Despite losing one endorsement and not hitting the links for the better part of 10 months, 14-time major golf champion Tiger Woods reportedly remains one of the 10 most popular athletes across the globe.
The 40-year-old and former No. 1 ranked player in the world bowed out of this week’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, pushing a long-awaited comeback from back surgery even further down the fairway. The lack of a tune-up may not bode well for Woods' comeback hopes with the U.S. Open beginning in almost two weeks.
Before nixing his participation in legend Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, Woods also lost bag sponsor MusclePharm, which agreed to buy out the remaining two years on his endorsement deal.
In a disclosure filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company stated it agreed to pay Woods $2.5 million to void a deal that was expected to run until June 30, 2018, according to Golf.com. MusclePharm is currently facing a $65 million civil lawsuit and with its stock price tumbling cutting Woods is seen as an austerity measure and doesn’t necessarily reflect on his viability as an endorser.
Most PGA players, whether highly respected and ranked or not, would see their name and brand take a dive due to an almost year-long hiatus from the game and the loss of a sponsor.
Woods’ popularity, though, isn’t waning. ESPN published its World Fame 100 list Wednesday and dubbed Woods the seventh most famous athlete in the world based off his total winnings and endorsements, social media presence (which includes 5.83 million Twitter followers alone), and his popularity in Google searches. Last year, Woods earned $1 million on the tour and $50 million from endorsements, and his Facebook account picked up 3.1 million likes.
Yet, all the money and viral adoration can’t let Woods escape the fact that he must return to the links in order to maintain his global status. And right now there’s little consensus around the sport over whether a comeback is even possible.
Nicklaus, whose record 18 major championships was once under siege by Woods from the late 1990s until the mid-2000s, has always been a proponent of his success.
"I think Tiger will be back,” the 76-year-old told GolfChannel.com. “I think Tiger would have liked to have played this week. He's just not ready."
Longtime NBC golf announcer David Feherty, however, remains skeptical and expressed doubts.
"I am not sure that Tiger will come back because it is a nerve in his back," Feherty said last week. "It’s not muscular or skeletal. It’s not something you can deal with in a physical way.
“I think he has a feeling that if he doesn’t make it back this time, he might be done from a physical standpoint."
The often-outspoken Feherty credited Woods for his conditioning and suggested he won’t return until he’s reached peak form once again.
“He is in phenomenal shape -- just ripped as usual," Feherty said. "But he is not able to make a full pass at it. I saw him a few weeks ago in Houston and he hadn’t played in five months and he hit some good shots and some awful skanky looking things.
"He is too stubborn and too good and too physically gifted to be able to just give it up. He loves it too much."