Shirts, golf balls and perhaps a Tiger Tour, too

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

Tee shots are not the only thing Tiger Woods hits hard.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem learned that Tuesday when he picked up Golf World magazine and read Woods' blistering review of his job performance.

In a half-hour interview last weekend, Woods dropped the loaded word ''monopoly'' to describe how Finchem conducts some tour business. He also put the commissioner on notice he wants control over how he is used in promotional campaigns, as well as a share of the skyrocketing revenues Woods is generating for the game.

''I believe what I believe in,'' Woods said. ''I understand the whole picture.''

The most popular figure in his sport, perhaps in all of sports, was prepared to issue his unprecedented demands in person -- except he and Finchem rarely speak.

''The only time he talks to me,'' Woods said, ''is when he wants me to do something for him. To play in this tournament or that tournament. It's not like he comes up to me and asks me how I'm doing.''

If Finchem had, he'd get an earful.

Woods has concerns large and small. More than a year later, he still is fuming over the tour's refusal to let his father, Earl, ride in a golf cart and follow the ''Showdown at Sherwood,'' Woods' made-for-TV battle with David Duval that made more money for the tour.

He's also tired of being pressured to play more tournaments, tired of his likeness being used to endorse products he doesn't benefit from, and tired -- maybe most of all -- with Finchem assuming he's got Tiger by the tail.

Finchem has yet to respond to the magazine story, but Earl Woods cautioned him not to take his son lightly.

''I've talked to Tim on numerous occasions about very important things and found him to be fair and open-minded. But this is like two tigers that are head to head with only one trail and both going in opposite directions,'' Earl Woods said.

''One of them has to step aside in order for the other one to pass. And Tiger has all the cards.''

The younger Woods doesn't sound hesitant about using them. Asked about the seriousness of his conflict with Finchem & Co., he said, ''Serious enough that if we don't make everyone aware of it now, it could escalate into a bigger situation.''

If this sounds familiar, it should. There are echoes of conflicts from the not-too-distant past involving Michael Jordan and Greg Norman.

Jordan was the first athlete to reach the endorsement stratosphere, but he realized too late exactly how much he meant to the NBA.

He recouped some of his value in a series of big contracts at the end of his career. But for all the money the basketball great made for himself -- Jordan's personal fortune is estimated at $450 million -- he made 20 times that for other people.

By talking to Golf World, Woods let the PGA Tour know he won't make the same mistake; witness his recent $100 million deal with Nike.

Norman was the last athlete to propose that the stars of golf run their own show. In 1994, he went public with plans to launch a world tour. It was to be backed by Fox Sports, run by a Florida-based firm with some tournament experience, and guarantee the top 30 players in the world at least $290,000 a year.

Finchem squashed that uprising within weeks. Three years later, he launched a world tour of his own. Norman's problems were bad timing, small thinking and harboring ambitions grander than his drawing power. Woods won't make those mistakes, either.

He knows exactly how much of the show he is. The PGA Tour hasn't turned into the bum-of-the-month club yet, but there is no doubt who all those new people tuning in to golf want to see. TV ratings rise by 40 percent when Woods plays a tournament and by nearly 100 percent when he is on the leaderboard through the weekend.

Equally important, he commands an army of lawyers and power brokers to match anything Finchem can mobilize. And his team at International Management Group, the most powerful agency in golf, would like nothing better than to cut into the PGA Tour's near-monopoly of the sport.

IMG already designs, builds, owns and maintains courses in Europe, where it stages tournaments, produces the broadcasts and represents a majority of the golfers in the field. Put Woods at the top of a list that includes some of the agency's other prominent clients -- Duval, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Jesper Parnevik -- and a breakaway tour hardly seems like an impossible dream.

Woods knows the tour needs him more than he needs its sanction or logo. He can play all the majors and get exemptions to get into the field at any other tournament he desires -- without Finchem's blessing.

''I'm not saying this in a threatening mode, but Tiger is an independent entrepreneur,'' Earl Woods said, ''He can give up his PGA Tour status and play where he wants. He can take his game to Europe, Africa, Asia or wherever he wants and the world will follow.''

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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