The Presidents Cup, a made-for-television golfing event concocted in 1994 to pit the best players in all non-European foreign countries against the best American players in a Ryder Cup-esque match play format, starts today on a public course in San Francisco, and no one would care if it were not for the presence of one Tiger Woods (pictured above with Charles Howell III at the 2007 Presidents Cup.)

No sport is as reliant on one player as golf is dependent on the presence of Tiger.  Quick quiz:  After Tiger won the U.S. Open last year in a playoff against Rocco Mediate (the final round of which garnered the highest television ratings of any golf telecast in history), who won the final two Majors of the 2008 after Woods was sidelined for the season with a knee injury?  The answer is Padraig Harrington, but it’s not your fault if you didn’t know that.  Nobody was watching. Without Woods in the field, ratings plummeted. Final round viewership for Harrington’s PGA Championship victory were down more than 50% in the United States from the previous year’s event when Woods won (Ryder Cup viewership was actually up 22% last year, but that can be attributed to the fact that last year’s event was played in the United States in the afternoon and not in Ireland).

But this year, Tiger is back and golf could not be happier.  Who are Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang? (And no, the answer is not four people who have never been in my kitchen.) They are the players who won golf’s Majors this year, and of all of them, the one we are most likely to remember is Yang.  Why?  Because he came back from behind to beat Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship in August, an event that saw its television ratings rise 150% due in large part to Woods’ presence.

So dependent is golf on Woods that tour officials have been creating events (see the FedEx Cup) in an effort to entice Woods to play in tournaments after the PGA Championship.  They have added a tour stop called the AT&T National, which is hosted by Woods and all proceeds from the event benefit his charitable foundation. And they have begun to play up the importance of the Presidents Cup in an effort to get Woods to play in the event and keep fan interest up.  It just makes business sense.  Total prize money in 1996 — Woods’ last year as an amateur — was nearly $70 million. It has increased steadily in the Woods Era to nearly $280 million last year.  A high tide lifts all boats, and make no mistake, Tiger Woods in the captain of this boat.