Golf legend Tiger Woods finished second at the 100th PGA Championship. A year ago, he was not sure he would ever play again. Golf phenom Brooks Koepka finished first. It hardly mattered. Woods was followed by tens of thousands of fans at the tournament. Saturday viewership was up 54% from PGA TV ratings the same day last year. The Sunday numbers are likely to be more impressive.
Although Woods and his legacy are the primary beneficiaries of his return to golf, his sponsors are a close second. Most of his major sponsors left him after his well-publicized personal problems in 2010, when he was in his prime. Then a number of injuries pushed him out of contention. In this time, the only major sponsor who stayed with him was Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE). Founder Phil Knight was said to be the final decision maker about this, as loyalty overcame concerns.
Woods had dropped to number 898 among the world’s players after his troubles and inability to play because of injuries. He had spent a record 683 weeks at number one. Even when his ranking was at or near its bottom, several new sponsors joined him. Among these were TaylorMade, one of the world’s large golf equipment makers; energy drink maker Monster Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ: MNST); Japanese tire and golf ball maker Bridgestone; and some obscure ones that include golf simulator company Full Swing, pharmaceutical company Kowa and sports memorabilia company Upper Deck. Most of these are a far cry from those who left him: AT&T, Accenture, Gillette and Gatorade.
For the time being, Nike is the most visible sponsor, often on the front of his hat. Woods gets hours of television coverage when he is among the leaders. Nike gambled and it has paid off handsomely.
A win at the PGA would propel him toward the top 25 players in the world, at age 42. After his second-place finish, his ranking rose to 27th. The only person much older than Woods at that level is Phil Mickelson, a fan favorite and winner of 43 PGA events, which puts him on the all-time wins list. Woods trails Sam Snead, with 79 wins to 82. But Snead played for 30 years, while Woods has played for 18.
Back at the center of the golf world, Woods is bound to pick up more sponsors. If he stays in his current form, they will get their money’s worth.