Monday, December 15, 2008

Tiger fever is sweeping Australia, apparently. All because the new sponsor of the Australian Open has made a bid to have the world No 1 play Down Under in 2010.

It would cost a lot of appearance

money for Tiger to play Down Under

A lot has been said about Tiger Woods coming to Australia next year. Too much, in fact.
I'll believe it when he steps off the plane. Until then, I'll remain sceptical.
Right now, the media is fanning the fires of a potential Woods visit, and any little ember will do. Here's how it works: an Australian professional sits in a news conference and is asked what he thinks about the idea of Tiger coming Down Under.
What's he supposed to say in reply? Of course, he makes a statement of the obvious: "I don't know the numbers, but yeah, it'd be great to see him here." Five minutes later his words are on every internet site in the country: "Joe Bloggs backs Australia's bid for Tiger's visit." It's a little hysterical.
Here is what has actually happened thus far. Events NSW, an arm of the New South Wales Government, has put a fully-funded deal to Woods' management to come to the Australian Open next year, having picked up the sponsorship of the tournament until 2015.
The inducement has not been made public, but it is bound to be some millions. Nor is it known whether Events NSW has found a benefactor or whether it intends to sting the taxpayer.
What is known is that the deal to bring him to the Australian Open at New South Wales Golf Club will need to be good; Woods is known to get at least $US5 million from the likes of the sheikhs in Dubai or in China to tee it up there.
Golf Australia, which runs the Australian Open, is involved and, ironically, Golf Australia was told by ETW (Woods' management firm) that it would have a better chance of success if the bid was kept quiet. So much for that one.
Coincidentally, the Victorian Government recently took up a sponsorship of the Australian Masters through the Victorian Major Events Corporation.
It's a three-year deal under which the Masters will be moved from its 30-year home at Huntingdale to somewhere else in the famed sandbelt, most likely Kingston Heath, in 2009.
In exchange for saving a tournament that had lost its corporate backer, the (Victorian) Government has imposed a stipulation upon IMG, the tournament owner and promoter, that says that the field must include three of the top-20 players in the world, not including Australians.
But they want more. The VMEC, and in particular the Sports Minister James Merino, like the idea of Woods playing in Melbourne. Not surprisingly.
But there are questions to be answered here. Who's paying the bills? Is the (Victorian) Government actually prepared to shell out a couple of million dollars to a sportsman who earns $100 million a year?
The words of Greg Turner, the New Zealand professional who has been on the Australian PGA Tour board, ring out loud this week. Turner called the 2002 NZ Open an "unmitigated disaster". It poured rain, few spectators came, and the people who put up the money did not get a return.
It doesn't stop with Turner, either.
Paul McNamee, who ran the Australian Open for two years, told The Age more than once that the tournament needed to establish itself as a viable entity before it went chasing Tiger. McNamee also felt that there was a danger that if Woods did tee it up Down Under, there would be a tremendous let-down factor in the following year if he did not come.
Stuart Appleby, one of Australia's top players, addressed the let-down factor last week, a little crudely, but accurately: "We don't want to have a date with a supermodel and all of a sudden you're going out with someone else who's not so beautiful."
It has been said that Woods wants to come and play in Australia. But Woods is unfailingly polite in public conversation, the consummate politician (Ed: Unlike his caddie, Steve Williams). It is a fact that he likes the Melbourne sandbelt courses, and he has said so before.
I have no doubt that Tiger would like to come. But, realistically, the money would have to be right, for he can get it elsewhere.
Equally as important is his left knee. Woods had surgery after winning the US Open this year, the second time under the knife for an ailment that is caused by constant swinging of golf clubs.
Already, it has limited his schedule to 15-20 tournaments a year, fewer than most professionals. He knows that he has a finite number of golf swings in him, and Woods desperately wants to overtake Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors (he has 13).
Woods will return early in the 2009 season but we won't know how his knee will respond until then. Commonsense suggests that he is scarcely going to start playing more tournaments, possibly fewer. All of which means that trips to Australia to check out the fancy bunkering won't be the top of his wish list.
When you add it up, these are bold initiatives, and worth a try. Just don't hold your breath.



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