ESPN and the PGA Tour understand: It’s Tiger, Tiger, Tiger

© Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — What do they call these people? Movers and shakers? Power brokers? There's no question in sports, as in other facets of life, that some people make a difference — on the field or the fairways, or maybe more importantly at the gate or the television ratings, where the money comes from.

ESPN understands. If they’re not showing us LeBron James — and they are night and day — they’re showing us Tom Brady or Serena Williams or, when it comes to golf, a sport entirely dependent on personality, Tiger Woods. When Tiger is entered, he’s the first player mentioned, even if he’s in last place.

The Genesis Open, once the Los Angeles Open, starts on Thursday at historic Riviera Country Club, where there’s a statue of Ben Hogan adjacent to the practice green and photos of Hollywood figures who were members, such as Dean Martin and Humphrey Bogart, in the clubhouse. Rank has its privileges, as we were reminded by the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

Woods did his pre-tournament media visit on a rainy Wednesday — no hail, as in Pebble Beach, just rain — and didn’t say much other than, as an African-American, to express his gratitude to Charlie Sifford, a black golfing pioneer who won at L.A. 50 years ago.

“It meant a lot to all of us who are participating in the game who are non-white to have Charlie have the success he had,” said Woods, “to have him go through the struggles that he went through to win here.”

And it meant a lot to the Tour to have Tiger come on the scene, out of Stanford, off an unprecedented amateur career — the only man to win three straight U.S. Amateurs — and grab the attention particularly of those who didn’t care about golf.

ESPN understands: Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. So does Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner.

He and Tiger — a one-two punch — announced that beginning next year the Genesis would be elevated from normal tournament status — full field, 144 players — to an invitational, such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, with only 120 players.

Someone wondered what the criteria would be if another sponsor or tournament came to the Tour and requested to be an invitational. “It’s all very simple,” said Monahan, who wasn’t trying to be funny. “All you need to do as a player host is win 60 times on the PGA Tour. That is the criteria that got us to this position.”

Let’s see, that limits it to Sam Snead, 82, who’s deceased. Jack Nicklaus, 73, who already has his own event and, oh yes, Tiger Woods, 80.

“He’s in a remarkable position,” Monahan said of Woods.

ESPN, who sends former caddy Michael Collins to help cover every event in which Woods plays, seconds the motion.

Woods’ best finish here is a second place to Ernie Els years ago. Riviera doesn’t quite fit his game, unlike Phil Mickelson’s game. Phil, who just won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for a fifth time, has picked up two victories at Riviera.

If there was a true rivalry between Woods, 43, and Mickelson, 48, who grew up maybe 40 miles apart in southern California, it has diminished. They played that pay-to-view TV exhibition against each other over Thanksgiving — about 10 years too late — but otherwise, each tosses compliments at the other.

Mickelson has said he considers Tiger the standard bearer. Woods on Wednesday said, “I think what Phil has done has been extraordinary, to be that consistent for that length of time. He’s won majors. He’s won events. He’s been so consistent, and that’s the hardest thing to do. What’s allowed him to stay out on Tour, with some of these longer guys, is he’s been able to hit the ball farther.”

Tiger’s staying power, after back surgeries that seemingly would end his career. is no less remarkable.

“I feel good about the last round at San Diego,” he said about the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago. “I put a few things together and was finally able to make a few putts, which was nice.”

ESPN and Jay Monahan, among others, were delighted. Tiger, Tiger, Tiger.