Is Tiger the New Hemline for Stocks?

Tiger Woods
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Tiger Woods

Is Tiger Woods the new hemline?

Traditionally the stock market has risen and fallen in sync with the length of women’s dresses, an indicator that has lost its relevance as hemlines no longer obey any standard.

But as Tiger Woods tees off today at the Masters Tournament in Augusta as the favorite for the first time since his private life blew up in the late fall of 2009, the stock market has finished a bracing first quarter in which indexes rose in the range of 12 percent.

We’re not the only ones noting that Tiger and Wall Street traders appear to be on the same page. Earlier this week, The New York Times pounced on the news from the weekend that Tiger Woods had won his first tournament in two and a half years—923 days, to be exact—just 10 days after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed above 1,400 for the first time in 951 trading days.

This was enough for the Times to announce, “They’re back!”

Irrantional exuberance? Perhaps. But on further inspection, there are some uncanny commonalities between the market and Tiger’s recent success.

Note that his best result of 2011 was a fourth-place finish at last year’s Masters. That capped a small run of good fortune for Tiger, in which he finished in the top 10 in two of three tournaments, followed by the S&P’s best two months in almost two years.

By August, Tiger was back in the soup, missing the cut in the PGA Championship on a day when the S&P had dived again to 1,178.81. After a positive blip at the end of October, the index stumbled again before beginning its sustained rise to last Friday’s 1,408.47. Tiger similarly spent the rest of 2011 winning — taking first place in two unofficial tournaments, the Presidents’ Cup and the Chevron World Challenge. In his last three tournament finishes, he’s done no worse than tied for second.

It is estimated that Tiger’s marital episode cost him some $22 million in sponsorships in 2009 alone, as AT&T and Accenture, among others, abandoned him in the wake of his well-publicized flight from his Florida home after an apparent disagreement with his wife.

Though he remains America's top-earning athlete, Tiger’s golf winnings naturally collapsed during his dry spell as well, quailing to $1,294,765 from $10,867,052 from his peak in 2007, an 88 percent drop. The S&P 500 has lost only 53 percent from its historic high — also in 2007. Is it mere chance that the two enjoyed their peaks in the same year?

We’d never suggest anyone make investments based on past coincidence. But anyone rooting for the market this week can feel justified rooting for Tiger at the Masters at the same time.

Then again, if on Sunday evening the green jacket belongs to Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old phenom from Belfast who blew a lead last year at Augusta, perhaps it’s time to start looking for the comeback of another Tiger—the Irish one.