Professional golf will survive and thrive even with one of its greatest-ever stars sidelined by the sport's worst-ever scandal, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem told CNBC.
In his first interview since Tiger Woods' tawdry sex scandal rocked the sport, Finchem reiterated that his organization supports Woods' decision to step aside until he straightens out his personal life.
But he refused to cede any ground on whether the PGA will suffer financially over the Woods affair.
The recession will be a bigger challenge than Woods' absence, Finchem said.
"He is our No. 1 player, he is our No. 1 star. He brings enormous attention to the sport," Finchem said. "We can move forward without him."
The tour had a trial run of what would happen without Woods when the top-ranked golfer in the world sat out most of 2008 after his daring win in the US Open that year with what amounted to a broken leg.
That year featured a record $225 million raised for charity, a key metric by which the PGA gauges success, Finchem said.
Moreover, he added, the top six revenue performers are tournaments in which Woods has not historically participated. And the PGA expects to grow its prize money from a record $109 million in 2009 to as much as $118 million in 2010.
Finchem cited up-and-coming players such as Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim as names who will attract fan interest.
"The game's not going to be hurt," he said. "Having said that, we want to see Tiger fix his issues and come back and continue the legacy that has developed in terms of being able to play the game at the level he's played."
"This game of golf is bigger than Jack Nicklaus when Jack was dominating the game, it's bigger than Tiger when Tiger's dominating the game."
In fact, he predicted that when Woods does come back fans will continue to support him. Finchem added that he only wants Woods to come back when he is ready.
"I think people will look at the No. 1 athlete of the decade and pull for him now really in an underdog position to deal with these issues, to come back, to win golf tournaments, to go back to stimulating young people and bringing fans to the sport," he said.
"I look at this guy and see a guy that we in golf owe a lot to, a guy who is so dedicated and focused and brings it every time he tees it up....I don't think all that gets washed away because of these personal issue."