Tiger Woods posted a second place finish at this year’s PGA Championship. He briefly tied for the lead at the British Open. He has finished near the lead in several PGA tournaments and was chosen for the American Ryder Cup team. Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) and several sponsors that stayed with Woods after a series of personal and professional disasters, or have been added to his sponsor’s list recently, have reaped huge rewards and will continue to do so.
Woods finished tied for first place in the first round of the BMW Championship in Philadelphia. He had the Nike logo on his shirt. Almost all the TV coverage of the first day of the tournament was of Woods’s 18 hole surge. That TV attention will continue over the weekend.
Although Woods and his legacy are the primary beneficiaries of his return to golf, his sponsors are a close second.
Most of his largest 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. During this period, Nike was the sole major sponsor who stayed with Woods. 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. Earlier in his career, he spent a record 683 consecutive weeks at number one, the most ever. 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; 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 likely will remain the most visible sponsor, often on the front of his hat or shirt. Woods gets hours of television coverage when he is among the leaders. Nike gambled and it has paid off handsomely.
A win at the BMW Championship would propel him toward the top 20 players in the world, at age 42. He is currently ranked 26th. 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 ninth 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.