By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
ATLANTA — PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem expects three or four tournaments to be without a title sponsor going into the 2011 season, although he said the tour has no plans to subsidize them.
Finchem painted an optimistic picture Tuesday of the tour, noting its cumulative TV audience — number of viewers who tune in to a PGA Tour at any point during a tournament — was down only 2 percent despite Tiger Woods not playing the first three months of the season. And despite a weakened economy, the tour has signed or renewed some 18 title sponsors since 2009.
But when asked about being "happy" with how well everything appears to be going, Finchem added some context to the situation.
"We’re pleased that we’re competing. We’re not falling backward when we’re in a difficult environment," Finchem said. "On the other hand, you would much prefer to grow. We’d much prefer the growth levels that we had for charitable contributions in the three years before 2008 than bumping along with very slight growth. And the same thing with financial benefits to players.
"But given the circumstances, given the difficulties, given the cutbacks we’ve seen in other sports and given the fact that we’re headed into television negotiations, we are cautiously optimistic. And we have to be pleased about that."
Finchem described the 2010 season as "eventful" and "interesting," which takes in a lot.
On the golf course, there were two scores of 59 within a month of each other, by Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby. And while Woods is enduring a miserable season on and off the course with his personal travails, a younger class of competition has emerged through Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Hunter Mahan, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler, the first PGA Tour rookie to make the Ryder Cup team.
Most noticeable was Woods, who has failed to win a PGA Tour stop for the first time in his career.
His downfall — from the extramarital affairs that led to his divorce to finishing in the top 10 at only two tournaments — comes at a time when the tour is about to start negotiations on the next TV contract.
Finchem said he doesn’t think the performance of golf’s most popular player will have much bearing.
"I think Tiger brings a lot of unique viewers to the telecast," he said. "Tiger doesn’t generate the core audience that we have week in and week out. I’ll say this for maybe the 50th time — we have 47 tournaments, Tiger plays in 16. ... The economy is the problem, not Tiger.
"Having said that, there isn’t any question that when you have not just the No. 1 player on this tour but the most dominating player in a sport in history, you want him playing because it makes a lot of things work a lot better," Finchem said. "And we want him playing, we want him playing well. And given his intensity, we assume that’ll be the case."
The tournaments without title sponsors are the Bob Hope Classic, Hilton Head, the St. Jude Championship in Memphis, and the World Golf Championship at Doral. Finchem said he expected a title sponsor for Doral.
As for the others, he said they have enough funding to get by another year.
He also said the tour was getting closer to a requirement that players add new tournaments to their schedules. The idea is to designate tournaments that top players must attend each year, although various plans are still being discussed.
"We will go to one of these models next year, for sure," he said.