Tiger's absence to help Asia?

2009-12-20 13:56

Tokyo - World number one Tiger Woods's absence from golf may prompt the US PGA Tour to court sponsors more aggressively in Asia, further embracing Japanese teenage star Ryo Ishikawa, a Japan Tour executive says.

The European Tour has tapped the booming Asian market over years but the US body started to look at the region only "in the past year or two," Japan Golf Tour Organisation senior director Hiroshi Yamanaka said.

"Asia is where money moves and gathers," he told AFP as global sponsors started to desert the 33-year-old American superstar following his announcement of an "indefinite" break from the game amid an infidelity scandal.

"Tiger's absence greatly affects spectator turnouts and TV ratings. It makes it still tougher for the US tour to survive on its own amid difficulties such as the pullout of various sponsors due to the subprime loan crisis," he said.

"I expect the (US) PGA to step up its approach to Japan in order to pump up its tournaments," Yamanaka added. "For example, if Ishikawa plays on the US tour, it will draw Japanese media and his sponsors may follow him there."

US and Japanese tours have been discussing the possibility of holding a joint tournament in 2011, while European and Asia ties date back to 1989, when the European Tour set up the Dubai Desert Classic.

In 1992, the Johnnie Walker Classic was established as the first event sanctioned by the European Tour in East Asia. Eurasian ties have continued to grow and in September the European Masters became the first tournament in Europe to be co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour. There are now seven joint events.

In late 2009, the US PGA Tour finally struck a deal on its first joint tournament with the Asian Tour - the Asia Pacific Golf Classic, to be staged in Malaysia next year.

The Japan Tour has been revived by Ishikawa after he won the domestic KSB Cup in 2007 at the age of 15, making him the youngest winner of any event on the world's six major tours.

Now 18, this year he made his US PGA debut and became the Japan Tour's youngest money leader.

"Ishikawa is still a raw stone and the US side may approach him in a bigger way in Tiger's absence," said Munehiko Harada, a professor of sports marketing at Tokyo's Waseda University. "We will see how much Ishikawa will rise to superstar status."

Ishikawa, an unassuming schoolboy whose main sponsor is Panasonic, has appeared in commercials for 13 companies at home this year, including All Nippon Airways, Coca-Cola and Toyota Motor.

He has sponsorship contracts with 20 companies, worth an estimated three billion yen ($33m).

With his powerful drives and aggressive short game, Ishikawa has already played six US PGA events this year, mostly on a sponsor's exemption or a special invitation.

He has played three majors, missing the cut at the Masters and the British Open and finishing tied for 56th spot at the US PGA Championship.