Timothy A. Clary/AFP-Getty
Tiger Woods, as all the world—whether golf fans or not—knows, is back. What the future holds for his playing success, reputation, or marketability is up in the air as he tees off in this year's Masters. But it is easy enough to see that, whatever the hype-fueled expectations that greeted his professional debut in the summer of 1996, he has not changed the world that is this week so intently following his return to the links. What may not be as easy to see is that he has not even changed the wider world of golf.
True, he has led the professional golf tour to record levels of corporate sponsorships, television audiences, and prize money. He has made a lot of his competitors rich beyond what would have been possible without him. But to get a handle on the true impact he has had on the golf world, the place to look is not a television ratings sheet or the PGA money list or even the tabloids, but is instead the Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually by the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"Tiger Woods wants to be an ambassador of change in golf,'' a Nike spokesman announced when Woods turned professional, multi-million dollar Nike endorsement contract in hand. The dry-as-dust tables of the Statistical Abstract reveal whether that grand proclamation has played out in practice.