The most famous golfer in the world will help Akron say goodbye to its Bridgestone Invitational tournament beginning Thursday.
This is the last year for the event that Tiger Woods has won eight times. He’s been trying to rebuild a career that was sidelined by a series of scandals and injuries.
"He literally owned the course and the tournament in a short period of time," Pluto said. "He's one of, if not the greatest of all time. Not only because of the greatness of his game but the marketing, too."
Woods has been climbing back after his career was derailed by a sex scandal and a stint in rehab, along with some major injuries. After finishing tied for sixth in last week's British Open, he's back into the top 50 in the world ranking, qualifying for Bridgestone.
"When we see somebody who's been disgraced, embarrassed and humbled and starts to come back, there's something that draws us in," Pluto said. "Either you want to see him come all the way back or maybe you want to see him fail because you are angry for what he did before."
And Pluto said Tiger will always draw a huge crowd.
"At any tournament, the camera just goes to Tiger. Even some of the tournaments where he was fighting to make the cut after the second day, people were following him, and he had the biggest gallery," he said.
"As Tiger declined and then disappeared, the PGA has had some really good golfers, but nobody to really generate the buzz of Tiger," he said.
Pluto said Woods is hungry to win one more at Akron.
"He's had so much excellent history here, and it's a place he feels very comfortable," he said. "You know the fans will go crazy for him. It's like a home game for him, even though he's from the West Coast."
A bittersweet ending
It will be a bittersweet ending for the tournament. Earlier this year, the PGA announced the Bridgestone Invitational will move to Memphis in 2019, with FedEx as the major sponsor.
Akron will instead get the Senior Players Championship from July 8 to 14, 2019. That contract is through 2022.
Pluto said the most disappointing aspect of the move is the hit local charities will take.
Bridgestone Invitational and Northern Ohio Golf Charities in 2017 donated more than $1 million to 41 Northeast Ohio organizations, bringing the total to more than $27 million since 1984.
In contrast, this year's Senior Players Championship held in July donated about $500,000 to five Chicago-area charities, near where the event was held.
"When they cut that budget in half, a lot of good people are getting cut out who really use this money well," Pluto said.