National Public Radio

Text from Morning Edition
May 23, 2000


Microsoft Woods
by Russell Roberts

The record-shattering performance of Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open has galvanized the Justice Department to examine his dominance of the game of golf.

According to lawyers involved in the case, Tiger Woods incredible success on the tour and his enormous earnings have reduced the amount of innovation and competition in the game. The anti-trust division claims his success has driven potential competitors into tennis and other sports.

At the heart of the case is the Tiger Woods 'operating system,' the superior coordination, stamina and concentration that makes him the greatest golfer in the world. Despite the thousands of hours of practice that honed this system, the government contends that past investments have no bearing on the current competitive environment.

Woods stands accused of using his operating system in an anti-competitive manner. Clubhouse informants quote Woods as saying, "Everyone has a chance to win on any given Sunday, but I see my chances as being as good as anyone's."

Woods defends brash remarks like these as 'normal operating procedure' in the industry. But government lawyers call such statements intimidating and say they stifle competition.

The second pillar of the Justice Department case is the alleged attempt by Woods to 'extend his monopoly' by freely dispensing smiles, good cheer and professionalism. Many golfers feel that this 'giveaway' puts them at an unfair disadvantage in the market for endorsements. As one member of the professional golfers' tour put it: "He's the best golfer in the world and he gets to be a nice guy, too?"

It's a foregone conclusion that the 24-year-old Woods will be declared a monopoly. Now the focus is on likely government remedies.

One suggestion is to ban Woods from courses that are particularly suited to his game. That might include any place with grass, greens and tees, a Justice Department lawyer said.

Another idea is to give Tiger's unlisted home telephone number to competitors so they can call him at late hours, disrupting his sleep habits and making him a crankier and less likeable fellow.

But most of the attention now centers on splitting Tiger in two. The Justice Department is struggling to implement the breakup in a sustainable fashion. One remedy would leave Woods physically intact but split his golf game into two separate enterprises. Woods would be allowed to drive off the tee, but others golfers would finish the hole.

Critics contend this would compromise the game of golf and punish the fans who love to watch Woods play. But competitors insist that Woods' market dominance requires a special kind of handicap to level the playing field.

Whatever the outcome, lengthy appeals are assured. A final resolution is expected about the time Woods moves on to the Senior Tour.