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What exactly does Tiger Woods want (and deserve) from the PGA Tour?

By John M. Ross,
Tiger Woods
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Should there be a surcharge at tournaments if you want to be in Tiger's gallery? (PGA of America)

Strange sounds were coming out of Tiger Woods last week, sounds that are not compatible with the attractive and often glittering image that has propelled him to the top of the golf world almost overnight.

He made groans and grunts about many things that he seemed to be enjoying until now, but incredulously his most bitter complaint was that he was being shortchanged by the PGA Tour. That's right, a 24-year-old multimillionaire who plays golf for a living, crying out for more money!

Until now, Woods generally has skirted questions about money, endorsement contracts and the like, and he'd shyly retreat when some tried to compare him with Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and other greats. But that's all changed now. In laying out his complaint in a magazine interview, he made it quite clear that the PGA Tour is taking advantage of his superstar drawing power to line its pockets with big TV bucks that really should be shared with him.

After the Tour championship, where his take was only $540,000 for his second- place finish, Woods' total Tour money added up to $9-million plus for about 17 weeks of work. He had nine wins at that point, and no one before him has ever pocketed that much money on the PGA Tour. Of course, the huge PGA Tour prize money melon provides the other part of the equation.

The main target of Woods' outburst seems to be the PGA Tour commissioner, Tim Finchem. Tiger apparently doesn't hear from Finchem unless the latter is trying to get Woods to play in a tournament that has a weak field or needs a boost in its TV ratings. Of course, that's the commissioner's job - keep the sponsors and the TV suits happy. And the players, especially the big guns, are expected to respond in a reasonable way.

Palmer and Nicklaus and those before them experienced the same heavy demands. Every tournament wanted them, indeed, "needed" them. And I know that both Arnie and Jack went to great lengths to keep a balanced schedule of appearances. They couldn't play every week, but if they had to miss your event this year, they'd be there the following year. And they kept their promises.

I remember running into Arnie, years ago, at a tournament that wasn't on his playing schedule. I expressed my surprise at seeing him there, and he replied: "You have to be flexible in this business." Which, in a nutshell, meant he had had an urgent call for help, and he and his "army" responded.

It was that kind of understanding by Palmer that helped the PGA Senior Tour get off to such a successful start. The urgent calls came often, and tired legs would simply have to wait.

The same demands were on Nicklaus when he joined the Seniors.

The strong suggestion by Woods that "in a perfect world" he would be getting a slice of the PGA Tour's juicy TV contract because of his whopping impact on the ratings, brought instant reaction from his fellow players. Bitterness, too.

"Arnie and Jack never asked for that. Why should he?" It was echoed many times.

"I guess he really does want to become the game's first billionaire," was the theme of others.

Perhaps what we might be heading for is some kind of surcharge at the tournaments if you want to be in Tiger's gallery - over and above the cost of the basic ticket, of course. You'd get a special badge to wear, a tiger's head, perhaps - or, even more appropriate, one of Billy the Kid. And, needless to say, the surcharge would go directly into Woods' bank account.

This outburst by Tiger is so unlike him that it has been suggested that his agent - International Management Group - could be orchestrating the theme, especially since it comes on the eve of negotiating between the PGA Tour and the TV people for a more lucrative contract. Mark McCormack, the IMG's major-domo, has been known for strategy of this sort. On the other hand, McCormack should be smart enough to know that such sounds by Woods can only blemish his image, turn off his huge following of fans, and reduce his future market value.

Woods' complaint also focuses on the PGA Tour's right to limit his appearances in foreign events, especially since he picks up huge appearance fees at these sites - as much as $2-million for some, according to one report. The Tour limits its players to three such events a year in order to control the traffic to these lucrative handouts, which are legal in Europe and other places, but not permitted on the U.S. Tour.

Further, Tiger has a beef about the release fee charged by the tour for his participation in the made-for-TV events, like the "Showdown at Sherwood," and "Battle at Bighorn," where he went one-on-one with his Spanish rival, Sergio Garcia, and got big ratings. Woods pocketed a huge check for the one-nighters, but he moans that it would have been better if the PGA Tour hadn't taken such a big cut.

Using his name or likeness in the promotion of an upcoming PGA Tour event without paying him an appropriate fee also is disturbing to Tiger, even though he gave tour officials that right when he signed his membership form to join the Tour. The Tour also has the right to use Tiger in congratulatory ads and promotions when he wins an event, but the IMG people are making sounds about legal action if it continues.

And Tiger thinks the Tour is leaning on him too hard to play in world champion events in faraway places. There are too many of them, he says, and he has already indicated that he won't be on hand for the WCG Match Play event in Australia, early in 2001. And, what's more, he probably won't be available for the next President's Cup if it's played in South Africa.

That's not all. He didn't like the Tour bosses telling his caddie he couldn't wear shorts during play, or forbidding his father, Earl, to ride in a golf cart and trail Tiger during play of a TV event. Earl Woods has been rather quiet in recent months, but there was a time when he had the tour scene rattling. At the Ryder Cup matches in Spain, Earl Woods blasted the organizer for not providing him and his wife with the same accommodations offered to the other U.S. team members' wives. And many detected racial overtones in his blistering remarks.

Woods' bottom line summary, indicating that this could "escalate into a bigger situation," has caused some to think that IMG might be setting the groundwork for Tiger's own tour. McCormack has dreamed of a breakaway tour for years and years, and with Tiger in full domination of play, he might be thinking that the time is now.

This has been a truly great golf year, thanks mostly to Tiger. Too bad it seems to be ending on a negative note.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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