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VIEWPOINT;IN THE SPORTS UNIVERSE, THERE'S NO HOLDING BACK THIS TIGER

By Published on .

Can you think of a sports hero who is more aptly named than Tiger Woods? Maybe Speed Racer, but I don't think he's a real person.

Tiger Woods is for real, that's for sure. The 20-year-old phenom is destined to do more for golf than any other player since Jack Nicklaus, because Tiger will attract a whole new demographic segment to golf at a time when the growth of the game has begun to level off.

So it's no surprise that Nike and Titleist lavished untold riches on Woods as soon as he turned pro. And surely in the wings is a deal to bring out Tiger's own brand of woods and irons.

Wally Uihlein, president of Titleist, contends that the name Tiger Woods, "as it relates to brand association, has to be looked at well beyond golf. You have to consider: Is he a potential sporting goods megastar like a Michael Jordan?"

If that's the case, Tiger could save the day for McDonald's. The fast-food chain has shot itself in the foot by publicly disdaining its biggest and most loyal customer base in promoting the troubled Arch Deluxe. So why not use Tiger Woods to bridge the gap between kids and adults? Come to think of it, McDonald's should jettison the ill-starred Arch Deluxe name and call its new concoction a Tiger burger. OK, a McTiger burger.

The Tiger name certainly conjures up power-the guy can hit a drive over 350 yards. So Exxon could get a marketing boost by putting a real Tiger back in its tank and depicting a car taking off with the same velocity as Tiger hits a golf ball.

There's no holding that Tiger. Ely Callaway, maker of the Big Bertha line of metal woods and irons, has announced Callaway is getting into the golf-ball business, and there is intense speculation within the industry on how he is going to do it. I once asked Ely if he had any plans to bring out a new line of clubs under a different name that would represent a less expensive price point for Callaway. He said no, but Tiger's availability gives Ely an opportunity he couldn't refuse.

Tiger Woods by Callaway, with traditional Tiger striping on the shafts. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? And that would give Callaway the opening to bring out a second line of golf balls under the Tiger name to go with their Callaway or Big Bertha premium balls.

Nike, which reportedly is shelling out $60 million over seven years to develop the Tiger brand, has an interesting marketing dilemma. Up to now, Nike has marketed its shoes mostly to young men who responded to Nike's in-your-face, contentious advertising. Nike established an us-against-them attitude to separate buyers of their shoes from the rest of the pack.

And they've followed the same pattern in the initial ads featuring Tiger Woods. "I'm told that I'm not ready for you. Are you ready for me?" the Tiger ads say.

As Larry Dorman wrote in The New York Times, the Nike ads present "a picture of some avenging angel crashing the great white gates of golf." But that's not what Tiger Woods is all about, and I doubt whether that's what the current golf market will respond to.

Golf is not an angry game, a metaphor for survival at any cost. Golf is not even a game of us against them; it's a game of me against me. Tiger Woods, at his tender age, already knows this, and I have to believe an astute marketer like Nike knows this.

So Nike's tactic must be a long-term effort to broaden the golf market, to reach out to its traditional customers who might even have had disdain for the game of golf.

And judging by some of the crowds following Tiger around in his first professional tournament, where he shot a hole in one, came in seven under par and won $2,500, that broader market is already beginning to take root.

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