Tiger Woods strolls into our interview room in New York's W Hotel (HOT). He's wearing jeans, Nike (NKE) gym shoes, a white T-shirt, and wraparound sunglasses. While recovering from knee surgery, Woods is sidelined from golf tournaments and spending more time on his business dealings. But even at his desk in his Orlando office, he is the plain-clothes type. "My dad used to say," Tiger tells me, " 'Just because you dress up in a coat and tie, it doesn't influence your intelligence.' "
I'm tempted to yank the tie from around my neck. But then I stop, resisting the pull of his celebrity, which has mesmerized so many. Woods' fashionable on-course golf wear has made Nike the No. 1 seller of golf apparel worldwide, with more than $300 million in revenue. While he's rehabbing his knee—fans will recall how he winced his way to victory at the U.S. Open in June—sports valuation experts estimate Nike could be out more than $70 million in swoosh exposure. Buick (GM) executives are sweating, as well. Since Woods showed up in its car ads in 2000, sales have climbed steadily among the under-40 crowd. His connection with fans is the reason earnings for PGA Tour players have surged 200% since 1998, to an estimated $374.5 million.
So it's little wonder that this year, a panel of sports experts voted him No. 1 in BusinessWeek's second annual Power 100 list of the most influential people in the sports business. "Tiger is such a powerful international presence," says Sean McManus, president of CBS (CBS) News and Sports. "There aren't two or three people in the world that are more famous than Tiger."
For all his fist-pumping bravado on the course, Woods, 32, comes across as a humble guy in person. This is a man who will make some $90 million from sponsors this year and has earned more than $750 million in endorsements throughout his 12-year career—plus more than $82 million from his 65 PGA Tour titles. Of course, he owns a yacht and a gargantuan estate. Yet except for his wedding ring and watch, he doesn't do bling. Advertisers say he's easy to work with, and he doesn't push for preferential treatment on the PGA Tour. "He has never said, 'I absolutely think such-and-such has to be this way,' " says PGA Tour Commissioner Timothy W. Finchem.
But make no mistake: Woods is hands on. A self-described "gamer" since the days of Atari's Pong, Woods has spent hours with programmers at Electronic Arts (ERTS) explaining how putts roll on the courses the pros play, so virtual greens in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game series are contoured like actual ones. "He is a stickler for perfection," says EA Sports President Peter Moore.
These days, Woods is throwing himself into a new endeavor. He arrived in New York fresh from a tour of Al Ruwaya, a 7,800-yard, par 72 course in Dubai, the first he's designed. In the three hours Woods spent walking the course, he offered lots of approval, says Bryon C. Bell, president of Tiger Woods Design, but occasionally requested changes, such as a sand bunker on the fourth hole that he wanted moved from the left side of the fairway to the right for better balance.
After Woods and I have talked for close to 30 minutes, I get a nod from his agent that our time is nearly up. Tiger has other engagements, including a taping of Late Night with Conan O'Brien, meetings with EA Sports executives, and that night, hanging out with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. Woods has no time to go back to the W Hotel's presidential suite to change. No matter. He swaps his jeans and T-shirt for a black suit—no tie, of course—right on the spot. As he changes, I ask about his injured knee. "Getting better," he says. "I'm busting my ass to try and get back."
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