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Don’t lose hope

The disheveled businessman glanced at the flat screen and read the scrolling update aloud.

“Tiger out for season . . . well, I guess the season’s over,” he sighed last Sunday night as others perched around a bar in the bowels of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport nodded in agreement.

Similar scenes likely were played out at airport bars around the globe. The postmortem following Woods’ announcement that he needed season-ending ACL surgery is still sinking in. But the thought occurred as the unkempt businessman returned to his tonic of choice that nothing could be further from the truth.

The 2008 season isn’t over for the 200 or so Tour players with healthy left knees. It’s just beginning. The saying is, “These guys are good,” not “These guys are good bit players.” Even without the game’s alpha male, there will be plenty of happenings, on and off the golf course, to feed the world’s golf jones.

Among the more interesting possibilities:

• Stewart Cink wins Player of the Year honors. Without Woods around, Cink’s final-round scoring average drops to 68.25, he adds two more titles to his season haul (BMW Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), and claims the second FedEx Cup title. To Tour official’s glee, Cink becomes the first champion to slap a wet kiss on the silver chalice.

• The U.S. side wins the Ryder Cup by seven points thanks to tenacious leadership from Phil Mickelson, who concedes a 45-footer for birdie to Sergio Garcia at the last hole for a half with the outcome of the matches already decided, and the flawless rookie debut of Anthony Kim (4-0), Paul Azinger’s fourth captain’s pick. Without Woods around to goad him into nightly Ping-Pong duels, Mickelson looks fresh and fist-pumps the Kentucky galleries into a blue grass frenzy.

• Speaking of Mickelson. He shows up at Oakland Hills for the PGA Championship, spends the week testing a new Callaway golf ball, and wins by five strokes. He skips two of the four “Playoff” events, however, citing family obligations and a pennant run by the San Diego Padres, and finishes just behind Cink in the Player of the Year race.

• Nick Faldo asks European officials for a Ryder do-over, claiming there’s no way to craft a decent lineup when you can’t pick half of your team out of a lineup. In Sunday’s singles matches, Faldo confuses up-and-coming European star Martin Kaymer with “Shawn” from that CA commercial and only sends out 11 players.

• J.B. Holmes wins the British Open, but R&A officials are outraged by his 5-hour, 15-minute final round and slap a two-stroke penalty on the plodding bomber. The penalty lifts Justin Rose to the Claret Jug, who immediately sells his house at Lake Nona for an estate adjacent the links at Royal Birkdale.

• Dustin Johnson plays in the final group at the John Deere Classic and Reno-Tahoe Open, losing both to long birdie putts at the 72nd hole. Azinger passes on the hard-hitting newcomer, saying it was the toughest decision he had to make. As a consolation, Johnson is the runaway Rookie of the Year and caps his season with a victory at the Merrill Lynch Shootout, where he is paired with fellow bomber Bubba Watson.

• John Daly becomes the game’s top draw, playing his way through the season on sponsor handouts. He fails to make a cut. On a positive note, Long John convinces an Elvis impersonator to caddie for him following a rare rain delay at the Justin Timberlake Open in Las Vegas.

• Paul Goydos wins the Canadian Open, narrowly missing a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup squad and credits Calvin Broadus for turning him into an elite player. Sales for Long Beach State Dirtbags hats soar and most of the golf media spends the rest of the season trying to figure out who Calvin Broadus is.

• Sam Alexis Woods pens first tell-all, “Tortured at Torrey Pines: 91 holes to Open glory.” Among the more intriguing nuggets, Sam reveals that pops toyed with the idea of playing the first two rounds at the U.S. Open with his right arm tied behind his back, but figured a one-legged Open victory was impressive enough.

• Finally, the Tour releases the 2009 schedule. Strangely, the docket includes only two events through the first four months. The Buick Invitational, considered by some the first possible tournament Woods could play, and the Masters, the more likely site of Woods’ comeback.

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