Tiger Woods’ return to the ‘Bigger Than Golf’ Masters Tournament: Author

Tiger Woods co-author Jeff Benedict joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Tiger Woods’ resilience over the years and what his return to the 2022 Masters Championship means for fans.

Video version

welcome back. The final chapter in the Tiger Woods saga is, quite frankly, every part as compelling as the first. 25 years after Tiger came to Augusta and took the entire golf world by storm, he’s now back at 46, 14 months after nearly losing a leg in a serious car crash, and five deep back surgeries, however, in contention after the first round of the Masters. Very cool story.

Jeff Benedict is the New York Times bestselling author of Tiger Woods. Join Brad and me now. Jeff, it’s great to have you with us. Your book was published back in 2018, which feels like a lifetime in the tiger story. How would you describe what is happening in Augusta this week?

Jeff Benedict: It kind of reminds me of the book writing experience, you know? While we were in the midst of writing the book, he was found on the roadside in Florida in a car – that the engine was still running, and he was behind the wheel. The tires exploded, and he was, you know, unconscious. And I remember, when that happened, we were just about to finish the book, and we were thinking, How do we deal with that?

And I think that — one of the compelling and wonderful things about Tiger is that he’s been through a lot of things that are unique to him in terms of professional golf. No other golfer has gone through this type of situation that he has gone through, and this is another one of those situations. I think what probably separates this from what we’ve seen in the past is just him getting back on the track after the last crash seems more miraculous than some of the responses he’s had in the past.

Does this sound different to you, Tiger Woods, Jeff?

Jeff Benedict: Well, different in two ways. I mean, number one, his leg and feet were literally reconstructed. Second place, he’s obviously older. It was fun watching him get older.

He is now one of the oldest players on the tour. And if he wins this weekend, he will be the oldest player in history to win the Masters title. But, you know, frankly, it looks remarkably good. It looks decent.

In fact, he looks in better shape than a lot of the players he’s competing against, even though a lot of them are a lot older than him, and he seems pretty happy. I mean, when you see him at press conferences and in exchanges he’s had with some fans, you can tell he’s really happy to be there. It’s good to see that, of course.

Tiger’s work is still great when you look at the Master’s lands. Yesterday, it looked a lot like the sun, 20, 30 deep. Reviews will definitely be through the roof. Tickets are high all the time. Sports betting has risen to an all-time high.

All money on Tiger. Not only in order to win, but in order to achieve success, and even miss the opportunity. It dominates the game from a business perspective. Is there any downside to it in terms of blocking out the sun from the rest of the course, and how do you quantify the tiger’s impact on the golf world?

Jeff Benedict: Well, look, no one in the history of the game has had such a profound impact on the game as Tiger. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it really broke the color barrier. Obviously there were golfers of color who played the game before him, but Tiger came along. And when he won the Masters and broke the way he did, that was – in terms of someone of color smashing barriers, that was big. But the financial implications that came with his success made everyone richer.

All of these players on the tour today are earning wallets and big endorsement deals as they are because of him. And I think a lot of players today realize that it made them even richer. He did so much to take care of. I mean, there are a lot of ways.

The networks love him, because they know there will be a lot of eyeballs in the tournaments they broadcast if Tiger plays. So I don’t really see any downside. I can’t imagine any of these tours or clubs being so disappointed when they have so many people there that they actually have to turn them away.

You know, it’s interesting, and for your point of view, Tiger always calls out his historic accomplishments, but also those that came before him in Charlie Seaford, Lee Elder, and other black American golfers and golfers of color. Which got on stage and broke some of those barriers. Tiger sure took it to a different level. But from Dave’s point of view, it looks like, after Tiger, there might be this void for the sport, and how the sport really navigates that is the next big question they have to face.

Jeff Benedict: Yes, he is, because he had – he’s a huge figure in the culture. It really is bigger than golf. I mean, there are a lot of people who keep watching him play and don’t like golf. There’s no way to make up for it when he’s gone.

I mean, the number of people who are going to watch TV this weekend just because it’s on TV, they’ll never see another tournament. They don’t play golf. They are not even interested in this sport, but invested in it. It is difficult to replace. I mean, it’s kind of like Muhammad Ali, or Babe Ruth, the kind of those once in a century that attract audiences that push the boundaries of the sport they play. And the tiger is definitely that kind of athlete.

Had he not made this comeback, the absence of his lone teammate would have truly been a huge story. Phil Mickelson wasn’t there due to some of the comments, arguably a bit offensive about Saudi Arabia, but it’s amazing to see the collapse of the business. Phil lost all his care. He was among the top ten in the world in terms of athlete endorsements. Are you surprised by Phil’s downfall given everything Tiger Woods has been through in public, and everyone, including the corporate world, has continued to embrace?

Jeff Benedict: Well, I mean, look, people are complicated, and I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Phil Mickelson. I’m not. What I would say is, for me, the really interesting thing here is from the tiger side of this equation – and there are two parts. Number one, Tiger is so popular and so much fun for people that, basically, for Phil’s good, he’s clearing this story from everyone’s minds right now.

In some ways, that’s a blessing for Phil, because no one cares about that right now or talks about it. And you’re right. If Tiger wasn’t in this tournament, there would be an enormous amount of focus on Phil’s absence.

The second thing is that it’s interesting that Tiger has gone through so many audiences – I don’t want to – it’s not all scandals. But he’s gotten some of that publicity as well, but a lot of negative publicity over the years. He’s very much used to it, used to it, and seasoned with it, he knows how to handle it. Phil has always had the reputation of being, you know, the kind of good boy that everyone likes.

It’s interesting how the tables have turned. I think the tiger is now the darling of the sport, both on and off the court. I mean, everyone loves him, and in a weird way, even the guys he’s competing with who, obviously, want to win. But I think it’s kind of like, when you’re a junior quarterback, and you go into the NFL, and you play Tom Brady, you’re in awe because you’re actually playing against the guy who, as a kid, you were emulating. There are a lot of guys on the tour now that look like that with Tiger.

Speaking of the two sexiest athletes on the planet aged 46 and 44, Tom Brady, it is a remarkable turn of events. Jeff, we’re looking forward to Tiger Woods too, because you’re going to have to write this book as well. There is no doubt about that. I appreciate that, sir. Enjoy the rest of the masters.