Nicklaus Record A Long Shot For Tiger

When Tiger Woods announced that he’d had surgery on a pinched nerve in his back, making him miss this week’s Masters for the first time in 20 years, the golf industry got a glimpse of a future without Woods. As dominant a golfer as he’s been for most of the last two decades, he’s meant even more to the business of golf. From galleries to television ratings, from huge purses to player endorsements, Woods has been a game changer.

It is very difficult to know where Woods will be after he comes back from this latest injury. He’ll be 39 by the time he next tees off at Augusta, and there is no guarantee his ailing body will be able to fend off further serious injury. Golf involves repetitive motion, and Woods has been swinging clubs at a furious pace since he was 4 years old – which is to say he may be physically much closer to 50 than 40.

A number of golfers have had success in their 40s – Jack Nicklaus won three majors in that decade. But 50-year-olds don’t fare nearly as well, and it’s hard to imagine Woods becoming a back-slapping gallery favorite on the Champions Tour. It seems a virtual certainty that Woods will catch Sam Snead for the most PGA Tour wins, but Nicklaus’s 18 majors are beginning to seem a bridge too far. It’s probably not too soon for the golf industry to have a serious Plan B, because good ol’ Plan A ain’t what he used to be.

* Shortly after the horn sounded in the NCAA basketball tournament final, speculation began on which additional members of this freshman class might elect to declare themselves for the NBA draft. Already Tyler Ennis of Syracuse and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas have announced they’ll go pro. It would be a huge surprise if several Kentucky Wildcats don’t follow suit.

The rush to get to the NBA and get moving toward that big-money second contract hasn’t kept too many of the lottery-type players from turning pro, and maybe it shouldn’t. A quick look at the job prospects for college graduates show that million-dollar-plus annual salaries are in short supply. And the NBA, which instituted the rule that players can’t enter the NBA draft until one year after graduating high school, is now considering extending the time period to two years.

It’s not that the league cares about the colleges that feed its ranks, or even concern for immature players being thrust into the pro lifestyle. It’s simply that they will make fewer mistakes in the draft if they can see the player develop another year. There are sad cases in which a player leaves after one year of college only to find that he and his advisers had overestimated his value. Some go in the second round or are not drafted at all. And that player has no paycheck and no degree, and often little choice of going back to school without a scholarship.

The exceptional player (think LeBron James) probably could and should be able to go right after high school. But for many, the decision is based on the advice of others, not all of whom have the player’s best interest as top priority.