As Tiger Woods holed his final putt on the 18th green at Augusta on Sunday, it was not just thousands of onlookers saluting his remarkable victory at this year’s US Masters tournament.
Golf’s authorities, broadcasters and sponsors cheered from the sidelines, each hoping to benefit from the so-called Tiger effect returning to the sport.
After the American athlete burst on to the scene in 1997 as a 21-year-old to become the youngest winner of the Masters, the first of 15 “major” championship victories, money flowed into the sport like never before.
Broadcasters and corporate groups rushed to be associated with the game and its breakout global star, while a new generation of golfers was drawn to the sport.
“Anybody involved in golf this morning is probably thinking [Woods winning the Masters] is the best thing that could happen to the sport,” said Nigel Currie, founder of sports consultancy NC Partnership. “He was the golf industry for a decade and a half. He rejuvenated the sport and gave it an appeal that was lacking.”
Sunday’s triumph is Woods’ first major title win since 2008, after which injuries and personal turmoil led to doubts about his playing future. Without him at golf’s pinnacle, there have been signs that public interest in the sport has waned.
Participation levels in the US, the world’s largest golf market, peaked in 2002. but has been in steady decline for years. It fell to 23.8m regular golfers in 2017, from 24.7m in 2013, according to the US National Golf Foundation.
But England Golf, the body that runs the amateur game in the country, said participation has risen since 2017, as golf clubs made changes to attract new audiences, such as by offering beginners’ sessions, family days and shorter rounds.
Nick Pink, chief executive of England Golf, said Woods’ revival was likely to be a further boost. “For golf to have someone like Tiger, who can reach so many households, is a huge opportunity,” he said. “It shows golf can be inclusive, welcoming and have people from different backgrounds access this sport.”
Others are doubtful the “Tiger effect” will be what it once was.
“I’m not sure the victory of a 43-year-old — rather than when it was for a 21-year-old winning — will have the same effect on the participation of juniors,” said Robert Clive, founding partner of the 360 Golf consultancy.
Broadcasters, which have spent billions of dollars to secure the live rights to golf, will be among those welcoming his return to form, though.
Woods, who had said he was “done” with golf in 2017 after persistent back injuries, began to perform strongly again in big competitions last year.
According to consultancy Nielsen, US broadcast network viewership was up by more than 2m on average in the first four golf tournaments of 2018 in which Woods finished inside the top 25.
Even without Woods, TV networks have long been drawn to golf, which has developed younger stars in recent years such as the US’s Jordan Spieth and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
Broadcasters are attracted to the sport’s middle-class audience in many of the world’s richest nations across North America, Europe and Asia.
In 2018, Discovery paid $2bn to acquire the rights to the PGA Tour for countries outside the US over 12 years. The body that runs professional golf in America also has US television deals with broadcasters NBC and CBS for undisclosed sums.
Both Discovery and NBC plan to launch golf streaming services on the back of their deals. Yet sponsors have also had mixed experiences with Woods.
Following the revelations of extramarital affairs in 2009, which led to the breakdown of his marriage, a number of sponsors including Gatorade, AT&T, Accenture and Gillette ended or did not renew their deals with the golfer.
In 2017, Woods pleaded guilty to reckless driving after being arrested near his home in Florida. He had been found in his car under the influence of prescription drugs.
Despite the setbacks, Woods has stayed among the world’s most marketable sporting stars.
Forbes estimates that he has earned $1.5bn since turning professional in 1996, the vast majority gained from sponsors, including those that have stuck by the athlete such as sportswear brand Nike, watchmaker Rolex and golf equipment manufacturer TaylorMade.
Mr Currie said Woods’ Masters victory will convince more corporate groups to endorse him once again, as well as invest in golf more broadly: “There is a whole new range of sponsors, new brands, that would be desperate to get involved again.”