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Tiger's form could alter TV deal negotiations

The PGA Tour always has had an impeccable sense of timing when it comes to negotiating television contracts.

Tiger Woods shattered records at the 1997 Masters, becoming the youngest winner (21) by the widest margin (12 shots) and giving golf its highest TV rating (14.1) in the cable era. The tour met with networks a month later and reached a four-year deal worth about $650 million, twice as much as the previous contract.

The summer after Woods completed his "Tiger Slam" by winning his fourth consecutive major at the '01 Masters, the tour negotiated a 2003-06 contract worth close to $900 million

What also helped is that the deal was done in July, two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks plunged the economy into a deep recession.

The next round of negotiations might be stickier.

The tour is expected to start meeting with networks next summer, and Tigermania is at an all-time low. Woods has gone 10 majors without winning, matching the longest drought of his career.

His only victory this year was in February, and three players -- Vijay Singh, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is optimistic as ever.

Even though Woods has proven to be the only player who can spike ratings, Finchem finds compelling story lines with Phil Mickelson winning his first major and contending in the other three and Singh's pursuit of Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking and having a chance to break his single-season earnings record.

Finchem also noted that with the economy slowly turning around, the tour already has signed up 10 title sponsors through 2010, the end of the next TV contract.

"I think we're in a reasonably good place," Finchem said recently. "I don't think we're going to see the kind of growth rate over the next five years that we've seen in the past five or six years.

"On the other hand, we're going to see growth in our charitable contributions, growth in our purses and growth in the overall fan base.

"And that's what is important in the long run."

Complicating matters is that the PGA Tour probably will have to get in line with it comes to a new TV contract. The networks face a busy year in negotiating deals with the NFL and NASCAR

"It's going to limit golf's flexibility," said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports.

"They take a lot of money out of the market."

Pilson also is concerned about the rising cost of doing business in golf.

He said network profit margins are not nearly as high as they were. He is not, however, convinced that networks are losing money on golf.

Finchem attributes any shrinking margins to the state of the economy.

"We just had a three-year recession," he said.

One area where there is little room for debate is the ratings, which clearly are tied to Woods' performance.

David Toms recently asked Finchem what he thought about so many international players winning.

What prompted the question was upcoming TV negotiations.

"I've had a couple of older players, even Senior tour players, say with the TV deal coming up, it would be great for Tiger to be winning and dominating," Toms said.

"Because TV ratings go up when he's playing well."

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