Tiger Woods turned back the clock with his win Sunday at the PGA Tour Championship, but even with his victory, the 42-year-old golfer is unlikely to match the unprecedented business success he experienced before injuries and off-course scandals derailed his career, branding experts said.
Woods finished at 11 under to earn his first PGA Tour victory in more than five years, capping a years-long comeback bid that included multiple back surgeries and a series of personal setbacks, including a highly publicized DUI in August 2017. After ranking as low as 1,199th in world golf rankings as recently as last year, Woods is likely to jump to No. 13 in the world with his win, ESPN reported.
“America loves a great comeback story. Tiger has endured enough struggles and hardship that I think fans and sponsors are ready to embrace him again,” said Rick French, CEO of the French/West/Vaughan public relations firm. “His re-emergence is great for golf and sports in general. I’m not sure he will ever have as many as endorsements as he did before his fall but then again, he’s Tiger Woods so maybe.”
After ranking as one of the most marketable global stars in any field at the peak of his popularity, Woods lost many sponsors after an infidelity scandal in 2008. Subsequent injuries have kept Woods from steady performance on the golf course for most of the last decade and contributed to a major championship drought that extends back to 2008.
Despite the various setbacks, Woods maintained a portfolio of top-flight corporate sponsors rivaling the top athletes in any sport. Currently, he partners with Nike, Bridgestone Golf, Monster Energy, TaylorMade and Upper Deck, among other blue-chip brands.
Woods’ Tour Championship win marked his seventh top-10 finish of 2018 and the strongest indication yet that his health issues are in the past. NBC’s coverage of the event drew a 4.3 overnight rating, up 187 percent compared to last year, demonstrating that the “Tiger Effect” is still strong among sports fans.
“The world still cares about Tiger’s results, fueled by this win in amazing style again after being out so long, following the injuries, and the drama,” said Tamara Jacobs, senior vice president at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment. “The hype is insane, but who doesn’t love a good comeback story, including brands who will seize the opportunity.”
Several of Woods’ current sponsors wasted no time in promoting his return to the winner’s circle. Nike, which stood by Woods throughout several personal crises, tweeted an image of his trademark fist pump with the message “never stop chasing your crazy dreams.” The tweet drew more than 4,000 retweets and 22,000 likes on Twitter.
Bridgestone Golf announced Woods won the event while using its golf balls, averaging 304 yards off the tee.
“Tiger started the year ranked 666th in the world,” Dan Murphy, president and CEO of Bridgestone Golf, said in a statement. “His ascension to playing like a top-five player shows that dedication to his craft and determination to win produces incredible results; it’s a lesson for all of us in business and life."
While the Tour Championship marks the effective end of the PGA Tour season, Woods’ win is already generating buzz for next year’s major championships. He is the odds-on favorite to win the 2019 Masters, according to Bovada.LV, a popular online sports book.
“[I] don’t think this will bring him back to the endorsement levels of his tour-domination days, but it could easily be worth another $10 million a year in new deals, and could bring back some of the top-tier marketers who dropped him after his indiscretions,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising. “As long as he can be a factor on Sundays, he’ll be attractive to advertisers.”