If there was any doubt how far Tiger Woods has fallen - out of the world's top 10, not to mention out of golf altogether, thanks to injuries - those doubts may have been erased with this press release out of Nagoya, Japan:
"Kowa Company Ltd. is pleased to announce the use of Tiger Woods as the image character of Antiphlogistic Analgetic Vantelin Kowa series," the company said on Wednesday.
Antiphlogistic Analgetic Vantelin Kowa series?
Yes, Tiger will be the pitchman for a Japanese version of Ben-Gay.
Woods has been sidelined since May 12 with knee and Achilles injuries. So presumably, he has been using lots of heat rub in the past six weeks.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka has also done commercials for the same product. (Matsuzaka, like Woods, is relegated to this kind of stuff because he just had elbow reconstruction surgery.)
Selling products with Kanji subtitles is nothing new for Woods. He did commercials for canned iced coffee in Japan in the late 90s. And it certainly helps keep the beleaguered golfer at the top of at least one list - Sports Illustrated's top-earning U.S. athletes.
Once upon a time, Tiger pulled in $90 million a year in endorsements but his off-the-course transgressions prompted Accenture, AT&T and Gatorade to drop him. In that light, signing any sort of TV sponsorship deal could be viewed as a reverse of fortunes for the golfer.
But landing "Vantelin Kowa" isn't exactly a coup. There's a laughable, sometimes cringe-worthy, aspect to American stars doing commercials in Japan - especially for celebs on the decline. (See Bill Murray's character pitching Suntory whiskey in Lost in Translation).
Obviously, American stars are more willing to sell beer and cars (and heat rub) in Japan because there's a lower risk of negative publicity and a higher reward to their bank accounts. But in this age of YouTube, stars still jeopardize tarnishing their images with ill-advised endorsements.
The dubbed lunacy and head-scratching plotlines that epitomize many 30-second spots in Japan may serve as a perfect metaphor for Tiger's last two years.
Tiger, who is suddenly sporting a beard that is vaguely reminiscent of the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, is already walking that fine line between struggling superstar and hobbled has-been. Espousing the magical powers of a geriatric cream may reinforce the latter perception.
On Tuesday, Woods said he will return to golf when he is fully healthy, but in the meantime, the 35-year-old is playing dad.
"What's actually really tough to watch now all the time is 'Dora,'" he said. "That song is just brutal."
Hopefully, when Tiger's heat rub commercial debuts nationally in Japan in mid-July, it won't be seen as a "brutal" reminder of Tiger's already tenuous image taking a kamikaze nosedive.