Tiger Woods announced this week that he plans to return to golf to play in the Masters, which begins on April 8. It will be the first tournament he has teed off for since his infamous Thanksgiving Day car crash, which was followed by the revelation of his multiple transgressions and stay in a Mississippi sex addiction clinic. Is the world ready for Woods’ return? How will sponsors and golfers treat him? Has the scandal ruined his golf game? Here to discuss are Press Editor and Web Columnist Brad Pareso, Press Editor-in-Chief and music Columnist Michael Patrick Nelson and Publisher of The Independent and Press Columnist Jerry Della Femina.
Whoa whoa whoa. Tiger Woods in the news again? I am so sick of hearing about anything having to do with tigers or woods. His name was tossed around more during his sex rehab stint than most celebrities at the peak of their stardom, and that was when he was holed up in Gentle Path talking about how hard it is to keep his pants on. So he’s playing in the Masters? Regardless of what happens in that tournament—Vijay Singh could sink 18 hole-in-ones in a row and Phil Mickelson could play naked—there will only be one name in every single headline come the Monday after the tournament.
I think you’re right, and what’s more, while he may be playing golf again, I think it’s fair to wonder if these transgressions might be the only thing for which Tiger Woods is known for quite a while, maybe forever. And I think we might be pretty desensitized to these downfalls—we often equate celebrity with all manner of debauched behavior—but it really is a stunning, almost immediate development. It really wasn’t that long ago that this man was not only arguably the greatest golfer of all time, but one of the greatest athletes ever to walk the Earth. And that was all he was. Babe Ruth had a reputation as a womanizer, but that’s a small part of Babe Ruth’s legacy. I wonder if history will remember Tiger Woods the same way—if these affairs will eventually recede into the background—or if he will go down as a “sex addict” first, golfer second, the same way we associate O.J. Simpson with two murders and a fleeing white Bronco, rather than football (or the Naked Gun films).
Tiger has got to go back to doing what he does second best—playing golf. That’s why choosing to play in the Masters is a very wise decision. Tiger has to prove to his most important constituents—his sponsors—that he’s ready to compete again. What better place than the Masters? It is the best-policed tournament in golf. The fans who attend are the most mannered and respectful that they are walking on sacred ground. And in the end, since Tiger will be restricted to his hotel room, it presents the opportunity for a room service waitress to become richer than her wildest dreams.
I would love to be a fly on Tiger’s golf bag as he and Steve Williams make their way from fairway to fairway—if you thought Jay Leno told a lot of jokes using the words “wood,” “rough,” and “club,” you’re in for a real treat. How must other golfers feel that Tiger can just announce he’s playing at one of the most prestigious, invite-only tournaments? Obviously the Augusta National Golf Club isn’t going to say no to what is basically a guaranteed record-setting viewership, but for other golfers, it has to hurt to bust your ass for an invitation only to hear the Ambien-popping adulterer get to “decide” he will play.
Well, even if he weren’t the best in the world at the game, it would still be huge ratings—how could anyone say no to Tiger Woods right now? By “anyone,” of course, I mean networks. Sponsors, on the other hand, might feel differently. How could any advertiser hang a campaign on Tiger right now? How do you sell that? As far as performance on the green goes, frankly, I wouldn’t want to be playing against him. He’s an unrivaled golfer anyway, and now he has something to prove to the world. If he can shut out the distractions—and I believe he can—I could see him obliterating the field. You know, “Who’s laughing now?”
Let’s face it: Tiger has to try to hold onto his current sponsors. There are no new sponsors in his future. No advertising agency has the nerve to go to their client and say “Guess what? We have this great campaign for your product featuring Tiger Woods.” The next sound you would hear is the call for an agency review. Even if he comes back as a golfer and wins every tournament, Tiger, as a “brand,” is tarnished. Other than his current sponsors, the only commercial he will ever get again is one where he says, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”