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Tiger Woods and Nike have ended their partnership after 27 years

Tiger Woods tees off on the 13th hole during the final round of the PNC Championship golf tournament on Dec. 17 in Orlando, Fla.
Kevin Kolczynski
Tiger Woods tees off on the 13th hole during the final round of the PNC Championship golf tournament on Dec. 17 in Orlando, Fla.

Tiger Woods is no longer a Nike athlete after 27 years, ending a partnership between the swoosh and golf's biggest star and raising questions about the future of both in the sport.

Woods in a social media post thanked Nike co-founder Phil Knight for his "passion and vision" that brought Nike and the Nike Golf partnership with Woods together.

"Over 27 years ago, I was fortunate to start a partnership with one of the most iconic brands in the world," Woods wrote. "The days since have been filled with so many amazing moments and memories, if I started naming them, I could go on forever."

Mark Steinberg, his agent at Excel Sports, confirmed the end of the deal that began in 1996 when Woods turned pro and within eight month had already won four times and shattered records in a watershed Masters victory.

"It was time for the next chapter," Steinberg told The Associated Press. "Amazing run. Great partnership."

Nike also posted to social media, saying in a photo, "It was a hell of a round, Tiger."

"Tiger, you challenged your competition, stereotypes, conventions, the old school way of thinking," the Nike post was captioned. "You challenged the entire institution of golf. You challenged us. And most of all, yourself. And for that challenge we're grateful."

Woods signed a five-year deal worth $40 million when he turned pro in 1996 after his unprecedented third straight U.S. Amateur title. It was shocking money at the time to most in the industry except Nike, and his father.

"Chump change," the late Earl Woods once said, and he was proven correct. Woods renewed the deal believed to be worth over $100 million in 2000. As recognizable as any athlete in the world, Woods became the face of Nike Golf and had his own "TW" brand.

On the golf course, Woods set records as the youngest to win the Grand Slam at age 24, the only player to hold all four major titles at the same time and his 15-shot win at the U.S. Open, the largest margin for a major in golf history.

But there were signs in recent years of a fractured relationship. Woods returned from his February 2021 car crash that shattered bones in his right leg by wearing FootJoy shoes, saying it was a better feel considering his injuries.

Woods remained in them — Nike has a long history making shoes — even until the PNC Championship last month that he played with his son.

When asked about his deal with Nike, Woods replied, "I'm still wearing their product," and sternly repeating the phrase when asked if this was the end of his deal.

More than just a face, Woods unwittingly delivered big moments for Nike, none greater than his 2005 Masters victory when he hit a pitch from below the 16th green that went up the slope and then rolled back toward the hole. The ball hung on the edge for a full second — the swoosh in full view — before it dropped. It remains one of the most famous moments in golf's most-watched tournament.

He also was filming a commercial one year when between takes, Woods began bouncing the golf ball off his club. That led to a spot where he bounced the ball off the club, between his legs, behind his back, before hitting the ball in mid-air.

"Throughout the course of our partnership, we have witnessed along with the rest of the world, how Tiger not only redefined the sport of golf, but broke barriers for all of sport," Nike said in a statement. "We watched him set records, challenge conventional thinking and inspire generations of people around the globe. We are grateful to have been a part of it. We wish him the best in the future."

Woods has won 15 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus (18), and his 82 career PGA Tour victories are tied with Sam Snead. But he has been slowed in recent years by five back surgeries, shattered ligaments in his rebuilt left knee, the 2021 car crash and age. He turned 48 at the end of last year.

Nike stood by him when his personal life imploded in 2009 over extramarital affairs, and when his schedule was reduced greatly because of leg and back injuries. Woods remarkably returned from fusion surgery to win the Masters in 2019, his fifth green jackets.

Nike also has shown signs of slowing its golf business. It decided to get out of the hard goods business in 2016, sending Woods to play different clubs and a different golf ball.

The company still has a stable of golfers wearing its apparel — including Scottie Scheffler, the world's No. 1 player who wears a "TW" brand shoe — although former No. 1 Jason Day did not renew his deal this year and switched to a different apparel company.

Woods has been optimistic that he can play once a month in 2024, which likely is to start at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles next month.

Steinberg said he was working on a new deal and that "I anticipate there could be an exciting announcement" at the Genesis Invitational.

Woods indicated the same.

"People will ask if there is another chapter," Woods wrote in his post. "Yes, there will certainly be another chapter. See you in LA!"

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]