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Tiger Woods still main man despite fall from grace

By Karl Maginty

His stock has fallen dramatically both on and off the golf course, but Tiger Woods remains the most charismatic figure and by far the biggest money-spinner in world sport.

Tiger this week tumbled out of the world's elite top-50 for the first time in 15 years and was humbled by a 19-year-old college student at the Open on Thursday as he made his first appearance on Tour since missing the cut at August's PGA Championship.

The slipshod two-over-par 73 Woods posted in the first round at CordeValle had looked all the more feeble alongside the 69 shot by his gifted young amateur playing companion Patrick Cantlay.

Tiger certainly made up for it yesterday, scrapping manfully for a 68, his first sub-par round in seven since the opening day of August's Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

It was good enough to propel Woods comfortably back inside the projected cut mark on one-under par and two ahead of Cantlay, who shot 74.

This was seven shy of the early clubhouse lead of Paul Casey who shot a magnificent 64 yesterday.

For all the ignominy, pain and frustration Woods has endured since the 'crash of 2009', his status as the hottest property in sport remains intact, according to 'Forbes Magazine'. For the past three years, they've analysed the value of sports brands and, according to the latest edition of the 'Forbes Fab-40', Woods is still the leading individual athlete. Tennis ace Roger Federer is second and basketball's LeBron James third.

Though they reveal Tiger's earning power plummeted from $85m in 2010 to $55m this year after all but a faithful few of his blue-chip sponsors fled, that figure's still more than double the $26m estimation of Federer's 'brand value'.

Meanwhile, the announcement this week by Rolex of a major long-term contract with Woods hints at a recovery in his corporate image. According to a spokesman, Rolex "is convinced Tiger Woods has a long career ahead of him."

Obviously, Rolex have time on their side. But their decision to ask Woods to endorse their watches is interesting in view of the results of an Ipsos-MORI poll conducted during the summer.

Twenty three per cent of those canvassed in the US and 19pc in the UK said Tiger's indiscretions made them consider not buying products he endorses. Negative reaction like this led Gatorade, AT&T, Tag Heuer, Gillette and Accenture to cut Woods loose.

Despite recent abject form on the golf course, Woods remains 'The Man' in the golf arena, judging by the decision of caddie Joey LaCava to desert World No 5 Dustin Johnson last month to pick up Tiger's bag. Or, indeed, the three-fold increase in the attendance at The Open this week as Tiger makes his first appearance this week on the PGA Tour's secondary 'Fall Series'.

While Tiger described Thursday as "one of the worst putting rounds I've ever had", that department of his game appeared to improve yesterday. He didn't miss any 'tiddlers' and even holed one raking par-saver from 22 feet at seven.

We saw a few other flashes of 'pre-crash Tiger' in the Santa Clara Valley, though he still looked wildly unpredictable, especially off the tee.

His efforts to develop a new swing under Sean Foley have been severely hampered by injury and his action sometimes is more 'crouch and hook' than the modified 'stack and tilt' method his coach teaches. Yet if corporate sponsors once again are prepared to have confidence in Tiger, maybe he too will be able to find renewed belief in himself. Open,

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