“Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” Earl Woods told Sports Illustrated about his then 20-year-old son in 1996. “I don’t know exactly what form this will take, but he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”
It is hard to argue that Woods changed the course of humanity, but he lived up to the lofty expectations on the course and certainly changed the trajectory for generations of pro golfers. Total prize money on the PGA Tour was $75 million the year before Woods turned pro. The Tour says it will pay out $685 million this year in prize money, bonus programs and contributions to health care and pension plans.
The biggest benefactor of Tiger-mania: Woods, who has earned an estimated $1.7 billion since he turned pro, with more than 90% of the tally off the course from endorsements, appearances and course design fees. The total is more than $2 billion, adjusted for inflation, and second all-time among athletes, behind only Michael Jordan. His $121 million in career prize money is 26% ahead of No. 2 Phil Mickelson.
Woods posted a 1-under 71 on Thursday in the first round of The Masters; it put him in a tie for 10th heading into Friday’s action. It is his first official Tour event since a severe February 2021 car crash that nearly cost him his right leg.
It was 25 years ago Woods arrived at Augusta National for his first Masters as a pro. The event changed everything for Tiger and the PGA Tour. He set records with his -18 score and 12-stroke victory, while CBS notched its own record: 44 million tuned in to watch Sunday’s final round. The win was the first of 15 major titles and helped cement him as a marketing dynamo that Nike had presciently bet on six months earlier via a historic five-year, $40 million contract.
It certainly has been more roller-coaster than straight line for Woods the past dozen years, as injuries and an infidelity scandal derailed his chase of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record and his place as the perfect pitchman. Woods was earning $100 million a year off the course at his marketing peak but even last year when he did not play in an official PGA Tour event, Woods still managed to bank more than $60 million, tops among all golfers.
“He has become the master of every kind of comeback you could possibly think of and that is really endearing,” Joe Favorito, veteran sports marketing consultant and lecturer at Columbia University, said in a phone interview. “A whole audience knew of Tiger but are discovering him more as a father, as a senior spokesperson, as someone who has been through tragedies, big and small, some self-inflicted obviously.”
The 11-time PGA Tour Player of the Year finished first in the sport’s new Player Impact Program that awarded $40 million last year to players that generated the most buzz among fans on social media and in the news. Woods received an $8 million payout, despite only playing one unofficial event, the PNC Championship, a 36-hole exhibition with his son, Charlie.
The Tour bumped the PIP pool to $50 million for 2022, while the FedEx Cup, which launched in 2007, will pay out a record $75 million. Both increases were deemed a response to the new Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series. Woods won the inaugural FedEx Cup, including a $10 million bonus, while this year’s winner will take home $18 million.
Woods has a dozen sponsors on his current endorsement roster, including Nike, TaylorMade, Monster Energy, Bridgestone Golf and Kowa. Last year, he signed a multi-year pact with Take-Two Interactive for its 2K PGA Tour video game. It marked Woods’ return to the video game world after an eight-year absence.
In September, he partnered with Autograph, a company co-founded by Tom Brady, to release non-fungible tokens through a collaboration with long-time Woods memorabilia partner Upper Deck. Woods joined Autograph’s advisory board, alongside Simone Biles, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka, Wayne Gretzky and Tony Hawk.
He recently jumped into the SPAC world as the lead investor in Sports & Health Tech Acquisition, a $150 million special purpose acquisition company that is looking to merge with a company in fan engagement, consumer-facing health and fitness technologies, and health and well-being.
Woods remains one of the most famous athletes on the planet. In the US, his awareness level among those six and older is 75%, behind only Michael Jordan and Tom Brady at 76%, according to celebrity tracker The Q Scores Company. His 2019 Masters win—his first major title in 11 years—was celebrated by many sports fans, but his legacy within the general population remains a bit choppy.
“He’s a polarizing personality,” Henry Schafer, Q Scores executive VP, said via e-mail. Schafer points to Woods’ past incidents as fuel for his high Negative Q Score. In their recent polling, 30% of people familiar with Woods rated their opinion of him as “fair or poor.” It is the worst among the 10 most famous American athletes, with LeBron James next up at a 25% negative rating. Polarizing opinions are hardly a detriment to piling up corporate endorsements. James and Woods have the two highest sponsorship earnings of any American athletes.
Woods has been largely focused on golf over the past quarter century, leaving the business side of Tiger to his longtime agent Mark Steinberg at Excel Sports Management. As Woods recovers from his injuries and winds down his playing commitments, he will have more time to expand his business empire, similar to how Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer did after their best days on the course were over.
One of the fastest-growing demographics in the U.S. is older Americans, and they typically have higher disposable incomes. “Everybody is so fixated on the youth fan for life, that I think that 50 and older demo constantly gets overlooked," Favorito said. "Tiger speaks to that audience, and that's where his brand partners are going to come from. I think he probably has more appeal in the next 20 years than he may have had over the last 10 years.”