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FOCUS ON GOLF: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Golden Years

Hogan's Magical Season Included Consecutive Victories in Three Major Championships, All by Record Scores. Et Tu, Tiger?

Victory at the 82nd PGA Championship Will Ratchet Up the Fame and Fortune of Woods, in Addition to Putting Him on a Par With Hogan as Only Golfers to Win Three Majors in Same Year

August 17, 2000|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Let's catch up with Tiger Woods.

His face was pictured on the cover of Time magazine. His face was also pictured on billboards along Interstate 75 for last week's tournament in suburban Detroit. His face is pictured on boxes of Wheaties, in TV ads for Buick and in print ads for everything from watches to video games to laser eye surgery to apparel to credit cards.

Face it, it's a look worth millions.

How much would another major title be worth? We may find out beginning today, when the 82nd PGA Championship starts at Valhalla Golf Club here in the land of bluegrass and racehorses.

The last time Woods played in the PGA Championship, he won it, and there's nothing unusual about that. Woods has won 21 times in less than four full years on the PGA Tour, six times since January, two of them majors.

Somehow, he failed to win the Masters, where Vijay Singh came through and thus became the only player other than Woods to have won a major since last August, when Woods made another lasting impression at the PGA Championship at Medinah, outside Chicago.

As is his habit, Woods is chasing history. The only person to win three majors in one year was Ben Hogan, who won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953.

The most recent Woods ledger shows this: 1999 PGA champion, 2000 U.S. Open champion, 2000 British Open champion.

The 2000 PGA champion?

Listen to what Ernie Els says: "Everybody has got to play four good rounds, and if he plays four mediocre rounds, we have got a very good horse race."

In Woods' repertoire of majors, he has won the Masters by 12 shots, the U.S. Open by 15 and the British Open by eight. He has played 14 PGA Tour events this year and won six. Since May 1999, he has won 15 of his last 28 tournaments worldwide.

Woods could scarcely be more confident, a state of mind that is entirely understandable, considering the way things have been going for him. At the Buick Open, Woods said his game was right where he wanted it.

"I don't need to make any major changes going into [the PGA]," he said.

In fact, about the only major change that would help Woods is to wear blinders to protect himself from all the camera flashes during practice rounds.

Said Woods: "It's like playing in lightning."

Having to compete against Woods is hearing his thunder. Els won the International at Castle Rock, Colo., where Woods did not play, and Els immediately turned to Woods.

"I wonder if he was watching," Els said. "Yeah, let's try to make it a good horse race next time at Valhalla. We will see how it will go."

Let's see, all right. Els remains one of the few who feel no huge weight because of Woods' presence. Certainly there are others in the group, but the Woods fear factor is a prominent force nonetheless. Even Woods recognizes at least part of it.

"I guess the only way to ever increase the intimidation factor, if it does exist, is to win tournaments," he said. "Simple as that. If you don't win, if you are there every time finishing second really doesn't mean much. Or finishing third, top five. You've got to win. And, fortunately enough, I have won my share of tournaments."

Woods says one of the reasons for his success is that he understands his priorities.

"For me, it is winning majors," he said.

Then you would have to say that Woods has had his priorities in order lately.

Maybe Els doesn't know it, but Woods was not watching the International. He was relaxing in the Bahamas.

"He was busy being a non-golfer for a couple of days," said Mark Steinberg of IMG, his agent.

In the meantime, Woods the golfer continues to expand his money-making horizons.

Woods makes news off the course as easily as he dominates golf tournaments.

Any day now, his new contract extension with Nike will be final. The deal will cover five more years and rework the existing year on the contract he signed in August 1996. While neither Steinberg nor Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, would comment on the numbers, insiders say the total value of the new agreement is about $80 million.

Woods' 1996 deal with Nike was $40 million for five years.

"All the material terms have been agreed upon," Nike Golf's Wood said. "They're just dealing in lawyer language stuff.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's going to be playing the senior tour with Nike," he said.

In Wood's opinion, Tiger is closing in on Michael Jordan's status in his prime as a worldwide brand, if he's not there already.

"As far as his visibility worldwide, he's probably greater than Jordan because he is playing a sport that is more accessible and relevant worldwide than basketball," Wood said. "And Tiger's multicultural background, he has the potential to be more well known than Michael Jordan ever was, if you want to talk about sheer numbers of people.

"Tiger is definitely in that zone."

It's an expanding zone. Forbes reported that Woods' total compensation, including endorsements, was $47 million in 1999. It's expected to pass $50 million this year, and experts say it's only going up.

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