The Tiger at the Master’s Debate Verdict… Master’s of Distraction

April 9, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

Well, he’s back. And he can still golf pretty well. So much for speculation on Tiger Woods missing the cut at The Master’s.

The debate about Tiger’s return at The Master’s has sparked some interesting conversations and feedback. One point everyone seems to agree on is that we do not question Tiger’s choice to come back at The Master’s as being a good thing for Tiger. I think that is clear. From Southern manners to the tightly controlled crowd, it makes sense. The question for this debate is, does it make sense from the perspective of the PGA Tour.

The importance of television ratings cannot be undersold. Loyal Homer did an excellent job in his argument of defining that point with the numerical context of an 18 percent dip in ratings without Tiger. The lack of “buzz” at an event is anecdotal and potentially circumstantial. While I am sure it was there, it is hard to judge anything based on a feeling about buzz at an event won by an aging golfer. The point that 650,000 folks watched the Monday press conference is fairly remarkable. Whether he is loved or hated now, at least we know that Tiger is still interesting. People tune in for interesting.

Another valid point from Loyal Homer is that the number of questions other golfers will field about Tiger will probably dip since Tiger can field the majority of questions about Tiger again. An interesting potential byproduct – what if the other golfers, without distraction, begin to pull away from Tiger on the course? Make no mistake, for the PGA Tour to remain successful while absorbing Tiger’s return, Tiger still needs to be good. REALLY good. But the groundwork is laid, though no one in the history of golf can focus like Tiger Woods.

Bleacher Fan highlighted some interesting comments from Augusta National Chairman Bill Payne. But, it is hard to tell at this stage if his comments are insightful or full of denial. My gut tells me they are full of denial. The implication that The Master’s – and on a grander scale, the PGA Tour as a whole – does not need Tiger Woods to survive is arrogant and disconnected. Perhaps the PGA Tour could limp along in obscurity as it did before Tiger leapt onto the stage. But the PGA Tour – and Payne – are frustrated with Tiger because his actions forced them to contemplate a scenario they likely never believed would confront them – a Tiger-less PGA Tour. I disagree with Bleacher Fan’s assessment that, because the golf world is lukewarm to Tiger’s return, that the Tour cannot survive it, or even thrive because of it. As the money and attention start pouring in again, the nobility and privilege woven into Payne’s words will be unsurprisingly suppressed.

For me, the Vick-Woods comparison is very difficult to pull off. It’s like comparing cats and dogs (ha!). I also resist the urge to anoint Vick’s comeback to the NFL a successful one. Vick’s actions upon his comeback were tightly controlled and barely visible – unless they were arranged to be visible. What helped is that Vick wasn’t a good player anymore, and he wasn’t the savior of the NFL. The NFL did not, and does not, need Vick to remain successful. That is the NFL way. The Tiger way IS the PGA Tour way. The Tour desperately needs Tiger to maintain the standing investors enjoy and expect.

As Bleacher Fan writes, one obvious difference in how the returns of Vick and Woods are different is in how the public and media are handling them. After one interview from 60 Minutes, Vick earned respect back and was convincingly contrite. Questions about Tiger’s authenticity and contrition persist. And stories like this one will endure. Whether Tiger was really just snapping some photos with his phone, or texting Elin, we will never know. Could be a hookup. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Tiger’s comeback – but it is also the reason he will always garner attention. His camp controls everything so tightly that snapped pictures of him smiling at his phone – the same phone that he used to make a panicked call to the woman who arranged his “romantic liaisons” – will always be questioned. Vick, and the NFL, do not have to deal with that.

To Bleacher Fan’s point, the media and fan response will transition to asking questions about what Tiger is doing instead of what he did. And Bleacher Fan is correct that the approach from Tiger’s camp likely will not change. Their first reaction is to squash and control. Consider the alleged story about the National Enquirer agreeing to shelve a Tiger exposé several months ago so Tiger would appear in a sister publication, Men’s Fitness. The persistence of “media everywhere” and the accountability of social media – regardless of its accuracy – will keep Tiger’s exploits in the headlines indefinitely. While that is not ideal for an entity like the PGA Tour, which believes it thrives on gentlemanly standards and manners, the Tour must accept its new reality.

Even if the PGA Tour can no longer control the type of attention it gets – like a three year old who throws a tantrum to get his parents attention – it will still get noticed because of that Tiger fella, good or bad. Tiger will continue to get attention, thus the PGA Tour will continue to get attention. Ratings will be up, interest will be up, and revenue will be up. Traditional golf fans will be angry and lash back at the inevitable changes, but it is unavoidable.

As Bleacher Fan stated in his argument, the PGA Tour will continue to get a lot of attention because of the approach from Woods’ camp. Where he and I differ, however, and why Loyal Homer wins this debate, is that the attention will not crush the PGA Tour or suck the life out of it. The Tour will adapt and thrive. And Tiger will remain a big part of that. Any attention is good attention. Just like the three year old throwing the tantrum.

In short, the PGA Tour needs Tiger to remain interesting. No Tiger means no public interest… which means no revenue. Maintaining public interest trumps everything, and Tiger is the key. Like it or not, the PGA Tour made the decision to hitch itself to Tiger’s wagon a long time ago. And this scandal is survivable. In fact, it is an opportunity for growth.

What is clear to me through all of the hubbub around Tiger’s return is that how the PGA Tour handles the return matters. A lot. If they over-use Tiger in their event promotion, a lot of casual fans will be turned off. If Tiger dominates the Master’s, as he has in the past, the Tour will have a marketing decision to make – are “things” back to normal, or should Tiger be the newest villain on the block that everyone loves to hate.

While golf is certainly not basketball, it is no secret that the NBA was saved by the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the early 1980s. There were clearly two opposing sides and fans lined up behind the side that best suited their respective preferences. While race was a factor in Magic-Bird, and race will not be a significant component here, the Tour still has an opportunity to turn this into a rebirth. Continue to make the story interesting and people will tune in. Guard against the short-term value of a boost in ratings from a marquee event. Be smart about managing Tiger’s presence and promotion and folks will watch – no matter how they feel about Tiger.

Perhaps it is unfair to assign the word “heal” to Tiger’s re-emergence on the Tour. To heal implies that the Tour will return to what it once was. I think it’s clear that the Tour will no longer ever be the same. But the opportunity to turn this attention into an easily understood story that has the capacity to draw casual fans close to the game cannot be dismissed. For that reason, I believe Tiger’s presence on the Tour is a good thing. While a definitional healing may not be in the cards, the PGA Tour has a chance to recover and reinvent. A chance it would not have without Tiger’s return at Augusta.

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The Tiger at the Master’s Debate

April 8, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer.

We all know what the biggest story is headed into the weekend in Augusta at the Master’s. Yep, the comeback of Fred Couples will be closely watched by everyone.

At least his practice round was.

That Tiger fella is back on the PGA Tour beginning with the Master’s today through the weekend. While most of the press will spend a lot of time and energy focusing on whether Tiger’s wife, Elin, sneezed (wherever she is) and what that might mean for their marriage, The Sports Debates is focusing squarely on the comeback’s possible ramifications for the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour needs to heal. Tiger’s absence, no matter what press releases say, has hurt the Tour. The Tour suffered a potentially major blow to television ratings and popularity when its star became embroiled in a self-created scandal. The Tour desperately needs Tiger to play golf – well – and begin to live up to the carefully crafted corporate image that fooled so many of us for so long.

It was clear that Tiger was eventually going to make a comeback to the Tour. His decision to re-emerge at the Master’s can easily be questioned, however. The media circus he has created does not seem to fit the gentlemanly disposition of the Master’s tournament. From the standpoint of the Tour, Tiger coming back at a lesser known event that would not normally get a significant amount of attention would be the best possible scenario. Tiger playing the Master’s after being away from golf for so long could be a colossal failure (read: what if he misses the cut?). If the Tour needs to heal, does a lackluster Tiger help that cause?

Fortunately The Sports Debates is here to answer a very timely question: Will Tiger’s presence at the Master’s help the PGA Tour heal, or just continue to bring negative attention?

Loyal Homer, TSD’s persistent Tiger Woods fan, will argue that Tiger’s presence at the Master’s will do a lot to help the PGA Tour heal. Bleacher Fan will argue that Tiger’s presence during the Master’s will only serve as a distraction from good golf and will simply feed a media frenzy that is hungry for the type of stories that belong on

Let’s reach back into history, writers. Is their precedent for this scenario? If not, what precedent should be set and why?

I know I will be watching the Master’s this weekend, and Tiger playing in the Master’s has a lot to do with that (for the record, I will be rooting against him). But, what will the PGA Tour look like on Monday morning? Will the Tour be on the road to recovery or back at the drawing board?

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The Tiger at the Master’s Debate… The Truth Shall Set You Free

April 8, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Tiger Woods has chosen the Masters to mark his infamous return to golf. If the comments of Augusta National’s Chairman, Billy Payne, are any indication of how the rest of the golf world feels, his return will not be a positive one.

There is a right way and a wrong way for an athlete to return to competition once they have been involved in ignominy of any kind.

Or perhaps I SHOULD say there is a right way and Tiger’s way.

In returning to competition the “right” way, the focus of the athlete’s return is not on the scandal itself, but it is instead on the athlete’s performance in the game. Michael Vick’s return to the NFL was a great example of the “right” way to come back.

When Vick finally returned to the game of football, the focus was not about his dog-fighting scandal, because there were no questions left to ask about his actions. In the time leading up to his return, he was very transparent in his behavior, making himself accessible to the media whenever they wanted to chat. More importantly, though, was the fact that his apologies and actions POST-scandal all seemed to be genuine and heartfelt.

Sure, there were protests surrounding his return, but those protests were not a focal point any more. The voices of dissent had already been heard, and because they had nothing new to protest, and there were no unanswered or unresolved situations to further fuel their fire, their complaints were considered yesterday’s news.

Vick had taken back control of the situation by giving the press and the public what they wanted. He partnered with the NFL in the build-up to his return, and they cooperatively organized his transition back into competition. He answered all the questions, no matter how unpleasant it may have been for him, and the general public seemed to be satisfied with his responses. In doing so, his return was not about what he DID, but instead was about finding out what he will DO now that he is back.

As a result of that positive and cooperative effort, both the NFL and Vick benefitted from his return to the game. Instead of Vick’s presence on the field being a DISTRACTION, he became one of the most intriguing characters of the previous NFL season.

Tiger Woods and the PGA should have taken a page from Vick’s book.

Where Vick was open and accessible, Woods has been reclusive and inaccessible. Where Vick gave the appearance of genuine sincerity, Woods has portrayed resistance and after his seemingly insincere apology, the only SINCERE regret I believe he feels is that he was caught. The result of his foolish commitment in trying to avoid the scandal (which ironically appears to be the only commitment he CAN honor) is that the unsatisfied public will continue to dig and question until they get what they feel are satisfactory responses. Just ask guys like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, or Mark McGwire about how easily the public forgets.

Sure, the scandal was set off by off-the-course indiscretions that had no bearing on the PGA Tour, but now there is speculation of possible HGH use, which would have impacted his play ON the course. As the scandals surrounding Woods continue to swirl unchecked and unaddressed, they will increasingly draw attention FURTHER from the game of golf.

This whole situation has already been a major distraction from the PGA Tour, and Woods wasn’t even playing. Just imagine the damage that will be done if he begins to win tournaments again amid speculation that he may have used HGH. Because Woods’ credibility has been damaged, and he has failed to portray a SINCERE act of contrition with regard to his peccadilloes, the public is less likely to believe his denials of HGH involvement. A snowball effect ensues, where the layers of doubt build higher and higher.

The public’s quest for the truth will ultimately supersede any interest in the competition that will take place on the course. While the officials at Augusta may be able to exert some influence over the media during the Masters, they cannot extend their control beyond the confines of this one tournament. The Woods saga will eventually become a distraction to the PGA Tour, and as each day passes that questions go unanswered (or new accusations arise), the press will become more insistent on seeking information.

This situation cannot be swept under a rug, and it will not just go away. If anything, the American public is forgiving, but until Tiger addresses the elephant in the room and portrays a SINCERE attempt at repentance, the general public will not be willing to forgive, and they will CERTAINLY not be willing to forget.

The PGA may need Tiger Woods back in competition, but they need a Tiger Woods who is not mired in controversy even more.

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The Tiger at the Master’s Debate… Relax, He’s Back

April 8, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Today FINALLY starts the beginning of the four day golf Mecca known as The Masters. Living in Georgia as I do, it is impossible to not have a deep appreciation for the hallowed grounds at Augusta National. Seeing it in person remains one of the sporting highlights of my life. Masters week is a special week in itself, but it is taking on added significance this week to casual fans as it marks the return of the one they call Tiger. After a five-month break, he is back. Now the golfing world, and the PGA Tour, can officially begin the healing process.

No one on this website has ever condoned what Tiger did, and there is absolutely no rationalization for it. But it is time to officially put the extra-curricular activities to rest. He has apologized repeatedly, made a public statement, given two separate five minute interviews with ESPN and The Golf Channel, and held a 34 minute press conference at Augusta on Monday. The commercial released by Nike yesterday afternoon was carefully constructed and should help this healing process. This is not what TMZ wants to hear, but it is time to focus on what happens between the ropes.

I am an avid PGA Tour follower. I check the Tour’s website daily, and though I have enjoyed many of the tournaments that have taken place throughout the first three months of the season, I can tell you that the “buzz” has been lacking. Watching some of the tournaments and seeing the low attendance I can’t help but think to myself, “How is this tournament going to make any money… there’s nobody there!” Mark Rolfing of NBC reported that during Ernie Els’ win at the Arnold Palmer Invitation a couple of weeks ago the crowd did not “have the electricity, the type of feeling I think a crowd would have had if Tiger was in the field.” Television ratings are also obviously down, too. Through the first ten tournaments of the season ratings were down 18 percent. That number alone shows the Tour needs Tiger back as soon as possible. It has been said that today’s telecast on ESPN could possibly be the highest rating ever for the first round of the Masters, and that is due in large part to Tiger. Heck, his press conference on Monday was watched by nearly 650,000 viewers. A press conference! And that was a Monday afternoon presser, too!!

The thing that is really going to help the Tour overcome this scandal is the fact that the players will no longer be bombarded with questions from the media about Tiger. It is one thing to be asked about Tiger’s golfing brilliance. It is quite another to be asked about his personal life and his transgressions. It has to get old. Most have amazingly kept their cool and said all the right things… in public at least.

And for Tiger Woods to begin his long journey back to respectability there is no better place than Augusta. For one, he has quite the track record at The Masters with four green jackets. It is a controlled media environment as well. It is also important to note that the patrons at The Masters are very respectful. Most are older citizens who are very respectful of the tradition of golf. You will not have a bunch of drunk twentysomethings who will be hollering out “Cheetah” at every tee box. He will no doubt face it at places like The Players Championship next month though, if he chooses to play. But not in Augusta. I like to tell people that Georgians are known for their Southern hospitality. The people in Augusta will extend their arms out and welcome him back. And the Tour can hopefully begin process of putting the whole scandal in the DISTANT past.

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