Tiger Woods appears to be chipping himself out of the rough, his popularity as a player overcoming public dismay at his personal behavior. But it's a double bogey for his sport, with the number of Americans who call themselves golf fans slicing to a new low.
In advance of his first public comments on the scandal that bunkered his personal popularity, 65 percent in this ABC News poll say Woods should return to the sport this season, rising to 75 percent of golf fans. Very few – 7 percent of adults overall – want to see him retire permanently.
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Other trends indicate an easing of initial outrage at the Woods sex scandal. Unfavorable views of the golf star have eased by 10 points since December, to 32 percent, with more people taking a neutral stance. And there's been a slight decline, to 33 percent, in calls for his sponsors to drop him. Among golf fans just a quarter say Woods should lose his lucrative sponsorships.
Even with a better shot at redemption, it may be a long slog; while Woods' favorability rating has not worsened further, it also has not improved, and at 40 percent remains less than half its peak. There's trouble, moreover, for his sport overall: Not only have television ratings for tour play tanked during Woods' recent absence, but only 18 percent of Americans in this poll describe themselves as golf fans, down 10 points just since December.
Woods is to speak publicly on the scandal for the first time today, delivering prepared remarks to a group at PGA Tour Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
That's a step most people see as unnecessary: Fifty-six percent call the scandal a personal matter Woods need not talk about in public. Nonetheless, a substantial number, 40 percent, think he owes it to his to fans to address the issue publicly, then move on.
The scandal broke Nov. 27 when Woods was involved in a car crash outside his home, reportedly after an altercation with his wife. Allegations of marital infidelity with more than a dozen women followed, and Woods announced an indefinite leave from the sport Dec. 11. Two days later one of his most prominent sponsors, the management firm Accenture, dropped him.
GOT GAME – Whatever his personal sins, 65 percent in this poll say Woods should resume playing golf this season, and an additional 20 percent say he should return to the sport, but later. As noted, just 7 percent overall – and a mere 2 percent of fans – say he should quit permanently.
Another result shows Woods' durability among fans: Despite the scandal 62 percent in this group still express a favorable opinion of him overall, essentially the same as in December. Among non-fans, by contrast, just 35 percent see him favorably. But his unfavorable rating among fans and others alike has eased, with many more non-fans undecided.
In a further example of his continued strong standing among fans, 62 percent in this group say his sponsorships should continue, vs. 26 percent who say companies should drop him. Fewer non-fans, 51 percent, say he should keep the sponsorships, 35 percent not, with the rest unsure.
GENDER GAP – There are some gender gaps in views of Woods. Men are 14 points more apt than women to see him favorably (though it's fewer than half for both, 47 percent vs. 33 percent); this likely relates to the fact that men are three times more apt than women to be golf fans.