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Tiger's leave will have major impact on Tour, sponsors

(FILE PHOTO) Tiger Woods looks up to the

(FILE PHOTO) Tiger Woods looks up to the 18th green during the final round at the Target World Challenge on December 14, 2003 at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. Credit: Getty Images

In the wake of Tiger Woods' stunning announcement Friday night that he is taking an indefinite break from golf, there are a million questions, but two are paramount:

What will golf be without Tiger Woods and what will Tiger Woods be without golf?

For more than a decade Woods has carried the game on his carefully sculpted shoulders, starting with his Masters victory in 1997. He won 13 more major championships, the last one on a bum leg in 2008 when he dramatically captured the U.S. Open in a playoff at Torrey Pines.

Though he didn't win a major this season, he was within shouting distance of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. With 71 PGA Tour victories, he was closing in on Sam Snead's record of 82.

At age 33, it was clear that every record in the game that meant anything would be his. It was also clear that he meant everything to the game.

Now what?

Woods was just where he wanted to be, tracking Jack and Sam, establishing his personal Everest as the No. 1 player in the world. Woods has been ranked No. 1 for the last 235 weeks and for 577 weeks of a professional career that began in 1996.

His father, Earl, carefully molded his son and enthusiastically touted his talents, even at the age of 2. Earl Woods told us his son was coming. There were skeptics, but not for long. Eldrick "Tiger" Woods fulfilled his father's prophecy, captured the attention of the golf world and built a business empire that Forbes Magazine recently valued at $1 billion.

Woods built his game, his empire, and even his marriage with what seemed meticulous attention to detail and a dogged determination to maintain his privacy. When he married Elin Nordegren in Barbados in 2004, his coat holders hired all the helicopters on the island for the day so they couldn't be chartered by photographers.

Nordegren has remained in the background and kept their two children away from the spotlight. When Woods wasn't between the ropes, we didn't know where he was.

Apparently, we have found out.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has survived infidelity (and an original charge of sexual assault), largely because he quickly admitted it, expressed regret and made overtures in public to his wife. Bryant came out of the situation flawed but without the loss of compassion from his fan base, and the backing of his huge corporate sponsors. He resolved his personal difficulties without an impact on his professional career.

There will be an enormous consequence here. The PGA Tour, its corporate sponsors and television partners have depended on Woods to drive interest and ratings. Because of Woods, networks have ponied up hundreds of millions of dollars for rights, have received hundred of millions in return from advertisers. The Tour has received hundreds of millions in corporate sponsorships.

So just think about this: When Woods took the break for knee surgery, TV ratings fell by 50 percent.

Several huge large companies - Nike, Gillette, AT&T, Gatorade, Tag Heuer - pay Woods a total of around $100 million a year. So far, none has abandoned him. So far.

But make no mistake. The game of golf and the career of a legendary golfer are at stake.

And as Woods tells us, so is a marriage.

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