(The Root) — Everything in life is relative, and sports are no different.
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has signed two $200 million contracts during his career, earning $275 million from his present employer after getting $252 million from the Texas Rangers. Kobe Bryant has cashed Los Angeles Lakers paychecks worth $221 million thus far, with another $27.8 due next season. Ferrari once paid Finnish driver Kimi Räikkönen $153 million to race its cars for three years.
But a PGA Tour golfer reaching nine figures in career earnings was unprecedented … until Monday. It's fitting that Tiger Woods is the first to pass the mark, because he's the main reason prize money has risen so drastically since he debuted as a pro.
"It just means that I've come along at the right time," Woods said Wednesday, on the eve of the BMW Championship. "We've had purse increases. Sam Snead won more tournaments than I did, and obviously he didn't make the money that I did, just because it was a different era. I think, all that said, I'm not opposed to it."
No one on the tour should mind, either, even though Woods' presence tends to overshadow everyone else and whole tournaments at times. It took some getting used to, a black kid from Stanford who hadn't won a pro event but who drew larger galleries and more face time on TV. He finished tied for 66th place in the 1996 Milwaukee Open and cashed his first PGA Tour paycheck, good for $2,544.
Monday, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Wood finished third to win $544,000, pushing him past the $100 million milestone. Afterward he downplayed his impact on the spiraling golf money. "It's just that we happened to time it up right and happened to play well when the purses really had a nice spike up," he said. "It was nice to have a nice start to my career, and I won some majors early. I think we got some interest in the game of golf."
He certainly did, creating "the Tiger effect." Attendance and TV ratings soar when he plays a tournament — even more so when he's in contention — and they lag when he doesn't show up or doesn't fare well. But he was the rising tide that lifted other boats, namely his fellow players.
The competition has reaped the benefits, even though it hasn't been able to keep up. Woods has earned 50 percent more than Vijay Singh ($66.8 million), who is No. 2 on the all-time list. Besides Singh, only two other golfers have reached even $50 million in earnings: Phil Mickelson, also at $66.8 million, and Jim Furyk, at $51.9 million.
Woods can add another $10 million to his career earnings before the PGA Tour season is complete. But, as I said, everything is relative.
While Rodriguez, Bryant and Räikkönen, among other athletes, have made well in excess of $100 million, that's still chump change for Woods. In 2009 he became the first athlete to crack $1 billion in career earnings, if you throw in endorsement deals.
I can hear Woods now: Top that.