Anyone who follows professional golf closely, and even most that follow it casually, know that the sport's television ratings suffer when Tiger Woods doesn't play.

While viewership has declined over the past couple years as Woods has been either absent or not at his best, there has still been plenty of great golf and many exciting finishes. But a public that likes to follow favorites has missed much of them.

Dominant teams or players can help ratings in any sport. The American public seems to enjoy following favorites. But in golf, the game might be just as good without a player that goes off at less than even odds each time he tees it up.

Woods won his last major in 2008 when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at Torrey Pines. It was his last tournament before left knee surgery.

He recovered from that injury, but wasn't been the same. Whether that has to do with the injury, his habitual changing of swing coaches or the marital infidelity that turned his life upside down last year is anyone's guess. But the era of Woods' domination ended (or at least got suspended) after that 2008 US Open.

No one has stepped up to take over as the sports alpha male. Twelve different players have won the 13 majors played since that 2008 US Open.

Tiger returned in 2009, but was only been a factor in majors on a couple of occasions. He hasn't played since May, when he withdrew from the Players Championship with pain in the left knee.

While the rating have been declining since the end of the Tiger era, there has still been a lot of great golf, especially over the last couple years.

Who can forget last year's PGA Championship finish? Dustin Johnson's penalty for grounding a club in the bunker kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. Kaymer fell a stroke behind on the first hole of the three-hole playoff but came back to win.

This year's Masters might have had the most drama. Rory McIlroy led after each of the first three rounds, but blew the lead with final-round 80 to drop out of the top 10.

Eight different players held a share of the lead during the final round before Schwartzel edged Jason Day and Adam Scott by two shots.

Then McIlroy came back in his very next major with a wire-to-wire victory, setting several tournament records in the process.

And he very well could become the top-ranked player in the world for an extended period of time.

But chances are another player like Tiger might never come along. While that might hurt the sport's television ratings, those who tune in to tournaments whether or not Woods plays will likely see plenty of competitive tournaments and great golf.

It wasn't that long ago that golf didn't have a player dominate for years at a time. And the sport still survived.

Sure, Jack Nicklaus reigned for long time, but his 18 majors were spread out over 24 years, from 1962 through 1986. Woods collected his 14 titles much faster, 12 years from 1997-2009.

Back when Nicklaus was the dominant player, the rest of the field still had a chance.

During Nicklaus' time other players emerged as the dominant player for short stretches. Players like Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Ray Floyd all shared the spotlight with Nicklaus for short periods.

Woods never shared the spotlight. From 2000-06 there were 24 majors. Woods won almost half (11) of them. No one could compete with him consistently. Phil Mickelson (four major wins) was Woods' top contender, while others like Vijay Singh (three major wins) and Ernie Els (three major wins) also futily tried to keep up.

While their battles, and Woods' frequent triumphs over them made for good television, major championship tournaments are just as exciting when the title seems more up for grabs.

Woods announced yesterday he will return very soon and likely play in the next major, the PGA Championship. It will likely draw a great viewing audience and great fanfare based on his presence. To the casual fan, golf will again be great. But to those who have been following the game in Tigers' absence know the sport was no less exciting without him.