Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods’s Bridgestone Deal, Best of ’16, Looking to ’17

December 19, 2016
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Last week, Tiger Woods and Bridgestone announced a multi-year contract for Woods to play Bridgestone golf balls, which was the first significant move the 14-time major winner made since Nike announced it is leaving the equipment business. Terms of the contract weren’t immediately available, but Bridgestone’s senior director of marketing, Corey Consuegra, told that “the agreement will allow Tiger to play an instrumental role in the development of future balls.” What could the deal potentially mean for Bridgestone’s bottom line, and does Tiger still hold the same marketing clout that he did 10 years ago?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Tiger’s clout today isn’t what it was in his pre-scandal prime, but he still moves ratings like no other golfer. What the deal will do to Bridgestone’s bottom line is impossible to say without knowing how much Bridgestone is paying Tiger. But it sure won’t hurt the company’s golf ball sales, which are now the third largest in the industry, after Titleist and Callaway.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): There’s upside here for Bridgestone (and any other company that aligns with TW): Suppose Woods comes all the way back to play winning golf? That’s a boon for gear companies that signed up for the ride.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): I don’t know that Tiger’s “clout” will do much of anything for Bridgestone golf ball sales; it clearly wasn’t enough to push Nike golf balls into the elite level, or else they’d still be making golf balls. That said, Tiger is a legendary perfectionist, so if he’s invested in the process, it speaks to the quality of the product, which can’t hurt with consumers. Just get Tiger in the hunt during a big event in 2017 and it will be worth every penny Bridgestone will pay out.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Without even knowing the terms I’d say it’s a great deal for Bridgestone. No offense to Brandt Snedeker or Matt Kuchar but Tiger brings a heckuva lot more juice, even in his diminished state.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don’t think I know or have ever met a golfer that is going to switch his or her golf ball allegiance on the basis of playing what ONE player on Tour plays. Even if that player is Tiger Woods.

2. We’ve spent a lot of time over the last year debating DJ and Spieth, Tiger and Trump, the Rules and Rory. What story from 2016 deserved more attention than it received?

Sens: Given the explosive growth of Topgolf and other firms of what you might call golf-related entertainment, I thought more attention could have been paid to these golf hybrids and what they do or don’t portend for the traditional golf market. Is this where we are headed? Is there a way to tap into Topgolf’s movement to, you know, grow the game?

Ritter: Great call, Josh. My default answer for this question is always “the LPGA,” which remains rife with great stories and rising stars, like Brooke Henderson, who this year stared down Lydia Ko for her first major. I also think college golf deserves more mainstream coverage. The NCAA final between Texas and Oregon last summer was epic.

Passov: Jeff, I don’t know why colleges don’t play head-to-head matches, like they do in every other sport. I think it would be great publicity, for rivalries and such (Michigan vs. Ohio State, anyone?), but I gather it’s a matter of economics and time invested. So many possible responses to this question. One is the overlooked sensational season of Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, who somewhat quietly clinched the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award, in a year where Lydia Ko, the great Koreans, and a handful of others scored more ink. The other is Gene Sauers, who overcame a life-threatening skin disease and years away from the game to come back and win the U.S. Senior Open. That title itself is generally regarded as the most prestigious in Senior golf, and it used to attract lots of attention. Despite a worthy venue this year, Scioto Country Club in Columbus, where Jack Nicklaus learned the game, the event was marred by horrible weather, and Sauers’ performance got lost in the shuffle to some extent. They should not only rebroadcast the tournament, they should make a movie about Sauers’ life.

Bamberger: The next president of the United States is a keen and good golfer who plays by rules of his own making (as millions of us do) on courses that bear his name.

Shipnuck: I just saw some amazing numbers on the increase in youth participation. Given all the doom and gloom recently about the game’s future that is a very big deal.

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3. In 2016 we saw The Big Three get shutout in terms of major victories, and all four major winners were first-timers. In 20 years when we look back at the year of golf in 2016, will it be memorable, forgettable, or somewhere in between?

Sens: 2000-2001 for the Tiger Slam. ‘86 for Nicklaus’ epic Masters win. ‘91, maybe, for the War on the Shore. How often do we look back decades later at a particular year and say, Wow, that was some season? Not often. 2016 gave us a lot of great moments (Rose’s heartfelt celebration in Rio; Reed and Rory at the Ryder Cup; DJ getting off the major snide, and more). To say that it will largely blur in our memories isn’t to suggest that it wasn’t fun.

Ritter: Great moments all around from Sens. You also have to add the Stenson-Mickelson showdown at Troon, which was an all-timer. Overall, I’d say it was a very memorable year.

Bamberger: Oh, memorable, for sure, most especially the U.S. Open, Olympic golf, the Ryder Cup–and Jordan’s Sunday at Augusta.

Passov: For the most part, memorability in golf seasons is tied to men’s majors–and this was not a vintage year. Danny Willett’s win was impressive, but he won’t be heading to the Hall of Fame anytime soon, unless he pays admission. It was Jordan Spieth’s tournament to win–and he didn’t. Give DJ loads of credit for his U.S. Open victory, but sadly, his colossal ball-striking down the stretch will be overlooked in history by the rules fiasco. Props to Stenson-Mickelson for an all-time great duel, but again, a tough finish with Jimmy Walker’s PGA triumph blanketed by more weather woes made that event somewhat of a blur. Yep–awesome Ryder Cup and surprisingly successful Olympics helped salvage 2016, but overall, it’s a “somewhere in between” year.

Shipnuck: I think two decades from now we’ll look back and see this was the year the balance of power at the Ryder Cup shifted dramatically, touching off a new era of U.S. dominance. On the LPGA a whole new wave of young stars emerged. Those are big deals. But how 2016 is remembered may be tied to what Dustin does from here – if he goes on a big run, as I think he will, Oakmont becomes a very important spot on the timeline.

4. Who is your breakout player for 2017 and why?

Sens: Rafa Cabrera Bello. He’s long been solid, and a sleeper, but his strong play at the Ryder Cup and elsewhere was a sign of a guy ready for a bigger star turn.

Ritter: Daniel Berger narrowly missed a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but the talent is there to hit the next level. Also, Patrick Reed has had his breakout in team events (to put it mildly), but I think this is the year he steps up in a major.

Passov: I’ve been on the Hideki Matsuyama bandwagon since 2014–just check my predictions in my majors office pools–and his late-year surge in 2016 makes me that much more confident that he’ll be a legitimate Top-5 player in 2017. I see multiple wins–and if not a major victory, at least three Top-5s.

Bamberger: Not truly a breakout, but a return to the form that made her a breakout player at age 17: Lydia Ko.

Shipnuck: Pat Perez. He already has a win this season and is eager to become the player he was supposed to be.

5. Santa has bestowed you with the power to hand out one present to a Tour pro. Who’s the lucky pro and what are you giving him or her?

Sens: To Sergio. The self-belief necessary to finally win a major, tied up in a bow, beneath the tree.

Ritter: To Tiger, 12 months of perfect health. I want to see where this comeback goes.

Bamberger: To Phil, a U.S. Open trophy.

Shipnuck: Dang, Mike, that was going to be my answer. So I’ll say a green jacket for Rory.

Passov: To Lexi Thompson, a smoother putting stroke and a putter that behaves on command. With her length, looks and personality, she could actually carry the LPGA (and American fan interest) to another level, but she needs not only to win more, but to contend more on the biggest stages.

6. Who wins more money in 2017: Phil or Tiger?

Sens: Phil. But Jordan’s still buying drinks for both of them when the season’s done.

Ritter: Phil, but if Tiger can last the full season, he could lap Mickelson in new endorsement deals.

Passov: Tiger grabs more cash worldwide, Phil gets the bigger share in the U.S. Together, we (golf fans) all celebrate these gifted 40-somethings giving us more reasons to tune in and cheer about in 2017.

Bamberger: Phil wins more but Tiger makes more.

Shipnuck: Given that Phil just had a second hernia surgery, both may be hurting for spending money. But I’ll take Mickelson, grudgingly.