golf never does that well pre-Masters, and this year won't be that much worse, if at all.
For completely different reasons, Tiger's scandal may do for the golf ratings what Cal Ripken's streak did for MLB after the strike season.