In recent years, there has only been one athlete who has dominated at a professional level, and also changed the image of a sport in a short amount of time. That athlete is Tiger Woods.
Although Tiger Woods has been playing golf since the age of 2, he became a professional golfer in the summer of 1996 at the tender age of 20. He immediately signed endorsement deals with Nike and Titleist worth 60 million dollars. His remarkable play garnished him Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year and PGA Rookie of the Year honors.
Also in his rookie year, Woods began his tradition of wearing a red shirt during the final round of tournaments because he beleived that the color symbolizes aggresion and assertiveness.
The following year, he won the Masters by a record of 12 strokes, set 20 records and tied six other records on his way to become the youngest and first African-American or Asian-American to win at the Masters. While expectations for Woods were high, his form faded in the second half of 1997, and in 1998 he only won one PGA Tour event.
In June 1999, Tiger Woods won the Memorial Tournament. This victory marked the beginning of one the greatest periods of dominance in the history of this golf.
He completed the campaign with by winning his last four starts, including the PGA championship, and finished with 8 wins. Up to that point, this feat had not been accomplished in the past 25 years.
In 2000, Woods won three consecutive majors, nine PGA tour events and set or tied 27 Tour records. He completed his sixth consecutive win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am with a comeback for the ages. Trailing by seven strokes with seven holes to play, he finished eagle-birdie-par-birdie for a 64 and a two-stroke victory.
In the same year, during the US Open he broke or tied a total of nine U.S. Open records with his 15-shot win, including Old Tom Morris's record for the largest victory margin ever in a major championship, which had stood since 1862. He also became the Tour's all-time career money leader.
Sports Illustrated deservedly called it “the greatest performance in golf history.”
At the age of 24, Tiger Woods became the youngest golfer to achieve the Career Grand Slam.
His 2001 Masters Tournament victory marked the only time within the era of the Modern Grand Slam that any player has been the holder of four major championships at the same time. This feat is now unofficially known as the “Tiger-Slam”.
In 2002, he became only the third person to win back-to-back Masters Tournaments. Once again, he took home the money title, Vardon Trophy, and Player of the Year honors for the fourth year in a row.
Woods’ Nike endorsement deal, worth 105 million dollars, was the largest endorsing deal signed by an athlete at that time.
Woods’ endorsement deal has been credited to taking the Nike Golf brand from a "start-up" golf company earlier in the past decade, to becoming the leading golf apparel company in the world and a major player in the equipment and golf ball market.
Woods was also involved in every aspect of the launch of Buick's Rendezvous SUV. A company spokesman stated that Buick is happy with the value of Wood's endorsement, pointing out that more than 130,000 Rendezvous vehicles were sold in 2002 and 2003.
In 2004, Bill Belichick was quoted saying, “If Tiger Woods could go out and practice 14 hours on the driving range, I think there are things that we could do—all of us could do—to be better.”
In 2005, Woods closely worked with TAG Heuer to develop the world’s first professional golf watch.
Woods also endorses the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series of video games; he has done so from 1999 to 2008, and it is likely that he will continue to do so.
Tiger Woods has single handily changed the public image of the sport of golf. He is the reason why people tune in on Sunday’s to watch golf. They want to see him either win in a dominant fashion or stage one of his many memorable and unbelievable comebacks.
No one else has been as dominant or as great as Tiger Woods in any sport.
Through his resilient efforts and remarkable play, Tiger Woods has become the most influential athlete; not only in golf but in all sports.