Tiger Purrs, But Can The Golf Icon Still Roar?
As Tiger Woods walked off the course at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament with a T9 finish and a score of 280 (-8), fans were left wondering if the 41-year old’s performance marked the beginning of a legend’s comeback.
It was only the second time in the last 833 days that Woods, who underwent his fourth back surgery in April of this year, has completed four rounds of competitive golf. But his unexpectedly good showing lit up memories of the glory days when the explosive California native ruled the game.
TV ratings clearly indicate that Tiger Woods, despite his personal issues and on-and-off participation on the golf course, can still outdraw the current crop of elite players. While today’s talent pool is wide and deep, none of those young guns can move the ratings needle on their own.
Looking back, the late Arnold Palmer was singularly mesmerizing, especially when he was battling the few players that were competing at the top of the leader board, like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Billy Casper. In the late 60's and early 70's we saw Nicklaus emerge, taking on Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and of course Tom Watson and Lee Trevino.
However, Tiger's run from 1997 to 2008 will always be one of the most dominant in golf, or in any individual sport, for that matter. Interest in golf skyrocketed, ratings were at all-time highs and sponsorships poured in, creating mammoth purses on the PGA Tour.
Like Palmer before him, Woods’ long-lasting impact on the money and style of play will be felt for a generation or more. When the 21-year old hopeful turned pro in 1996, purses on the PGA Tour
totaled just over $69 million. Only six players earned more than $1 million. Ten years later, following Woods’ spectacular run, purses topped $257 million, an eye-popping increase of 272%.
In the decade since, golfers have seen a modest growth of 27% in their take-home earnings, bringing the increase during Tiger’s career to 373%. By 2017, 102 players commanded an excess of $1 million in annual prize money and much of that fortune can be attributed to Woods’ influence on the game.
At the time of his last major win and 65th overall in 2008, the golf prodigy was only 32 years old. By the end of 2009, he pushed his win total to 71, but without an additional major. In eleven seasons (1999 - 2009) he managed to chalk up 13 majors and 64 tour wins, a stunning major tournament winning percentage of 29.5%.
When Tiger dominated the Tour he was chasing big numbers, such as Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships and Sam Snead's 82 career victories. Not yet 42 and assuming his back holds out, Woods should have plenty of game left. Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46 and Snead clinched his final tournament win at 53.
Golf lovers are left with not just a past full of historical accomplishments by a wondrous athlete, but after firing four rounds of 69-68-75-68 at the Hero World Challenge, Woods is tantalizing us with the prospects of more tournament victories and perhaps even a major.
After this weekend’s showing, fans will be watching and wondering if the Tiger can still roar.
Kevin Krest is the author of the PK Frazier Series of Novels, available for sale on our site. Kevin@pkfrazier.com blog: http://kevkrestsports.blogsport.com
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