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Tiger will be billion dollar man

By Karl McGinty

Tiger Woods is set to become the first billionaire sportsman in history within the next 12 months, despite global recession.

Woods made more than $117m on and off the golf course in 2008, leaving him just $115m short of becoming golf's first $1bn player.

Though Woods felt the bite of the world financial crisis in the autumn when General Motors pulled out of their sponsorship deal one year early, one suspects it won't be long before the gap they left on Tiger's golf bag will be filled.

GM paid the perennial World No 1 $50m during their nine-year partnership and he is still the hottest sponsorship property in sport.

"You'll have to be more creative in how you structure deals," explains Mark Steinberg, global managing director of golf for IMG and Tiger's agent. "But there still needs to be advertising, there still needs to be marketing. In an economy like this, it's even more important to get your brand out there."

Padraig Harrington proved that point in recent months as he landed a couple of multi-million dollar contracts.

Though Ireland's triple-major champion rises to ninth place in Golf Digest's list of the game's top earners, one suspects the new three-year deal, worth an estimated $12m he signed with New York's FTI Consulting or his $500,000 per annum agreement to wear Footjoy golf shoes, came a little too late for inclusion.

Add those two to Harrington's estimated haul for 2008 and he'd leapfrog Jack Nicklaus into seventh, a couple of million behind Sergio Garcia.

The Dubliner is snapping on the heels of his Spanish nemesis in the World Rankings as they both come out of hibernation in this week's Abu Dhabi Championship. Harrington overhauled the flagging Phil Mickelson to regain his best ranking, third, in the charts.

Meanwhile with Woods still sidelined Garcia and Harrington resume their quest to overhaul him at the top of the world rankings at the Abu Dhabi Championship this week.

It also marks the return to action of Rory McIlroy as he anticiaptes a season during which he will play his first major tournament as a professional.

The 19-year-old is looking to pick up where he left off in December with his joint third finish in the South African Open which made sure of his place in the world’s top 50 and his place in April’s Masters.

McIlroy is confident that 2009 will bring him his first tournament win, having twice lost out in play-offs last year.

Ian Poulter has pulled out of next week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship to undergo corrective eye surgery.

The Ryder Cup star has been advised to have the operation after struggling to see properly in poor light and is expected to undergo surgery next week.

"It is with great regret that I have to withdraw from the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship," Poulter said in the UAE-based newspaper Gulf News.

"I have been having a problem with my vision in poor light and my doctors have advised me that I should have this surgery as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration.

"I am relieved that the problem can be corrected with surgery but very disappointed to miss one of my favourite events on the schedule.

"However, I'll be back in Abu Dhabi next year for another crack at the Falcon."

The line-up for the tournament still includes three-time Major winner Harrington, World number two Garcia, Henrik Stenson, and Colin Montgomerie.

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