Golf: McIlroy threatens Tiger as the face of golf

AUGUSTA, United States (AFP) - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is pushing Tiger Woods as the world's most marketable golfer, and one survey out on the eve of the Masters says he has surpassed Woods.

SportsBusiness Daily released a poll of 40 industry marketers, tournament directors and media members Wednesday that saw McIlroy win the nod with 56 per cent of first-place votes to Woods with 30 per cent.

In the US-based newspaper's points ranking, Woods was third behind McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, who had only 9 per cent of top votes but was named on 84 per cent of ballots to only 65 per cent for Woods.

Ed Kiernan, formerly of GMR Marketing and Peter Jacobsen Sports, told the newspaper that Woods must find top form once more to restore his top pitchman status.

"Nike largely markets performance on the field of play, not off it," Kiernan said.

"He holds no value to a performance brand like Nike or others unless he can again regain his form on the golf course. His value to endemics changes the moment if/when he wins another major, but his value to non-endemics is lost forever."

But not all the day's news was bad for Woods, who ends a two-month hiatus to improve his game this week at the 79th Masters at Augusta National.

Woods, who has fallen to 111th in the world rankings, remains king of the sport's marketing values according to a business study released Wednesday by the Repucom sports marketing date group.

Woods, 39, has an 81 per cent global awareness while McIlroy has only a 33 per cent mark.

But The Masters and other majors this year could prove decisive in how long Woods remains in the eye of sponsors and sports equipment makers.

Woods still has a major drawing power. Repucom said that of the 85 per cent of people they surveyed in the United States who declared they would watch the Masters on television, 12 per cent said they would not bother if Woods was not playing.

"The reason why Tiger is still regarded so highly as a marketing force is the fact that he is recognised. His high profile is really what is ensuring he stays at a relatively high level in terms of his overall marketability," said a Repucom spokesman.

But he has already lost some marketing battles to McIlroy.

The Irishman recently replaced Woods as the new face of the official PGA Tour video game.

McIlroy now has sponsorship deals worth more than US$40 million (S$54 million) a year and his global recognition is higher than young rivals Jordan Spieth and Fowler combined, according to the study.

Repucom chief executive Paul Smith said: "There is an "exciting generational shift in the sport" and "the majors will, this year, play an even greater role in shaping who brands align themselves to".