ATLANTA One of the most significant changes on the PGA Tour since the downfall of Tiger Woods has been a return to "total parity" among the players, according to Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
While Woods has become a shadow of the dominant figure that used to win multiple times on the U.S. circuit, virtually every one of his peers is now capable of tournament success on any given week, Finchem said.
"We've gone very quickly from a point in time when we were very much a sport that had a dominant player (Woods) to all the way to the other end of the spectrum," Finchem told reporters at East Lake Golf Club on Tuesday.
"We're at a point of total parity. Anybody out here can win any given time. So far the fans seem to really like it, and it'll be interesting to see what develops in that regard going forward.
"Our ratings are up this year as a result of that interest, and I think that interest triggered a lot of what was very positive in our television negotiations."
Former world number one Woods, a 14-times major champion, has slipped to 49th in the rankings while trying to rebuild his golf swing and private life following the breakup of his marriage and assorted injury problems.
Comfortably the best player of his generation, he has not won since the 2009 Australian Masters.
Asked how tournament sponsors had responded to the shift to 'total parity' on the PGA Tour this year, Finchem replied: "It's good.
"There was always an overstatement of the problem if you have a dominant player. Tiger was playing 17 weeks a year (when he dominated). We have 47 tournaments, and they're all growing."
Finchem said he had been especially encouraged by the number of young players who have flourished on the U.S. circuit.
Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open) and Keegan Bradley (PGA Championship) won major titles while fellow young guns Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland have all triumphed on the PGA Tour this year.
"There's a real interest with this number of young players, and I think that sponsors feed off the fans in that regard," Finchem said.
"They see the galleries and they see the interest level and they see the television numbers. In today's world, if you're spending millions of dollars for a sport, you're really studying it pretty carefully.
"When I go around the country, the first thing I hear from people is: 'Boy, you've got a lot of great young players right now. They're so athletic and fun to watch'. I think that every indication is that this is the beginning of a long term."
There have been 12 first-time winners on the 2011 PGA Tour, six of them rookies. In all, 14 twenty-somethings have triumphed this season, accounting for 16 victories.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)