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How will golf fare without Tiger Woods?

February 9, 2015

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Via Flickr.com user Omar Rawlings

Tiger Woods’ chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major record are looking more and more unlikely.

Given his recent performances, Woods might not go down in history as the best golfer of all time. In terms of influence and popularity, however, Woods is undoubtedly golf’s true marketing king.

These numbers should make that statement abundantly clear:

• The 2013 Masters, which featured Woods finishing in fourth place, had a 10.2 Nielsen rating; in 2014 — with the 39-year-old missing from the action  — the tournament got a 7.8 rating, its lowest since 1993. Golf tournaments even get lower viewership when Woods is having an off day.

• His absence from the ’14 Masters not only precipitated a drop in TV ratings, but also a 22.5 decline in ticket prices for the event.

• In 1995, when Woods was still an amateur, there were only nine golfers who earned more than $1 million, and by 2000 — four years after Woods went pro — there were at least 45. Golf-Newz points out his money impact nicely:

“In 1996 Greg Norman became the first player on tour to win $10,000,000 in his career. Norman went on to earn over $14 million on tour but let’s take a look at that “First over $10 million” fact. Norman hit the 10 mill mark in 1996…in the year 2000 just 4 years later Tiger won $9,200,000 in a single year. This didn’t take 10 years or 20 years it only took 4 years for someone to make as much money in a single year as one of the greatest golfers of all time earned in his entire career!”

• After Woods’ car crash in late 2009, UC Davis conducted a study that found shareholders of Woods’ major sponsors, such as Nike and Gatorade, lost somewhere between $5 to $12 billion after he announced his leave from golf.

What isn’t quantifiable, however, is how the golfer inspired thousands of young people around the world to take up a sport that was considered reserved for the rich and white before he entered the scene in the late 1990s. Watching his famous fist pumps and long stares became a sports TV staple in the late 1990s and 2000s, inspiring both young (like Bill Simmons’ three year old) and old to tune in.

Woods’ back injury, his second in two years, probably won’t force him into early retirement but his chances of competing look grim; only 10 percent of all majors have been won by golfers 40 and over since 1960, according to Joe Posnanski. Woods is a once in a lifetime talent, so his chances of capturing a U.S. Open, British Open, Masters or PGA Championship north of 40 are probably higher than just 10 percent, but he has not been consistent like Nicklaus was in his waning years as a pro.

Winning a Masters at 46 like golf’s greatest champion, might be a tall order for the 39-year-old.

And there’s more bad news for the PGA: As Woods’ career has declined, his golf heir-apparent has not emerged. Rory McIlroy is certainly in the running for that title, but his play has been inconsistent at times and isn’t as dominate as Woods was at his age, despite compiling four major championship wins by the age of 25.

It’s hard to imagine any golfer that could eclipse or even reach the star power of Tiger Woods. How could anyone beat this Nike spot?


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