ANALYSIS-Golf-Tiger return great for ratings, fans may disagree
INDIAN WELLS, California, March 16 |
INDIAN WELLS, California, March 16 (Reuters) - While the return of Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour is manna from heaven for sponsors and television executives, an intriguing question mark hovers over his likely reception by the fans.
Woods is assured of a warm welcome at his first event back, the April 8-11 U.S. Masters at genteel Augusta National, but beyond that he could spark a mixed reaction following his stunning fall from grace at the end of last year.
After becoming engulfed in a media frenzy following a bizarre early-morning car crash outside his Florida home on Nov. 27, the American's squeaky-clean image was torn asunder by allegations of extra-marital affairs.
In a carefully managed public appearance last month, he finally apologised to his family and fans for his repeated infidelities and said that he was undergoing therapy.
Although Woods was the most marketable player in the game and drives up television ratings by around 50 percent when he competes, his image needs to be slowly rebuilt if he is to win back many of the fans he has lost over the last four months.
Unquestionably the greatest golfer of his generation and arguably the best of all time, Woods can expect to receive his fair share of biting retorts from the galleries, just as he has been lampooned by television chat-show hosts in recent months.
However, there is also a possibility that the 14-times major champion could attract new fans now that his human flaws have been so publicly exposed.
Previously he was put on a pedestal by many and viewed as a remarkable but almost blinkered player who never really took the galleries to heart.
"It's certainly a possibility," said British Open champion Stewart Cink, who joked Woods was made of nuts and bolts after being pummelled by his fellow American in the 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final.
"Now, maybe a lot of people think if you open him (Woods) up, you see a beating human heart. We all have our short comings.
"I guess that's one reason why John Daly has been so popular with the fans. They identify with him and his trials and tribulations."
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has welcomed the impending return of the U.S. circuit's most bankable asset and he was confident Woods would cope well with the heightened interest by fans and media.
"It is going to be huge when he comes back," Finchem said. "It's going to be an interesting thing to watch, how he re-enters the game, how he plays and how he deals with the reaction to his statement.
"I do feel this huge change in the atmosphere because of what he said and I was impressed not only about him talking about personal issues but (also) about the game.
"I thought he set the bar for himself and we all know what happens when Tiger sets the bar for himself."
The biggest question mark for Woods, whose career is fuelled by his hunger for more major titles, is how well he will be able to play golf given the emotional roller-coaster ride he has experienced over the last four months.
He has frequently said he never tees off at a tournament unless he firmly believes he is capable of winning that week and pundits can only guess at the mental strain he has been under while he desperately tries to repair his marriage.
As far his peers are concerned, though, the return of Woods can only be good for the game.
"We want the best player in the world out playing golf again," 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk told the Golf Channel. "He's got to do what's best for him.
"But I realise, looking at the big picture, it's good for everyone. What's good for the best player in the world is probably good for the big picture and the PGA Tour."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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