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Tiger switches to using Nike balls full time

Tiger Woods is making the switch to the swoosh. After testing a new ball during competition in Germany and in the Memorial Tournament, Woods said Thursday he will formally switch to the Nike Tour Accuracy ball when he plays the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in two weeks.

Woods finished third in the Deutsche Bank Open, and then won the Memorial last week by five strokes.

"I think it's done pretty good so far," he said last week.

The announcement officially ends a marketing conflict between Woods' top two golf sponsors -- Nike and Titleist -- that began last year when Nike entered the ball market.

Titleist argued that Nike was using Woods to promote golf balls because of two commercials -- one that showed Woods bouncing a ball off his wedge, another that showed hackers on the range belting 300-yard drives as soon as Woods showed up.

CEO Wally Uihlein contemplated a lawsuit, but instead reworked Woods' deal so that he was paid only when he used Titleist equipment in tournaments. Titleist also gave up its right to have its logo on his bag and to use Woods in advertisements.

"Clearly, these were signs and signals suggestive that different futures were in the cards for both parties," Uihlein said in a statement Thursday. "Titleist has never been about one player, but rather a 50-year history of being the most played ball by more of the best players."

Woods was in Oregon on Thursday for a dedication at Pumpkin Ridge, where he won his third straight U.S. Amateur, and to attend a Nike sales meeting.

"I understand the conflicts that were inherent in Nike's introduction of a golf ball," Woods said in a statement through IMG. "I especially appreciate the way Wally, personally, and Titleist have handled this in a professional manner."

Woods is expected to continue playing Titleist clubs.

He began testing balls earlier this year while at home in Florida, and he put the Nike ball in play for the first time in Germany.

The Tour Accuracy version he played the past two weeks is a multilayer ball that spins less, something Woods has been working on the past year.

"Obviously, it feels different," he said last week at the Memorial. "Any time you hit a two-piece ball versus a wound ball, you're going to feel a dramatic difference. But the performance, the cover, feels very similar to mine."

Woods said the wound ball tended to peak a little more in flight, while two-piece balls were more likely to be a little more flat.

"It's going to fly a little bit different. It will just take some time getting used to that," he said.

The fact Woods has officially switched balls could be a boost to Nike Golf, which only has about 1 percent of the ball market share.

"If he decides to switch, it's an earthquake," Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, said when Woods first used the ball in Germany.

Nike spokesman Mike Kelly said Woods has not officially signed a deal to play the ball.

"Our first priority is to get him the product for practice," he said. "At the same time, we'll start and continue our discussions with IMG on a short-term amendment to the current contract, and then continue our efforts on a long-term deal."

Woods has been renegotiating his five-year, $40 million deal that expires in 2001 since Augusta. Golf World Business reported that Woods' camp was looking over two proposals from Nike -- one in which he used the ball.

 

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