Rory McIlroy Tops Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods Among World's Most Marketable Athletes

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 07: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark the World's Number One female tennis player during his practice round as a preview for the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majilis Course at the Emirates Golf Club on February 7, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy has everything a sponsor could ask for -- a major championship, a warm smile, and a beautiful girlfriend.

Bubba Watson may be a popular winner of this year’s Masters Tournament, but he’s no Rory McIlroy when it comes to raking in dough for sponsors.

So says SportsProMedia, which tapped the young golfer from Northern Ireland as the second most marketable athlete in the world, top-ranked LPGA Tour star Yani Tseng as No. 10, Watson as 20th, and a “resurgent’ Tiger Woods as 47th out of 50. (For extra credit, name the most marketable athlete in the world. Answer below).

In its third year of ranking the "World's 50 Most Marketable Athletes," SportsPro weighed several factors, with the most critical being sports figures' marketing potential and the value they provide endorsers. Noting that forecasting future money-making potential was hardly a science, SportsPro said it was too soon to know what Watson (“with a swing only a mother could love”), or media magnets like the New York Jets' Tim Tebow (No. 9) and NBA star Jeremy Lin (21) would be worth to sponsors in the future.

Indeed, his playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen at Augusta National could be “a wonderful one-off,” or the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Bubba and corporate America. Companies searching for “an everyman kind of champion” to follow “the once relentless Tiger Woods” could do worse than endorsing “a most unorthodox winner of golf’s most traditional event,” SportsPro stated.

Tseng, who, like Watson and Woods, made the SportsPro roll call for the first time, has already inked seven-figure deals with Adams Golf, Oakley, Lacoste, Titleist, and Taiwan Mobile. Her “unquestionable” appeal as Taiwan’s “golden girl” gave Tseng “limitless potential” as a marketer’s dream, according to SportsPro.

Then there was Woods. Some two and a half years after his sex scandal lost him a host of deep-pocketed backers, the value of the former No. 1 was ascending yet again. Tiger’s rebound with sponsors and, to some extent, on the course, indicated “that big names can, albeit for the wrong reasons, again come to offer the kind of value for money they once did,” according to SportsPro.

“The storm of hype between his first PGA Tour win in over two years at March’s Arnold Palmer Invitational...and his underwhelming five-over-par showing in the Masters at Augusta suggest that while a rejuvenated sport does not need him as much as it feared, it still thrills at having him around,” said SportsPro, echoing similar sentiments that accompanied Forbes' recent choice of Woods as the world’s most powerful athlete. “He remains prickly in interviews but ignominy could soften him....Tiger the underdog, human and fallible, may yet have market appeal.”

With all marketing possibilities available to the world’s most renowned golfers, it was McIlroy, who -- after bouncing back from his 2011 Masters meltdown to win the U.S. Open in record-breaking fashion -- represented everything a sponsor could want in a global pitchman.

“The hard-hitting Northern Irishman with the easy gait and the warm smile came of age in 2011,” SportsPro gushed. “Around the world, course-side spectators will him on with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for sons and daughters, while global television audiences, powerless nail-biters in front of television sets, root for the life-loving local lad with the attractive tennis-playing girlfriend as if his ongoing adventure, which has taken him across America and beyond from the Shire-like haven of County Down, were a serialized drama of epic proportions.”

Wow. Which "Downton Abbey" character did McIlroy play again? (Rory Mac's main squeeze, Caroline Wozniacki, by the way, came in at No. 13 in your SportsPro program).

McIlroy’s comfort with the media and over-the-top star appeal represented a world of “eye-watering riches” from potential endorsements of Audemars Piguet, Footjoy, Jumeirah, Oakley, Skins, Sunseeker, and Titleist products, SportsPro predicted. No surprise that McIlroy’s new management firm, Horizon Sports Management, reps all those companies.

* (Answer: 20-year-old Brazilian international soccer player Neymar.)

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