Thursday, there was a scoreboard near the first tee encircled by not one, but seven logos from tournament sponsors. The prize money for the one-week event is $10.5 million, or around five times what PGA Tour tournaments paid before Woods turned pro.
This week’s event is a World Golf Championship event, a collaborative effort to periodically bring together the best players from tours in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. There were no world championships until 1999, by which time Woods, whose multicultural background had helped golf explode internationally, had won two majors and 13 PGA Tour events (and, of course, he won two of the three inaugural World Golf Championships in 1999).
As play began in the first round, long putts dropped and players celebrated with uppercut, clenched fist pumps. There was no reason to ask where they learned such a signature move. They wore eye-catching colors made by top designers who earned most of their revenue outside golf and their garb was embossed with the logos of sponsors whose customers might not even be golfers: luxury car manufactures, credit card companies, premium watch makers. Woods pioneered such crossover appeal.
It did not matter where one walked. Woods was here.
Wednesday, Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner who grew up idolizing Woods and now considers him a close friend, was asked if the players in this week’s field had considered some kind of tribute to Woods. McIlroy shook his head back and forth.
“He’s not gone,” McIlroy said. “I feel like we should pay tribute to him every day for being on the PGA Tour and what he’s done for golf.”