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Why Justin Thomas says golf has Tiger Woods to thank for 'unbelievable' prize money, attention

Michelle Fox

Tiger Woods is no longer golf's reigning king, but he still steals the show — and that's just fine with 2017 PGA champ Justin Thomas.

In fact, while Woods hasn't scored a major title in a decade, he was the main attraction last weekend at the U.S. PGA Championship. He ultimately came in second place, behind Brooks Koepka.

Thomas, who played at the championship and tied for sixth place, said Woods helped get the game, and the prize money, where it is today.

"I don't think I even understand all that Tiger's done for the game of golf," he said in a recent interview with " Closing Bell " on CNBC.

"The purses we play for are just unbelievable compared to when he first got on tour and those are because of people like him," added Thomas, who scored $1.89 million in prize money when he took the championship in 2017.

The total purse of the 2018 PGA Championship was $11 million, up from $10.5 million last year. Koepka took home $1.98 million, while Woods received just under $1.19 million.

Woods' career took off in 1997, when he became the youngest man and first African American to win the U.S. Masters. In all, he's taken home 14 majors.

Woods "deserves every bit of the attention and the accolades and everything that he gets," Thomas added.

Still, Woods has struggled in the wake of a raft of personal problems that were made public since 2009. His extramarital affairs, which led to his eventual divorce, were front-page news. A DUI charge, injuries and surgeries have also plagued the star.

Now Woods has appeared to have found his footing, launching a striking comeback this year. He attracted a lot of fanfare in his return to the Masters earlier this year, but tied for 32nd place. However, his second-place win at the PGA Championship helped push him up to No. 20 in the FedEx Cup.

He also remains the highest paid golfer thanks to lucrative endorsement deals. While he's currently ranked 26th in the world golf rankings, in the world, Forbes estimates that Woods still made $43.3 million in 2017.

—CNBC's Abigail Hess and Reuters contributed to this report.