Tiger Woods: Off the PGA Tour but on everyone’s mind

It’s been an unusual off-season for golf. The sport has gone from the cover of Golf World to the front of US Weekly. From ESPN to TMZ. From the back page of the New York Post (occasionally) to the front (20 consecutive days). Some guy named Obama finally bumped him off.

The nation’s president and Woods, incidentally, were paired together on the January cover of Golf Digest. Obama’s handlers probably would like to see the pages of that issue recycled into napkins.

Few bigwigs still want to be associated with Woods. AT&T, Accenture and Tag Heuer dumped him as if he were a camera within arm’s length of caddie Steve Williams.

Jesper Parnevik, who introduced Woods to his future wife, Elin, teed off on the world’s No. 1, saying he has “lost all respect for him, primarily as a man and a father.”

Other Tour pros have lent support or attempted to look on the bright side.

“This is an opportunity for some great new stories to be born,” Kevin Streelman said.

Still, Woods is on everyone’s mind. Except, seemingly, Tim Finchem’s. The PGA Tour commissioner had this exchange Tuesday with a reporter at the SBS Championship, which begins today at Kapalua, Hawaii.

Question. Have you talked to Tiger or attempted to talk to him?

Finchem: Have I talked to who?

You know, the guy the late-night talk shows love.

A look at 10 story lines as we head into the 2010 PGA season:

1. Tiger the golfer: Woods announced in December that he would take an indefinite leave, and no one has a clue when he will return. The smart money is on the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which takes place near Woods’ Orlando, Fla.-area home two weeks before the Masters. But that’s a guess.

Golfweek columnist Jeff Rude reported that “multiple” players say Woods will not play in 2010, and others believe he will not return in time for the Masters.

2. Tiger the TV star: The Tiger Effect on TV is pretty simple, according to the Nielsen Co. About twice as many people watch when he plays. That fact surely has network officials praying for more than world peace.

3. And now, a word from our sponsors: With as many as 10 title sponsorships up for renewal, this is an enormous year for the Tour. When Finchem declared last month he doesn’t “see corporate America backing away from golf over Tiger’s issues,” you wondered if that was 50% hope, 50% reality. One good sign: BMW inked a two-year extension as title sponsor of its Chicago-area FedEx Cup event.