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Tiger Woods Is Back With Win, His Image Gets a Mulligan

Tuesday, 26 Mar 2013 | 2:32 PM ET
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Tiger Woods is the number one ranked golfer in the world again, a status he has not had since 2010. But that's not even close to the whole story. He is on top again, and people seem to like it.

The problem with Tiger Woods the last few years was not just performance after his seemingly picture-perfect marriage to Elin Nordegren fell apart in a web of marital infidelity that became public late in 2009. It was perception.

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His "Q" score, which looks at the familiarity and appeal of a brand, company, celebrity, or television show fell as much as his world ranking—it bottomed at number 58.

Now, two-and-a-half years later, Tiger's golf and personal life are coming together at the same time. The release of pictures with ski star Lindsay Vonn on Facebook were contrived, but it also put forth an image of a more stable personal lifestyle.

(Read More: Tiger Woods' Popularity Apparent Again)

Of course, it is an image, and who really knows the truth about things like this anymore. But the key takeaway by many is that if Vonn is willing to risk her mostly positive image by associating with Woods at this level, then maybe fans can dip their toes back in the proverbial water as well.

The television ratings could not be used for comparison in Tiger's win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational because rain delayed the finish until Monday. But a few weeks ago when Tiger won the World Golf Championships at Doral—the TV ratings were the best in seven years.

When it comes to his corporate sponsors, it appears that sticking with Tiger may pay off, after all.

Exhibit A is Nike.

"He's one of those athletes that's bigger than the sport he plays," said Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser. "If he can come back to greatness, it brings people back to talking about Tiger and about Nike.

"That would lift the entire brand."

(Watch More: Tiger Woods' Big Bet on Fuse Science)

So, even if Nike Golf is a small percentage of Nike's revenue, the impact of Tiger's comeback might not be restricted to golf.

Nike already has jumped back on the Tiger bandwagon. Besides the clever ads with Rory McIlroy, Nike Golf tweeted this out on Monday: "Winning Takes Care of Everything."

It probably wasn't the best choice of words in the backdrop of Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius, but it shows one thing.

"They like to have winners," Poser said of Nike.

Also, directly on the heels of Tiger's win this week, Electronic Arts seems to be stepping up its ad campaign for "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14", splashing its commercials all over the web.

If hit numbers are any indication, nearly half a million in a day indicates Tiger's pretty popular right now.

In the end, Tiger may not win with the same frequency and dominance that he did a decade ago or be as beloved as before, but to move the proverbial needle for the likes of Nike, EA, Buick, NBC and CBS, he might not have to reach those levels.

Next month, if he wins the Masters for the first time since 2005, the Tiger Woods brand may still have a few loud detractors but they'll probably be drowned out by a storming gallery of admirers trying to catch back up to him.

Maybe Nike was right. Maybe winning does take care of everything.

(Read More: What Does Phil Mickelson Actually Pay in Taxes?)

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman; Follow him on Twitter: @bshactman

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