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Tiger Woods Ditches Nike Driver

August 01, 2003|James F. Peltz | Times Staff Writer

The last thing Nike Inc. needed was to get the shaft from Tiger.

Nike, which pays Tiger Woods an estimated $20 million a year to endorse its products, suffered a public relations bogey Thursday when the golf superstar abandoned his Nike driver and teed off with a club from his past, a 6-year-old driver made by the Titleist division of Fortune Brands Inc.

Woods switched at the start of the Buick Open, a tournament in Grand Blanc, Mich., amid ongoing debate about whether he's in a slump this year.

The switch came two weeks after Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant -- who recently signed a $45-million endorsement pact with the sneaker giant -- was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Colorado woman. Bryant, who is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 6, has denied the charge.

"Nike can't be pleased about it at all," David Carter, a principal of the Sports Business Group in Los Angeles, said of Woods ditching the Nike driver. "They're paying him $20 million a year. The presumption to the weekend golfer is that it's a head-to-toe relationship, and clearly it's not."

Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike, which is relying on Woods to help it push into the golf equipment market, isn't expected to suffer a significant financial hit because of Woods' change of heart. He continues to play Nike's irons and golf balls and to wear Nike apparel with the familiar "swoosh" logo.

"We don't foresee it having an impact on our business," Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said. He noted that Nike is developing new drivers for Woods and that for now, "he's going back to technology and a driver that is outdated. It's not like he's moving to a competitive driver that's currently at retail."

A Titleist spokesman declined to comment.

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