- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sports’ first billion-dollar man continued to watch reported mistresses line up and sponsors begin to step out over the weekend.

Accenture became the first company to announce plans to sever endorsement ties with Tiger Woods on Sunday. Gillette has tabled its ads featuring Woods. Gatorade is dropping its Woods-themed “Focus” brand, but the company said it had plans to do this before the incidents of late November that triggered the flood of revelations. And Swiss watch maker Tag Heuer said it will spend the next few weeks assessing its relationship with Woods.

But the latest company to take a closer look at its relationship with the 33-year-old golfer could hit a little closer to home.

AT&T, which has sponsored his annual golf tournament since its debut in 2007, told The Washington Times on Monday that it was “presently evaluating” its partnership with Woods and his foundation’s event.

“We support Tiger’s decision [to take an indefinite leave of absence from professional golf], and our thoughts will be with him and his family,” the company said in a statement. “We are presently evaluating our ongoing relationship with him.”

That ominous final sentence, coupled with Woods’ open-ended sabbatical, casts serious doubt on the status of this year’s AT&T National on July 1-4. After three successful years at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, the event was scheduled to begin a two-year stint at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., this season while Congressional prepares its venerable Blue Course for the 2011 U.S. Open.

Tournament director Greg McLaughlin, however, remains confident the event will move forward as planned.

“We are looking forward to another great event with the 2010 AT&T National and are thrilled about bringing the tournament to Philadelphia, which is such a great sports town,” McLaughlin said in a statement released by the Tiger Woods Foundation. “We plan to welcome 120 of the world’s best pros at Aronimink Golf Club this summer for what will be an exciting week of competition that benefits young people worldwide through the Tiger Woods Foundation.”

But will Woods, the event’s host and defending champion, be a part of that 120-player field?

Given that Woods’ primary stated professional goal always has been surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 victories in golf’s four majors, it seems likely the 14-time major champion will return for the 2010 season’s first major at the Masters in April. His past success at this season’s major venues (Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits) seemed to offer Woods the best opportunity of his career for a Grand Slam. The possibility that Woods could match both Bobby Jones (1930 Grand Slam) and Nicklaus at the PGA Championship this season would have provided the PGA Tour with a savory preseason storyline - if not for the events of Nov. 27.

In the wee hours of the morning after Thanksgiving, Woods was involved in a bizarre auto accident in his exclusive neighborhood in Orlando, Fla. That incident precipitated revelations of serial infidelity from women across the country and prompted the embattled athlete to release a mea culpa on his Web site Friday.

“I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children. I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness. It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try,” Woods wrote. “After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf. I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father and person.”

If Woods were to skip the entire golf season, the sport would be the biggest loser. Since Woods first turned pro in August 1996, he has been a one-man boon to the PGA Tour. His achievements, popularity and panache have driven purses from just under $66 million in 1996 to more than $277 million last season.

But as sordid tidbits continue leaking out, linking Woods to cocktail waitresses, models, socialites and even adult film stars, Tiger’s once-squeaky-clean image has been damaged. Though his wife, Elin, has remained mum throughout the humiliating revelations, numerous reports say she will be moving out of the couple’s mansion in Orlando after the new year, taking young children Sam Alexis and Charlie Axel with her.

His Swedish-born wife added further fuel to the separation rumors two weeks ago when she purchased a six-bedroom home on a small island near Stockholm.

• Barker Davis can be reached at bdavis@washingtontimes.com.

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