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'Tiger Woods' co-author Jeff Benedict joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the resilience of Tiger Woods over the years and what his return to the 2022 Masters Tournament means for fans.
- Welcome back. The latest chapter in the Tiger Woods saga, quite frankly, every bit as compelling as the first. 25 years after tiger came to Augusta and took the entire golf world by storm, he's now back as a 46-year-old, 14 months removed from nearly losing a leg in a serious car accident, five back surgeries deep, and yet, in contention after the first round of the Masters. Quite a remarkable story.
Jeff Benedict is the author of the New York Times best selling book, "Tiger Woods." He joins Brad and I now. Jeff, great to have you on. Your book was published back in 2018, what seems like a lifetime ago in the Tiger story. How do you describe what's unfolding at Augusta this week?
JEFF BENEDICT: It kind of reminds me actually of the experience of writing the book, you know? While we were in the midst of writing the book, he was found on the side of the road in Florida in a car that was-- that the engine was still on, and he was behind the wheel. And tires were blown out, and he was, you know, basically, unconscious. And I remember, when that happened, we were just about finished with the book, and we were thinking, how do we deal with that?
And I think his-- one of the things that's so compelling and fascinating about Tiger is he's been through so many things that are unique to him in terms of professional golf. There's no other golfer that's been in the kinds of situations he's been in, and this is another one of those. I think what probably separates this from what we've seen in the past is just him getting back on the course after the most recent accident feels a little more miraculous than some of the comebacks he's had in the past.
- Does this look like a different Tiger Woods to you, Jeff?
JEFF BENEDICT: Well, different in a couple of ways. I mean, number one, his leg and foot are literally reconstructed. Number two, he's, obviously, older. It's been interesting to watch him age.
He's now one of the oldest players on the TOUR. And if he were to win this weekend, he would be the oldest player in history to win the Masters. But, you know, to be honest, he looks remarkably good. He looks fit.
Actually, he looks in better shape than a lot of the guys he's competing against, even though a lot of them are a lot older than him, and he looks pretty happy. I mean, when you see him in the press conferences and in the exchanges he's had with some of the fans, you can tell, he's really truly joyful to be there. It's good to see that, of course.
- The business of Tiger is still remarkable when you look at the Masters grounds. Yesterday, it looked a lot like a sun, 20, 30 deep. The ratings will certainly be through the roof. The tickets are at an all time high. Sports betting has surged to an all time high.
All of the money is on Tiger. Not just to win, but to make the cut, and even to miss the cut. He so dominates the game from a business perspective. Is there any downside to it in terms of blocking out the sun from the entire rest of the field, and how do you quantify the Tiger effect on the golf world?
JEFF BENEDICT: Well, look, no one has in the history of the game has had as profound of effect on the game as Tiger. I don't think it's a stretch to say that he 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 in the way he did, that was-- in terms of a person of color breaking down barriers, that was big. But then the financial implications that came along with his success, he's made everybody richer.
All of those players on the tour today are earning purses and endorsement deals that are as big as they are because of him. And I think a lot of the players today, they recognize that he's made them wealthier. He's done a lot for sponsorship. I mean, there's just so many ways.
The networks love him, because they know that there'll be a lot more eyeballs on the tournaments that they're broadcasting if Tiger's playing. So I don't really see a downside. I can't imagine that any of these tours or clubs are disappointed when they have so many people there that they actually have to turn them away.
- You know, it's interesting, and to your point, Tiger always does call out the historical achievements that he has made, but also, those that have come before him in Charlie Sifford, and Lee Elder, and other Black American golfers and golfers of color that have taken the stage and broken some of those barriers. Tiger certainly elevated it to a different level. But to Dave's point, it seems like, post Tiger, there may be this vacuum for the sport, and how the sport really navigates that is the next big question that they have to face.
JEFF BENEDICT: Yeah, it is, because he has had-- he's such an outsized figure in culture. It really is bigger than golf. I mean, there are so many people who tune in to watch him play that don't like golf. There's no way to compensate for that when he's gone.
I mean, the numbers of people who will watch TV this weekend just because he's on TV, they'd never watch another tournament. They don't play golf. They don't even care about the sport, but they're invested in him. That's hard to replace. I mean, he's sort of like Muhammad Ali, or Babe Ruth, sort of these once in a century figure that attracts fandom that goes beyond the border of the sport they play. And Tiger is certainly that kind of athlete.
- Had he not made this comeback, the absence of his really only peer might have been a huge story. Phil Mickelson is not there because of some comments, arguably, a bit offensive about Saudi Arabia, but stunning to see the business downfall. Phil lost all of his sponsorships. He was top 10 in the world in terms of athletes endorsements. Are you surprised at the downfall of Phil given everything Tiger Woods went through so publicly, and everyone, including the corporate world, continued to embrace him?
JEFF BENEDICT: Well, I mean, look, people are complicated, and I'm not going to profess to be an expert on Phil Mickelson. I'm not. What I would say is, to me, what's really interesting here from the Tiger side of this equation-- and there's two parts. Number one, Tiger is so popular and so interesting to people that he has, basically, to Phil's benefit, wiped that story out of everyone's minds right now.
In some ways, that's a blessing for Phil, because nobody cares about that right now or is talking about it. And you're right. If Tiger wasn't in this tournament, there would be a tremendous amount of focus on Phil's absence.
The second thing is it's interesting that Tiger-- Tiger's been through so many public-- I don't want-- they're not all scandals. But he has had some of those, as well, but so much adverse publicity over the years. He's so much more accustomed to it, used to it, seasoned by it, knows how to deal with it. Phil has always had the reputation, you know, the kind of good old boy that everybody liked.
It's interesting how the tables have turned. Tiger's now, I think, the most beloved figure in the sport, both on and off the course. I mean, everybody likes him, and in a strange way, even the guys he's competing against who, obviously, they want to win. But I think it's a little bit like, when you're a young quarterback, and you went to the NFL, and you get to play against Tom Brady, you're sort of in awe that you're actually playing against the guy that, when you were a kid, you emulated. There's a lot of guys on the TOUR now that are like that with Tiger.
- Speaking of, the two most compelling athletes on the planet are 46 and 44 years old, Tom Brady, a remarkable turn of events. Jeff, we look forward to Tiger Woods, too, because you're going to have to write that book as well. There's no doubt about it. I appreciate it, sir. Enjoy the rest of the Masters.