Tiger Returns to the Scene of the Crime, but He's Still Not Out of the Woods
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Tiger Woods arrived in Melbourne for the Australian Masters in a blaze of glory. He was on track to becoming the sporting world's first billionaire and celebrated as one of the greatest golfers in history. He then went on to win the tournament by two shots, taking out his 71st PGA victory.
This year Tiger defends his title in very different circumstances. He has slipped to number two in the world golf rankings, he's been through a $110 million dollar divorce settlementand his current trip to Victoria is causing quite a stir as the State gets ready to go to the polls.
A number of politicians are fuming that tax payers are footing the bill for half of Tiger's $3 million appearance fee. Last year the government justified this expense by saying the investment returned $34 million dollars to the Victorian economy. This year, however, the $1.5 million investment gets a golfer that hasn't won a tournament in 12 months.
"Victorian families are desperately short of hospital beds, police and trains, and taxpayers' money should be spent on these urgent needs rather than appearance fees for golfers," Victoria's Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said through a statement.
"As this is a successful commercial event, the organizers should pay for Tiger Woods to appear," the statement said.
Greens upper house member Greg Barber suggested to CNBC that he was more concerned with where the $1.5 million might end up.
"Almost any other use of the money would be better than paying him to fly in and fly out. I won't speculate on what he does with the money, but depending on what he does do, we could see it ploughed back into the local economy," Barber said.
The Victorian government, however, is standing by its guns. They're betting sports-mad Victorians will forgive Tiger, his string of extra marital infidelities, and turn up in droves to witness his performance, on the course.
Premier John Brumby insists that despite his recent fall from grace, Tiger still offers good value for money and will draw the crowds.
"He was on top of the world last year, he has been down and the question is - can he come up again and win this event? I think the eyes of the world will be on him and he might come out and just smash 'em," said Brumby.
But it remains to be seen whether he will "smash" the Australian public. Tickets to the Australian Masterslast year were sold out weeks in advance. This year, organizers are hoping 70,000 people will walk through the gates, well short of the 100,000 plus fans that saw Tiger take the trophy last year.
In addition to the political storm, Tiger will have another reason to reflect on the Australian Masters. It was at this event last year that nightclub manager Rachel Uchitel was spotted by a reporter from the National Enquirer, prompting speculation that the two were having an affair. Two days later, Tiger crashed his SUV into a tree near his house in Florida, when the web of deceit began to unravel. The rest, is history.
Tiger is hoping the next 12 months will be much better than the last.