Impact Of Tiger's Return To Golf

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The long-awaited return of Tiger Woods to the golf tour was announced this week. Woods will play in his first tournament in eight months next month. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks about professional golf's dire need for the return of its biggest star.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris. Golf's long wait is over. Tiger Woods is coming back. Woods says he'll play in a tournament next week. He's been recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. Joining us now to talk about how much golf has missed Tiger Woods and some other sports news is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. Hello Stefan.


NORRIS: Now, the last time we saw Tiger Woods on a golf course, he was winning the U.S. Open and winning in dramatic fashion.

FATSIS: Yes, on the 91st hole of the tournament after a 19-hole playoff, he beat 45-year-old Rocco Mediate. It was really one of the great golf tournaments that I can recall watching. And we later learned that he was playing, Woods was, on a torn ACL and a fractured tibia. He won his 14th major championship, just four behind the record - 18 by Jack Nicklaus - but it ended his season. Then the last two majors of 2008 - the British Open and the PGA Championship - both were exciting events without Tiger. But television ratings plummeted.

And in today's current economy, where corporations are cutting sport sponsorships, golf, which relies on corporate sponsors to stage events, needs a healthy, competitive and dominant Tiger Woods.

NORRIS: I love the way he announced his comeback. He did it on his Web site yesterday saying, simply: I am now ready to play again. This is kind of like Michael Jordan returning from his first retirement. Isn't it?

FATSIS: Oh yeah, totally. But I think it's bigger because golf is an individual sport: There's one main tournament a week, not a dozen or more games a night like in the NBA. Tiger Woods floats all of golf's boats - TV, sponsorship, ticket sales, media coverage, tournament purses - they all go up when Tiger plays. And they go up even more when Tiger does well. The other players want this guy back even if it means that their accomplishments don't get the same attention or may be they don't win as many tournaments as they might otherwise.

NORRIS: Tell me about this first tournament he's going to be playing in.

FATSIS: The Accenture Match Play Championship outside of Tucson, Arizona. Tiger won this event last year for the third time. And this is a good event for him to come back on. It's match play, one-on-one, hole-by-hole competition, not total strokes for the tournament. So if he miss hits a shot or two, it won't be fatal to his chances of winning the event. He could be rusty - he said so himself in a conference call today with reporters. Woods didn't swing a golf club for six months after the surgery. And he's had to train his body to swing differently. He played at least six years compensating for what was a compromised left knee.

Now that left leg is stable, which in the long run is great for Tiger, but a golf swing is a series of extremely powerful inter-connected, high speed motions. If you change one thing, other things are going to change too. So there's going to be an adjustment period. Still we're talking about Tiger Woods. He said he was ready to play earlier. But he wanted to wait for the birth of his second child which happened two weeks ago.

NORRIS: Well, from the golf swing on to spring training, which is in full swing. Alex Rodriguez and his steroid woes have dominated the headlines. So let's not dwell on that, shall we? Let's talk about the business of baseball - a call this week by the owner of the Boston Red Sox for a salary cap.

FATSIS: A salary cap, yeah. He had made this call - John Henry, their principal owner of the Boston Red Sox - and he had said this a few years ago, and he's bringing it up again now. Baseball is the one sport without any restriction on how much teams can spend on players. So you've got this wide disparity between what the New York Yankees at the very top spend - they had a payroll of $209 million last season - and the clubs at the bottom - the Florida Marlins spent just $22 million last season. Now baseball has succeeded in mitigating these imbalances by making the richest teams share money with the relatively less fortunate.

So the Yankees spent about a $110 million in revenue sharing to other teams last year. A salary cap though would flatten spending and the players unions have understandably fought this idea for years. And nothing is going to change until the current labor agreement between management and the players expires in 2011. So what we're seeing now from John Henry - and I think we're going to see from other owners - is a start to lay the ground work for what could be a very nasty fight over how spending should be in baseball.

NORRIS: Yeah Stefan, I seemed to recall a couple of weeks ago, you talked about the exit of soccer star, David Beckham from the U.S. It hasn't happened yet, so give us an update. What's going on?

FATSIS: Well Beckham, as you recall, is on loan from the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer to the powerhouse AC Milan of Italy's top league. Milan wants to keep him permanently. In order to do that, they've got to pay a transfer fee. And now after two weeks of silence, the president of the Galaxy told an Italian newspaper today that Milan had made what he called a ridiculous offer of around $3 million. He said he'd listen if the team made a real offer, believed to be somewhere between $15 and $20 million, which would cover the team and the leagues expected drops in sponsorship and merchandise sales if Beckham doesn't come back.

I think this is still going to happen. We will see over the next few days.

NORRIS: Hmm. Have a good weekend, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Thanks again, Stefan.

FATSIS: Bye bye.

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