CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Tiger Woods is on course to become the first billionaire athlete with the popular U.S. golfer proving a marketing dream, according to Forbes Magazine.
Woods, who won the U.S. Open last month despite a bad knee, is on track to exceed $1 billion in career earnings by 2010 after earning $115 million in 2007, said the American magazine which publishes an annual list of the world's richest people.
Forbes in Wednesday's edition said it would take 32-year-old Woods a bit longer to actually pocket that amount as taxes and management fees eat into his prize and endorsement money.
The calculation was based on Woods' estimated earnings in the annual rich list dating back to 1996, when he turned pro, and also credited the world number one golfer with annualised investment returns of 8 percent.
"Based on those criteria, we project Tiger Woods should join our list of the world's billionaires in 2011," said the magazine. "It will be an unprecedented occurrence."
The magazine said there are plenty of billionaires who have excelled at sports, like Switzerland's richest man and champion sailor Ernesto Bertarelli, but no billionaires who have accumulated their fortune by playing sports.
Woods has been a sports marketing phenomenon.
A golf prodigy as a child, his recent U.S. Open victory was his 14th major championship and he has won 50 tournaments on the PGA Tour faster than any player.
But prize money only accounts for about a tenth of his earnings with the rest coming from lucrative endorsement deals signed by the exceptionally popular player with companies that include Nike, Buick and Gillette.
Sports drink maker Gatorade recently launched a new line of drinks called Gatorade Tiger.
The magazine said Woods would earn about $90 million in endorsement contracts this year. Over the course of his career, he has earned more than $750 million from such deals.
Woods is not playing again this season after undergoing knee surgery a few weeks ago.