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Masterpiece

Woods' Impact Extends to TV Ratings, Purses--and Beyond

November 02, 2000|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is two weeks before the U.S. Open and Tiger Woods is standing on the practice tee at Sahalee Country Club in Redmond, Wash., where he is busy conducting a youth clinic.

Tiger is wearing a light gray suit, white shirt and tie and has just stepped out of a limousine that is longer than one of his drives. He removes the suit coat and watches the youngsters flail at the ball.

To amuse himself, Tiger grabs a club and aims a ball for a wooden bench about 200 yards away down the left side of the range. He hits it.

Afterward, Tiger puts on jet-black sunglasses with gleaming silver frames. The subject comes up about how much tournament purses have increased since he turned pro. Someone suggests to Tiger that he is responsible, so he should get a finder's fee.

"Uh, you think?" says Tiger, who obviously agrees.

*

Hello everyone, and welcome to today's first playing of the Tiger Woods game. Here's your first big question:

Everything Tiger Woods touches turns to . . . what?

a) gold

b) No. 1 in the ratings

c) birdies

d) swooshes

Got the hang of it? Now, try this one:

What do other players have to shoot to beat Tiger Woods?

a) 10 under par

b) 15 under par

c) 20 under par

d) his foot

And here's your final question:

How much will Tiger Woods' presence add to what the PGA Tour gets in its next deal with the TV networks?

a) $150 million

b) $250 million

c) can't count that high

*

If anyone was going to paint the PGA Tour of 2000, it would have to be done in stripes, of course.

Woods had one of the most dominant years in golf. He won nine times--the most in one PGA Tour season since 1950. He won three majors--the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA (for the second time). He also became, at 24, the youngest player to win all four major championships and set scoring records in each one.

At Pebble Beach, Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 shots--the biggest margin in the 140-year history of major championship golf.

At St. Andrews, Woods won the British Open with a 19-under par 269--the most under par in major championship history.

At Valhalla, Woods won the PGA Championship to become the first player to win consecutive titles under the stroke-play format and the first to successfully defend in 53 years. His 18-under-par total was a PGA Championship record.

The highlights were many, including his AT&T title at Pebble Beach in February when he was down by seven shots with seven holes to play. He won the NEC Invitational with a "shot in the dark" when he couldn't even see the flag from 168 yards out on the 18th fairway and still dropped the ball two feet from the hole. He won by 11 shots.

Of course, Woods didn't triumph every time he played, even if it seemed that way. Hal Sutton beat him at The Players Championship. Phil Mickelson beat him at Torrey Pines. Darren Clarke beat him in a 36-hole match-play final at La Costa. He was third at Disney despite going 25 under par.

Doesn't matter. If there is any overriding mental picture of the year on the PGA Tour, it's Tiger holding a trophy and accepting another winner's check.

Along the way, Woods has attracted a legion of notable fans, including eight-time major winner Tom Watson.

"He is bordering on supernatural," Watson said. "He has raised the bar higher than anybody has ever raised it."

At the same time, there can be no greater illustration of the influence Woods has had on the PGA Tour than to measure his considerable clout off the course.

No other player in golf has been responsible for generating more money for the sport than Woods. It's possible that what has happened so far is only the beginning of the story.

"He's limitless," said Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at IMG. "He's a transcendent athlete, finally being recognized as the greatest athlete on the planet."

As we have already discovered, he is also a moneymaking machine. Woods has changed golf's way of life, in television ratings and revenue, tournament purses and in commercial endorsements.

What's happening? Call it the Tiger Rules.

Television: It's in the Numbers

The golden age of golf? It's right now, partner, and if there is any doubt, just check out what's around the corner when the PGA Tour starts negotiating a renewal with the TV networks.

The numbers are nothing short of stunning. But first, you have to follow the dollar trail. The last deal ended in 1998 and was worth $160 million. The current four-year contract for an estimated $350 million ends in 2003--but negotiations for an extension will begin in a few months.

What that means for the value of a new contract is not clear, although insiders expect a package of somewhere near $525 million for four years, if the PGA Tour manages to get a fourth broadcaster--Fox--into the process.

In a five-year span, that's an increase of nearly 350%.

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