Bingham: Tiger swings back into action

I think we can all agree, even those who have accused me of being a Tiger lover, that the man is back. Maybe he’s not the domineering force he once was, but good enough to threaten today’s heroes, some of whom are young enough to be his children.

For those of you who have been busy clearing your yard of fallen branches, Woods finished tied for second in his latest outing, one stroke behind the winner. With the Masters on the radar screen, the oddsmakers have already put him on the list of favorites.

What interests me more is how the commercial world will take his resurgence. There was a time, say 15 years ago, when you couldn’t get Tiger off the TV screen. Either he was sinking a long putt in a tournament or, during a break in the action, promoting some golf-related product, which, if you can believe it, paid him far more money than the tournament itself.

When Woods fell on troubled times — no need to review his roster of ills — the makers of products he was endorsing predictably dropped him as if they had picked up the wrong end of a branding iron. A recent mug shot made him look like a suspect in a police lineup, which was not far off.

But now that he is back at, or near, the top of the heap, will the gentlemen on Madison Avenue reconsider their boycott? I have always regarded ad men and women suspiciously. Years ago a friend of my wife’s who worked for the Ted Bates agency, knowing I was a fair tennis player, asked if I would like to be in a commercial. Why not, I told her.

My role would be to hit a serve in a game going on in the background while the focus of the commercial, an actor who was supposed to have an aching shoulder, was giving his spiel about a remedy. My role was said be about $100, which could have been handy at the time

But before I even got on the set, I was canceled. Seems the ad boys learned I was left-handed and decided that I would be too distracting. This was years before John McEnroe and Martina Navraltilova, both lefties, were on center stage. So no acting career for me, no $100.

If there is an heir to Tiger’s throne as a television pitchman, it is Ricky Fowler. He didn’t get there so much as a top golfer but as a telegenic young man you would love to have your sister or daughter bring home.

On the screen you see Ricky and an actor side by side in an insurance commercial. The actor says he’s seen it all, including romantic rodents. To which Ricky replies, “Romantic rodents?” Nothing more required.

In another, a car with a dog at the wheel — don’t ask — rolls past Fowler as he is hitting a practice shot. Ricky says “What the…” and then yells “Fore.”

Finally, in one for a loan company, he portrays a gentleman artist, paints an R.F. on his latest work and somehow winds up in a swimming pool, sipping a fruit drink. Total: three commercials, five words of dialogue, huge amounts of money.

Naturally I have no way of knowing for certain, but I bet the sponsors who dropped him, Buick, for instance, won’t chance another relationship with Tiger. What’s more, I think he would decline, even if one were offered.

For openers, he doesn’t need the money. For another, I suspect that having caught whatever it was he was chasing as a youth, he no longer wants a part of it.

He is 42 and in some ways looks it. When he tips his hat to the crowd, it reveals a bald spot twice the size of a golf ball. His face is fuller than it once was. Gone are the wild fist pumps when he holes a long putt, as if such demonstrations don’t befit a man of his age.

His goal now was inadvertently revealed when Notah Begay, a Stanford golf team buddy, said that on Tiger’s Jupiter Island estate he has four putting greens. Each has various grasses he will encounter on Tour.

One is the same as the greens at Augusta National, tended by a man who used to work there. I’m not predicting Woods will win the fifth Masters next month, but it won’t be because he isn’t prepared.

Which means the rest of the Masters field should be prepared, too.



Walter Bingham, a former editor and writer for Sports Illustrated, lives in Truro. He can be contacted by email at: