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Tiger finally gives the tour a plug

Tiger Woods has bounced a golf ball off his wedge - behind his back and through his legs - in a spontaneous ad for Nike. He played the role of Carl Spackler from "Caddyshack" in a commercial for American Express. And in his latest TV ad for Buick, Woods tackles a guy trying to make off with his golf clubs.

A television commercial that won't be shown until this summer will be memorable in at least one aspect - it's his first public service announcement for the PGA Tour.

While at home in Florida two weeks ago, Woods did three spots for the PGA Tour. One of them was a voiceover, and the other two were scripted roles promoting the FedExCup.

"Clearly, having Tiger do these spots is a very nice element of the campaign," tour spokesman Ty Votaw said. "It's always good to have your No. 1 player participate in these things. He's someone who resonates with our fans, and to see him in this kind of context is something the fans will enjoy."

PGA Tour commercials are among the best in sports. Some of the memorable spots over the years included David Duval knocking over a range cart with his tee shot, Chad Campbell raking a sand box while playing with kids, and Ernie Els teaching math by asking children to add a scorecard (yes, that was his daughter who gave the answer, "3 under par'').

Until now, none had featured the most famous face in the game.

Mark Steinberg at IMG said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem approached him late last year and they found a spot in Woods' schedule - coincidentally, it was the week of the Nissan Open, which Woods skipped for only the second time in his career.

"Tiger is helpful when he can be," Steinberg said. "We found a way to fit it into his schedule."

The timing is helpful on a couple of fronts.

With the tour tirelessly promoting the new FedExCup, it can only help having the world's best player in its corner. And it should squash speculation over the last few weeks - emanating from Britain - that Woods is at odds with Finchem and could give up his tour membership.

Woods was genuinely surprised last week when a British broadcaster questioned his relationship with Finchem.

"We talk about once a week, so I don't know where that comes from," Woods said.

The nature of the PSAs remain a mystery. Votaw would only say that the commercials probably would not air until after the U.S. Open.

"Without giving it away, there's some aspect of a figurine of Tiger as a mascot that plays into it," he said.

BIG EASY SPLIT: Ernie Els made two early departures last week - from the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, and from his contract deal with Titleist.

"Acushnet Company has reached a mutual business decision with Ernie Els to release him from his equipment contract effective immediately," the company said in a statement.

Els had one year left on his deal with Acushnet - Titleist clubs, ball and glove, FootJoy shoes - and the split was said to be amicable. He is believed to be going to Callaway, although spokeswoman Michele Szynal said Callaway does not have a deal with the world's No. 6 player.

Titleist had invested in Els, Adam Scott and Davis Love III, and its Cobra lineup includes U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. Els turns 38 this fall, and it was not clear if Titleist would have re-signed him for what Els might have wanted. This might free up Titleist to pursue more younger players, especially after Lucas Glover left this year for Nike.

Titleist let Phil Mickelson out of his contract early in 2004, and he signed with Callaway. If Els goes the same route, they will have one thing in common - a separate corporate deal on the hat, the most visible logo to TV viewership.

SOCCER STAR: The caddie for Fred Couples put his foot in his mouth - then used his foot to save face.

It started last summer when Joe LaCava was stuck watching the World Cup during a storm delay, and he saw England score only one penalty kick in a loss to Portugal.

"I said, 'This is the biggest event you have and you're deciding this in a shootout? Hockey would never do that,'" LaCava said. "I said, 'Geez, I could score a goal from there.'"

One of his friends in the clubhouse, Devon Baransky of Merrill Lynch, held him to his word.

In a gentleman's bet that took six months to unfold, Baransky arranged for LaCava to get a 15-minute soccer lesson, then booked a field near Bel-Air Country Club during the Nissan Open. He hired Ian Feuer, who had spent 10 years playing in Europe, to be the goalie.

"I had never kicked a soccer ball in my life," LaCava said.

Now, this wasn't the World Cup with 90,000 screaming fans with paint on their faces. About 40 people showed up to see LaCava, decked in soccer gear with a gold cleat. To win the bet, he had to make one kick in five tries.

He wound up with eight attempts, but all that mattered was the first one.

GOOOAAAAALLLLL!

"I hit it as hard as I could," LaCava said. "The goalie said to me, 'No disrespect, but you don't have any tendencies. I can't read you because I don't think you know what it's going to do.' And he was right. I tried to hook it and I pushed it. He went the wrong way."

HARDING PARK: The PGA Tour made it official Tuesday by saying the Presidents Cup would go to Harding Park in 2009, pending approval by San Francisco city officials.

The public course along Lake Merced also will get the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup on the Champions Tour in 2010 and 2011, a FedExCup "playoffs" event in 2013 or 2014; and either a playoff event, Presidents Cup or World Golf Championship between 2014-19.

DIVOTS: With his victory in Mexico, Fred Funk surpassed $20 million in career earnings. Not bad for a former golf coach at Maryland. ... During his 11-1 record at the Accenture Match Play Championship, the highest seed Geoff Ogilvy has faced is Henrik Stenson at No. 9. ... Here's how much the golf scene has changed in nine years of the World Golf Championships. In the first year of match play, there were 39 Americans and 11 Europeans in the 64-man field. This year, there were 23 Americans and 19 Europeans.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Nick O'Hern has lost to the eventual winner of the Accenture Match Play Championship in three of the four years he has played.

FINAL WORD: "It's very flattering that no matter what the reference, every time you pick up a newspaper and you talk about what he's doing, I'm mentioned. Because I'm sort of his standard." - Jack Nicklaus, on comparisons with Tiger Woods.

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