The US PGA Tour has weathered the worst of the ongoing global economic struggles well despite a 22-month win drought for Tiger Woods, tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Tuesday.
A new nine-year US television network deal announced three weeks ago should secure growth in prize money from the current level of about $280 million, well above the $80 million from 1997 when Woods won his first major at the Masters.
"I think we're in good shape," Finchem said. "We seem to have come through the worst of it in a way that allowed us either to replace or renew virtually 100 percent of what we have.
"It was really a crisis climate for a while. Now it's a climate of uncertainty. But I think we're in a position to move forward. I think the confidence that television has showed in us is going to be another step in helping with that."
A field of 30 players, 11 from beyond US borders and Woods not among them, will compete starting Thursday at East Lake for a season points playoff prize of $10 million at the season-ending Tour Championship.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has battled injuries in 2011 after a 2010 season where he struggled in the wake of his infamous sex scandal that led to a divorce.
The former World No. 1 has slid to 49th in this week's rankings, and his fall from a dominant position that he enjoyed as recently as two years ago has been eased by a new generation of stars, including Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, the reigning US Open champion who plans to play the US PGA circuit in 2012.
"Clearly we've gone very quickly from a point in time when we were very much a sport that had a dominant player to all the way to the other end of the spectrum - we're at a point of total parity," Finchem said.
"Some of the players in their early 20s were seven, eight, nine years old when this tremendous upsurge of young people started when Tiger Woods started winning in the late '90s.
Sponsors have stayed with the PGA even as Woods has fallen off his once-overwhleming form.
"Tiger could start to be a dominant player again in a couple weeks, so I wouldn't rule that out, but during this period, I think the negativity was overstated," Finchem said.
"Tiger was playing 17 weeks a year. We have 47 tournaments, and they're all growing. There's a real interest with this number of young players and I think that sponsors feed off the fans in that regard.