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Tiger Woods: Rainmaker

Tuesday, Tiger Woods accepted a check for $1,350,000 for winning the the 108th U.S. Open. That single check would have allowed him to edge out Fred Couples -- at $1,344,000 -- as the top earner on the PGA Tour for the entire 1992 season.

With his U.S. Open win, Tiger Woods has now won over $82,000,000 in official prize money.

Since Tiger Woods turned pro, the total yearly prize money on the PGA tour has grown by 280%. Obviously Woods is only a partial explanation for the dramatic rise in money available on the Tour, but he is the beacon that attracts bigger crowds and higher TV ratings. That in turn makes it easier to get corporate sponsors to join the tour.

Woods came along at exactly the right time as Boomers were reaching the upper income level of their earning power. Golf as a TV draw has always been a niche sport, but attractive nonetheless, since it appeals to males 25-54 with lots of disposable income. Woods broadened the reach of the game, attracting more males 18-49, who are also the desired target for a lot of advertisers.

Woods has won the U.S. Open three times, and all three wins are easily in the Top 5 rated U.S. Opens. His 2000 win reached over 8 million viewers, while the 2002 Open pulled in almost 11 million viewers. But this past weekend set the standard.

Thanks to the West Coast Setting, NBC was able to put Saturday and Sunday action in primetime, and it paid off -- big.

Why are these men smiling? Because their NBC primetime coverage of the U.S. open captured total households for both Saturday and Sunday night.

Saturday night is the least watched night of television. But NBC's primetime Open coverage Saturday — 7-9:30 CT — drew an average of 6.5 million , which was the highest overnight on any network since CBS' NCAA men's basketball Final Four coverage April 5.

Sunday's numbers were even better. The NBC broadcast (2-8pm CT) had an 8.5 rating and an 18 share. The 11.4/17 overnight from 6-8 p.m. CT is the best in that time period for any network since ABC’s Feb. 24 broadcast of the Academy Awards. The Open on NBC dominated the competition, more than doubling its closest competitor (CBS, 6-8p.m. ET, 5.1/10) and earning NBC its best number in that time period since the 2006 Olympic Games. The rating peaked during the last half hour, (7:30-8:00 pm CT) at a 13.5/24 as Tiger Woods forced a Monday playoff with Rocco Mediate. That translates into almost 16 million viewers at the peak viewing time.

Monday's afternoon playoff was a big winner for ESPN and NBC

The Monday afternoon playoff apparently had a lot of folks calling in sick to stay at home to watch. ESPN carried the first two hours of the event (11am-1pm CT) and the four letter network recorded a 4.2 rating, making it the most-watched golf telecast in cable history. NBC had the final 9 holes of coverage (1:00-3:30 pm) and its audience was almost twice that of the last Monday playoff in 2001.

Two years after Tiger Woods Turned pro, The World Golf Championship Series was created. The events are sanctioned by international and the U.S. PGA tours. They are three yearly events designed to attract the top players from all the tours, and they dramatically boosted the money winnings total by offering $1 million first prizes. So far, Tiger has won 14 of the 28 played. Of course as Tiger has dominated the competition, the "World Golf Championships" have moved all of the tournaments to the U.S. Better TV ratings since you don't have to worry about Tiger performing in those nasty time zone changes over in Europe and Asia.

All of the factors have combined to create a "Perfect Storm" of financial growth for the PGA tour. In 1997, Tiger's first full year on the tour, the total prize money available was $70 million. Woods was the leading money winner that season with a little over $2 million. In orer to keep your PGA card and your spot on the tour, you have to finish in the Top 125 on the Money List. In 1997, Neal Lancaster kept his spot on the tour by earning a little over $179,000.

In 2007 the prize money available on the PGA tour had jumped all the way to $263 million. Woods was again the leading money winner, this time with over $10.8 million in official winnings. Mathias Gronberg won a little over $785,000 last year, and that was just enough to put him at #125 on the money list. That is a 340% increase in 10 years.

PGA Tour players need larger money clips these days for their winnings.

The jump at the top of the list is even more dramatic. In 1997, Eighteen tour players earned at least $1 million. This past year, 34 players recorded over $2 million in prize money, and a total of 99 tour players broke the $1 million barrier.

This is Jeff Overton, known to few outside his immediate family. For 19 weeks of work on the PGA tour in 2007, Overton took home $1,009,000.

Woods has helped to take his sport to unreached heights. There is a double-edged sword to all this growth when it is generally based on one transcendent athlete. When that athlete doesn't play, there is a dramatic drop-off of attendance and TV coverage.

Tiger Woods was already showing the signs of cutting back, long before his knee problems. Like Nicklaus did when he reached his mid-30's, Woods plays target golf: that means the Majors, the Players Tournament, those he is directly connected to by sponsorship, and a few European events. In 2006, Woods played in 21 tournaments, and only played in 17 events in 2007. In both years he played in the minimum required by the PGA -- 15 tour stops.

Woods total earnings for 2007, including endorsements, golf course design, etc, topped $127,000,000. He is estimated to be worth over $800,000,000 and is on track to become the first billionaire athlete before this decade is over.

Woods is scheduled to play two times before the British Open next month. Once in a Buick sponsored tournament, and then his own AT&T Invitational. There are reports that he will not make either, and that his playing in the British Open is even up in the air.

Rest assured that the rest of the PGA members will be reading the medical reports on Tiger's knee as intently as any of his fans.