Tiger Woods: Is He Really the World's Most Overrated Golfer?

Jake MannContributor IIIOctober 15, 2012

Tiger Woods: Is He Really the World's Most Overrated Golfer?

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    The term "overrated" is thrown around very loosely in the blogosphere these days. Many armchair analysts rank athletes based on their own biases, making any argument obsolete. 

    In the golfing world, one method that can make this process more scientific can be done by looking at a player's earnings versus his media perception.

    Money list rankings[1] provide a straightforward measure of earnings, and it accurately accounts for performance in top-tier tournaments, as these contests typically have the largest payouts. The best way to measure a golfer's media perception, meanwhile, is by looking at his endorsement deals.

    Let's use the following comparison as an example: if Golfer A makes $500,000 in annual endorsements, but only earns $10,000 from tee to green, and Golfer B makes $50 million in endorsements while earning $2 million in tournament play, we can say that both are overrated. Because each is vastly underperforming the expectations set out by his sponsors, it's fair to cry foul.

    Now, it is difficult to determine exactly which golfer is more overrated, as that conclusion is up to the reader. Some may say that Golfer A is more overrated, because his earnings are a smaller percentage of his endorsements (2 percent) than those of Golfer B (4 percent).

    On the other hand, it could be argued that Golfer B is more overrated, as anyone who makes such an exorbitant amount of money in endorsements should be near the top of the PGA's money list—leaders typically finish around $7 million.

    Either way, there is always room debate about this subject, but we're going to take a look at the Tour players with the biggest disparities between these two categories, so you can be the judge.

    Let us know in the comments section exactly who you think deserves the title of "most overrated" out of this group.

    Don't be afraid to speak up.

     


    [1] In this article, money list data includes all income earned on the PGA Tour, PGA European, PGA Japan, Asian, Southern Africa, and Australasian circuits.

Colin Montgomerie

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    Last Year's Tournament Earnings: $425,000

    Last Year's Endorsements: $6.5 million

    According to Golf Digest, the average professional golfer makes $1.25 million a year in tournament earnings, while reeling in around $4 million in endorsements.

    Colin Montgomerie makes 60 percent more dough off the course than most of his peers, but rakes in less than half as much on it. 

    Now, this is the Scotsman that has won a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, and 31 times across the pond in total, but Montgomerie has never won a major title, or even a non-major PGA event in North America.

    Monty has came close to winning a major a few times in the past couple decades, and his closest call came at the US Open at Congressional Country Club in 1997. 

    Tied with Ernie Els going into the 17th hole in the tournament's final day, Montgomerie made bogey for the fourth straight day, finishing in second. Here's what he had to say about the let-down, which really summarizes his career quite nicely: 

    "I was runner-up five times in the majors. There is always a 'but' with me because I didn’t win one. If I had won that tournament, I would have gone to No. 1 in the world. I got within one shot. That bogey at 17 on the final day cost me [...] I always feel that was it for me. If I think about it for long enough, it is not making No. 1 after being No. 2 for 18 months that drives me mad; not the fact I didn’t win a major. After that Tiger Woods came along and everything changed."

    Nowadays, Monty is in an age-driven decline, winning his last European Tour event in 2007, and having his most recent major disappointment with a T-2 finish at the 2006 US Open.

    Judging by the fact that other PGA/European Tour standouts like Charl Schwartzel and Martin Kaymer currently make over eight times the on-course earnings that Monty makes while having puny endorsement contracts, it seems that sponsors need to do their homework.

Davis Love III

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    Last Year's Tournament Earnings: $1.2 million

    Last Year's Endorsements: $7.3 million

    Davis Love III has the best nickname in golf: DLIII. The University of North Carolina product has won 20 Tour events in his career, and 14 other tournaments throughout the world. His signature victory came at the 1997 PGA Championship, and has spent close to 500 weeks in the World Golf Rankings' top 10.

    DLIII signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Bridgestone last year, pushing his 2011 off-course earnings above $7 million. 

    While Love's recent role as the United States' Ryder Cup captain certainly cements his role as one of golf's most prominent figureheads, it's interesting that his play has been in steady decline since 2006.

    In 2012, DLIII's scoring average of 71 strokes per 18 holes is one of the worst marks of his career, and while it's tempting to think that age may be a factor, the statistics show that may not be the case.

    Love currently ranks 34th on the Tour in driving distance, but is close to dead worst at gimme puts. For puts between 3 and 5 feet, Love has converted just 78.9 percent of his attempts, good for 187th. DLIII has historically converted gimme puts at a clip of close to 88 percent over his career.

    Interestingly, DLIII is not the only Bridgestone-sponsored golfer who has had difficulties around the greens, as the company also endorses fellow bomber Fred Couples.

Padraig Harrington

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    Last Year's Tournament Earnings: $1.3 million

    Last Year's Endorsements: $8.5 million

    Padraig is sure to be a controversial inclusion on this list, as the Irishman has won three major championships, each coming within a six-major stretch between the 2007 Open Championship and the 2008 PGA Championship.

    In total, Harrington has won 27 times professionally, with his most recent victory coming at the Iskandar Johor Open in Malaysia in 2010.

    Aside from being an obvious Titleist guy, Harrington is sponsored by FootJoy, Wilson Staff and Golf Ireland, and amassed over $8 million in endorsement money last year.

    Since his last win, Paddy has fallen considerably in the World Golf Rankings, dropping out of the top 10 not soon thereafter. He now sits at No. 55, and has fluttered in and out of the top 100 this year. While he is on pace to earn more purse money on the course this year than he did in 2011, his earnings-to-endorsements ratio is still way below fellow Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.

Phil Mickelson

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    Last Year's Tournament Earnings: $3.9 million

    Last Year's Endorsements: $57 million

    Okay, before you freak out, please do realize that the writer is aware that Phil Mickelson is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He is also aware that Lefty is second on the all-time money list behind only you know who (hint: he's on the next slide).

    But let's get this straight, after averaging close to four wins and eight top-10 finishes a year between 2001 and 2010, Phil has seen his play drop a tick over the past couple years, with a major tournament scoring average near career highs at 72.7, and only two professional wins since his victory at the 2010 Masters.

    While it may not fair to call the world's most famous right-handed golfer who hits left-handed "overrated" so bluntly, the claim can be made that he is no longer an elite golfer. He is on the wrong side of 40, and has demonstrated uncharacteristic struggles in his approach game this year, specifically on shots between 125 and 175 yards. 

    If Phil is no longer elite, maybe he shouldn't be paid like it. He gathered close to $60 million in endorsement deals last year from companies like KPMG, ExxonMobil, Rolex, Barclays, and Callaway Golf.

Tiger Woods

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    Last Year's Tournament Earnings: $2.1 million

    Last Year's Endorsements: $54.5 million

    Since his adulterous scandal in late 2009, Tiger Woods's game has suffered. Whether it was: (1) the public scrutiny, (2) his divorce from Elin Nordegren, (3) his knee troubles, (4) his swing coach switch from Hank Haney to Sean Foley or (5) his decision to undergo a fourth swing change, the theories are plentiful.

    The popular answer is certainly numbers one and two in this list, but it is mind-boggling that Woods decided to undergo a major swing change just six years after revamping his Butch Harmon-taught technique with Hank Haney.

    While it may seem like Tiger is trying to "reinvent the wheel" to prevent further strain on his knees, at least one blogger thinks that it is an effort to get back to the form he had with Harmon.

    No matter the reasoning, the fact of the matter is that Tiger is wasting the latter part of his prime in a fruitless pursuit of swing perfection. 

    Though he is pondering the possibility of joining the European Tour next year, this means little for his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's major championship record, or for the "Tiger vs. Jack" section on his website.

    Since winning the 2008 US Open on one leg, Tiger has failed to win a major in sixteen straight attempts. Over this time, he has a scoring average of 71.1 at major championships, close to a full stroke above his career mark.

    Now, it's easy to remember that Woods bounced back from a 10-major drought between 2002 and 2005 while undergoing an earlier swing change, but he is now seven years older, and is facing far more pressure this time around.

    Getting to the point, it's difficult to determine exactly how "overrated" Tiger is in comparison to some of the other players mentioned here, but his $50 million-plus in endorsement deals trump Rory McIlroy by a factor of ten.

    While American sponsors may be hesitant to go all-in on Rory, there are also home-grown alternatives to Tiger such as Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson. Due to this year's triumph at the Masters, Watson is underrated from a marketing standpoint, as he currently makes only $2.3 million a year in endorsements.