Woods Says He's Testing Nike Ball

Thursday, May 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALVESLOHE, Germany (AP) — Tiger Woods used a Nike golf ball today in the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Open, a move that could signal the end of his shaky relationship with Titleist.

It could also make Nike Golf, which has signed up several big-name players this year, a legitimate force in the equipment industry. But Woods said he hasn't decided whether to make the switch.

``I've been testing it for a few months — basically I wanted a test round on the tour,'' he said after shooting a 2-under-par 70. ``If I think, it's viable to switch, I'll switch. If not, I'll go back to my ball.''

Woods said testing the Nike under tournament conditions didn't violate his contract with Titleist, which pays him $2 million annually to use Titleist clubs and balls. It was renegotiated last year after a dispute over the popular Nike commercial that showed Woods bouncing a ball off his wedge.

``It's a huge impact for the No. 1 player in the world to be testing our product in competitive conditions,'' Bob Wood, president of Nike Golf, said Wednesday.

An industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Woods has a clause in his contract with Titleist that would allow him to terminate it on short notice.

Titleist spokesman Joe Gomes declined immediate comment.

Nike and Woods have been renegotiating his five-year, $40 million deal for more than a year and are close to a new contract, expected to at least double that amount. Those talks could be prolonged if Woods — who wears only Nike clothes, shoes and hats — decides to play its ball permanently.

Nike made a strong push into the competitive ball market this year, signing up players such as Paul Azinger, Notah Begay and British Open champion Paul Lawrie. Singing Woods would greatly enhance Nike's place in the golf equipment industry.

``Let's say he does switch. That would be huge for us,'' Wood said. ``Golf is a business where it's tough on the equipment side to break through. For him to play our product says a lot about it.''

Nike said Woods has been testing the ball since the beginning of the year, although Wednesday was the first time he has used it publicly in a competitive situation.

``We know this is part of a testing process,'' Wood said. ``We could have more work to do, and that's fine. He's going to tell us what he wants to do, and we'll listen and be responsive to his needs. The thing about Tiger is he's completely about winning. He'll only change if he feels it will help him play better.''

Titleist and Nike wrangled over Woods last year because of the commercials.

One spot showed Woods bouncing a ball behind his back and between his legs. Another showed Woods and a dozen other players hitting 300-yard drives in sync. Titleist complained that both ads misled viewers into believing Woods endorsed the Nike golf ball.

It was resolved when Titleist reworked its contract with Woods. While the money was cut in half to $2 million per year, Titleist was no longer allowed to use Woods' image in any promotions.