The world of golf has focused its attention on Georgia this week for what is probably the sport's most iconic event.
Across the pristine setting of the Augusta National, the Masters captures much of golf’s mythos, its aesthetic charms and its traditions – even if, at times, the club has represented the more problematic parts of its past. The tournament’s legend stands apart, yet it is still possible for players to transcend its profile.
That has never been more apparent than in the case of Tiger Woods, whose status in the game was established through his victory at Augusta in 1997 at the age of 21, and whose legacy was underlined by a comeback title as a 43-year-old in 2019.
This year, once again, it is Woods who is magnetising the interest of fans far beyond the core golf audience. His stunning return from serious injuries sustained in a February 2021 car accident looks certain to be the most-followed story of the week, however he fares. He has drawn huge on-course crowds for his practice rounds alone, and television ratings are likely to reflect his mainstream popularity.
Bettors are also invested in the Woods story: according to Action Network, he has been the subject of three times as much interest on PointsBet and twice as much on BetMGM as any other player, while he has also been the subject of the most bets for a top ten finish on FanDuel. More than half of all bets for players to miss the cut were made on Woods.
The American is an outlier, of course, as a lifetime of media coverage and a peak era run of global endorsements attest. Nonetheless, golf remains a sport that is heavily weighted towards individual stories and star appeal. Accordingly, attempts to innovate have sought ways to bring more top players together more often.
In some cases, that has involved experiments with new formats. US broadcaster Turner Sports has brought leading golfers and athletes from other disciplines together in The Match series, which has also used betting elements to try and build engagement.
More controversially, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments – itself fronted by a legendary golfer, Australia’s Greg Norman – has been developing what amounts to a breakaway Super Golf League. It has evolved a partnership with the Asian Tour and confirmed plans in March for an eight-event LIV Golf International Series to start in June.
That will feature a total of $255 million in prize money but for now, the organisers’ ambitions to bring the elite together have been frustrated. That has partly been the result of the hard line taken by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour – formerly the European Tour – which have both threatened players who join a super league with bans from their tournaments. They have also pursued a closer partnership to coordinate on the sport’s future.
Ironically, however, it has mostly been player power that has undermined the LIV project for now. With leading golfers refusing the new tour’s advances, it looks unlikely to make the impact it needs to command wider attention. Some individuals – notably Rory McIlroy – have been particularly vocal in their opposition.
Ultimately, the episode has been a reminder of the control many of the game’s best have over their own destiny. Those at other levels of the game may not enjoy the same level of financial rewards but they do remain independent. For brands, that continues to present unique opportunities.
The challenge in 2022 is to find the right pairings that maximise the potential of business-to-business platforms or cut through to golf’s fanbase. Where those can be made, they can still drive tremendous value.
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