Golf tournament television ratings dropped by half last year while Tiger Woods was sidelined with a knee injury. So, now that the most famous professional golfer is taking a break, many people wonder to what extent his absence will damage the sport.
"Tiger Woods is bigger than golf. Golf has a section of fans that will pay attention anyway," Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" said. "But all of those peripheral fans, those casual fans that sports needs, I don't know if they are coming back."
Woods has played in each of the most-watched golf tournaments in the past three years, according to Nielsen ratings, Greenberg said.
Matt Miller, senior editor of Forbes magazine, said, "The PGA tour is going to take it really on the chin. … They are basically going to lose a bunch of sponsorships, but more importantly, they are going to lose a lot of audience."
Woods has not only had an impact on the amount of money the sport makes but also on the other athletes' paychecks. PGA prize money increased from $70 million in 1996 to $278 million in 2009.
"Going back to the year that Tiger Woods first turned pro, which was 1996, in that year nine players earned $1 million on the PGA tour," Greenberg said. "Last year, 104 payers earned $1 million on the PGA Tour."
Woods himself has drawn quite a paycheck, earning more than $100 million a year from prize money, personal appearances and sponsorships.
But now those sponsors are wavering and a report in today's New York Times could mean more bad news for the golf superstar.
A Canadian doctor, Anthony Galea, who once treated Woods for a knee injury is now the subject of a doping investigation, the newspaper reported.
Galea, who admitted to taking human growth hormone, denied giving it to professional athletes, according to the New York Times.
The doctor had a reputation for helping athletes to recover quickly from injury and said he flew down to Florida at least four times in order to treat Woods with platelet therapy, a blood spinning technique, the Times reported.
The newspaper said Woods' agents at International Management Group (IMG) recommended the doctor to Woods because they were concerned about the speed of his recovery.
Mark Steinberg, and agent for Woods, flatly denied the Times' report.
In an e-mailed statement, Steinberg wrote: "The New York Times is flat wrong, no one at IMG has ever met or recommended Dr. Galea, nor were we worried about the progress of Tiger's recovery, as the Times falsely reported. The treatment Tiger received is a widely accepted therapy and to suggest some connection with illegality is recklessly irresponsible. Apparently the Times, like so many other news outlets on the Tiger Woods story, has abandoned principle."
The new-look Tiger Woods, sullied by reports of extramarital affairs and his own admission of "infidelity," is "no longer the right representative" for the consulting firm Accenture, according to the company.
It became the latest sponsor to distance itself from the golf superstar, and made perhaps the cleanest break yet.
"Accenture today announced that it will not continue its sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods," the company wrote on its Web site Dec. 13.
Gillette said Saturday it would be "limiting [Woods'] role in our marketing programs" and AT&T said Friday it was "evaluating our ongoing relationship with him."