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Tiger Woods Can Play Hardball Too

Anybody who thinks Tiger Woods plays a mean game of golf ought to see him play hardball.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem got the chance Tuesday morning, up close and personal. There, tucked in alongside his coffee and English muffin was a copy of Golf World magazine in which Woods sent a Roger Clemens-style fastball (bat included free) whistling underneath his chin.

In a half-hour interview at last weekend's Tour Championship, Woods used the loaded word ``monopoly'' to describe the way Finchem and his merry band of men conduct some of the business of the PGA Tour. He said he'd be happy to say the same thing to the commissioner's face — even though they hardly speak.

``The only time he talks to me,'' Woods said, ``is when he wants me to do something for him. To play in this tournament or that tournament. It's not like he comes up to me and asks me how I'm doing.''

A frosty relationship with the commissioner is hardly Woods' only complaint. He is unhappy with things large and small.

He wants to keep more of the money he is generating. He is tired of the way the PGA Tour uses him to market itself, tired of being pressured to play more tournaments so it can wring more money from TV and advertisers, and tired — maybe more than anything — of Finchem assuming that he's got Tiger by the tail.

Months after it happened, Woods is still fuming over the tour's refusal to allow his father, Earl, to ride in a golf cart to follow the ``Showdown at Sherwood,'' his made-for-TV battle with David Duval that dumped more millions into the tour's coffers.

Asked how serious his conflict with Finchem & Co., is, Woods said, ``Serious enough that if we don't make everyone aware of it now, it could escalate into a bigger situation.''

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, it should. Specifically, reference some of the statements made in the not-too-distant past by Michael Jordan and Greg Norman.

Jordan was the first athlete to climb into the endorsement stratosphere, but realized too late exactly how much rain he was making. For all the money Jordan made for himself — and his personal fortune is estimated at something like $450 million — he made 20 times that for other people. Woods put the PGA Tour on notice that he won't make the same mistake; his $100 million deal with Nike is proof of that.

Norman was the last athlete to propose that the stars of golf run their own show. In 1994, he went public with plans to launch a world golf tour, backed by Fox Sports and a Florida-based firm with some experience running tournaments, guaranteeing the top 30 players in the world a minimum of $290,000 a year.

Finchem squashed that uprising within weeks by threatening to enforce the ``conflicting events'' rules requiring players to get his permission to play in outside events. Three years later, he launched a world tour of his own.

Norman's problems were bad timing, small thinking and harboring ambitions grander than his drawing power. Woods won't make those mistakes.

He knows exactly how much of the show he is. The PGA Tour hasn't turned into the bum-of-the-month club yet, but there is no doubt who all those new people tuning in to golf want to see. TV ratings rise by 40 percent when Woods plays a tournament and by nearly 100 percent when he is on the leaderboard through the weekend.

Equally important, he commands an army of lawyers and power brokers to match anything Finchem can mobilize. When Woods says he wants more control over his schedule, over the use of his image AND his own piece of the pie when the new television deal is struck next spring, that's not a wish list, it's a list of demands.

And what Woods wants, he usually gets. His cabal at International Management Group, the most powerful agency in golf, would like nothing better than to cut into the PGA Tour's near-monopoly of the sport. IMG already designs, builds, owns and maintains courses in Europe, where it stages tournaments, produces the broadcasts and represents a majority of the golfers in the field.

Put Woods at the top of a list that includes some of the agency's other prominent clients — Duval, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, Jesper Parnevik — and a breakaway tour hardly seems like an impossible dream.

Woods knows the tour needs him more than he needs its sanction or logo. He can play all the majors and get exemptions to get into the field at any other tournament he desires — without Finchem's blessing.

If the commissioner is smart, he'll pick up the phone and begin addressing every concern Woods has raised before he has a full-fledged revolt on his hands. Woods is no bomb-thrower, but like Clemens, he is dead-set on winning and willing to throw the broken end of a bat next, if that's what it takes to get his way.


Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
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