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Tiger Woods and The Masters Leaders Mean Business

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Some might argue that right now, for Tiger Woods at least, it isn’t Business, It’s Personal. And now that the recent TV commercial featuring a voiceover from his father, who passed away 2 years ago, brought further scrutiny rather than helping to improve his image after his ubiquitous sex scandal, Tiger is definitely playing to prove something.

The Nike commercial revived an old voice clip from the past when Tiger’s father was alive.  The company used the old voiceover with a new video clip of Tiger today to give the impression that Dad is alive today, and  is lecturing a penitent-looking Tiger regarding his recent sexual transgressions. Much of the public and some very loud critics didn’t buy it. And Nike is certainly concerned that consumers might not “buy it” either.

So, for Nike, Tiger Woods’ biggest sponsor, his return to playing golf can end the scrutiny of his performance Off of the Golf Course, and bring back the focus, this weekend, to his performance On the golf course.

After the first round at Augusta, the leader board certainly holds a few surprises, and makes for some good stories. For the sponsors of the surprise leaders it means big business, if not business as usual.

The leader after the first round was Fred Couples, a very well liked 30 year PGA veteran who is seeking only his 2nd Major Championship.  Couples won the Masters in 1992.   At 50 years old, not only would Couples be the oldest Winner ever at the Masters, with yesterday's 18 holes in the books, he is already the oldest player to lead the tournament after any complete round.

Couples placement atop the leader board after he shot a 6-under par, 66 stroke first round, is a welcome surprise, not only to his sponsors which are mainly Bridgestone Tires and Ecco, the Danish shoemaker, but also to many fans and certainly to Billy Payne, the Masters Chairman, who vilified Tiger Woods in his pre-tournament press conference.

Payne was quoted as saying, "Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children,"….."It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here, it is the fact he disappointed all of us and more importantly our kids and our grand kids."

Certainly Payne’s comments were based on facts, and no one should argue that the man cannot voice his opinion, but perhaps the comments were poorly placed considering they were made months after the news about Tiger's infidelity surfaced, and yet only one day before the tournament was to begin. Payne isn't on a large Public stage very often, and even though he is a presence in the community of sports, he took advantage of the opportunity to voice his opinion on moral issues when dozens of microphones were thrust in his face.  From his comments it seems that Payne would probably subscribe to a maxim of old school Golf professionals who believed that “Image Is Everything”. Others have said that he simply used Tiger’s personal issues as an opportunity to stand center stage and deliver a self righteous rant.

In 2nd place on the leader board, following closely behind Fred Couples is 60-year old Tom Watson who played a 67 stroke first round finishing at 5-under par. Watson has won 8 Major Championships, including 2 Masters and, besides his advanced age, doesn’t quite represent the upset story that a win by Fred Couples would represent. Watson’s primary sponsor is Adams Golf, although he also uses the Pro V1 ball from Titleist.  Either one of those companies would gain from seeing Tom Watson don the Green jacket once again.

Phil Mickelson also played a 5-under par, 67 stroke round 1. Mickelson primarily represents Callaway Golf.  Although his fans and sponsors are proud to see him among the leaders, it is no surprise that Mickelson would be competitive in this year’s tournament.

The same might be said of Lee Westwood who was tied with Watson and Mickelson after one round. Lee has not won a major tournament, but he has been in and out of the Top 10 PGA rankings for the last 12 years, including the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Westwood has a long list of sponsors and thereby represents the true nature of golf as a business. On Westwood’s clothing you can see patches from companies in varying industries. Ping and Titleist are sponsors, as are Jaguar and UPS.  Some of the larger sponsors choose to support more than one golfer.  As far as the sponsors are concerned,  It’s great to be With a leader, if not the actual winner.

Following those players tied for 2nd place was Tiger Woods who played a 68-stroke round 1. This was Woods’ best opening round in 16 Masters starts and that is not a good sign for everyone else in the field considering that he has won the Green Jacket four times. Tiger holds 20 Masters records including a record 18-under par finish and the record for the margin of victory (12 strokes). In round one of the this year’s 2010 Masters he finished at 4-under par and only 2 strokes behind the leader. He seemed to be focused and driven. Would his fans or even his critics have it any other way?

Perhaps the biggest surprise among the leaders is Sandy Lyle at 3-under par. His 69 stroke first round, marks Lyle’s First sub-70 score at the Masters in 18 years. Lyle did win at Augusta in 1988, 22-years ago. Lyle was so happy to be amongst the leaders that he was affectionately quoted as saying, “I would have snapped your hand off for a 69 when I was standing on that first tee.”

Surely the Board Members at Augusta enjoy looking at their leader board and welcome the feel good possibilities that are presented by many of the current challengers who were not expected to compete for the Green Jacket at this year’s Masters.

But, after Payne lashed out regarding Tiger Woods, they cant ignore that it might be bad business for them if they are seen to have punished a golfer who is seen to have paid his dues and is about to play himself back into the hearts of the public.

Fred Couples presents a wholesome image compared to the soiled reputation that Tiger brought into town. And certainly having an older man with an unblemished reputation win the tournament, would help them face the media frenzy that has enveloped the town since Tiger’s arrival and Billy Payne’s press conference.

But the Board Members probably don’t want to be seen as picking favorites. Even though they may now have been painted into a corner because Payne decided to bring his personal feelings into their Business.  And by Sunday’s final round they may be looking for just such a poster boy as 50-year old Fred Couples to vindicate them and the prestigious tournament.  What could be worse for Billy Payne than after his personal attack on Tiger Woods, having to congratulate the golfer and having to shake his hand as he puts on the Green Jacket for the 5th time?

Obviously Tiger Woods, has heard all of the personal attacks made on him during the recent months following the scandal. And for any man, it would be difficult to hear those attacks and not take them…..uh….ahem….personally.

But the public loves a winner and, when it comes to scandals the public has a very short memory. Perhaps the best thing Tiger can do to silence the personal attacks, is to go out on the course - and take care of Business.


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