Despite chronic injury problems and a marriage-shattering scandal that damaged his reputation, Tiger Woods is once again the favorite to win golf’s most prestigious tournament: The Masters.
Observers are calling the plausibility a miracle, and it could be one not just for Woods’ career, but golf in general, as the sport struggles to reel in a younger generation disinterested in the game’s slow pace, pricey equipment and maddening difficulty.
Golf has dealt with declining television ratings in recent years, but a healthy, well-performing Woods has already led to a substantial spike in viewers. Last month, Woods’ second-place finish in the Valspar Championship led to the PGA Tour’s highest ratings in five years, according to the Associated Press.
Woods is also reviving the golf industry itself. Bridgestone told Reuters that Woods’ presence on the green this year has increased the average basket value of its products by more than 120 percent compared to the same period last year when he wasn’t competing.
“His endorsement [that we make the best ball] is more valuable than all of the science and data that we throw out to the consumers,” Bridgestone CEO Angel Ilagan told the outlet. “It is just ridiculous that we can show them hundreds and thousands of testings with robots and projectile guns that we’re the best ball, the most accurate ball. And the consumer doesn’t believe us until Tiger says, Yeah that’s true.
“During Tiger’s absence the entire industry, the PGA Tour, we were all kind of looking who is the next player,” Ilagan added. “Then when Tiger came back the entire industry is jumping on the Tiger bandwagon.”
Sponsors are likely also taking interest in Woods’ resurgence. In his heyday, Woods was earning roughly $90 million a year from sponsorship deals alone, including Nike, Buick, American Express, Electronic Arts and General Mills. Woods’ infidelity scandal resulted in the termination of deals wth companies like AT&T, TAG Heuer and Gatorade, but perhaps those companies and others will begin to reevaluate if Woods’ can represent those brands.
“He has a little bit of wind in his sails,” David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California, told the New York Times. “The key is going to be can he win, can he stay healthy and can he stay out of trouble? If he can do that and remain competitive, then I think the big brands will return.”
With that said, The Masters appear to be not just an opportunity for Woods. It’s a test to revive not only his career, but the future of the golf industry.