Golf insiders hate when you say it, but it’s tough for them to deny it. Here we are, 10 years after Tiger Woods last won the Masters, and he is still the biggest draw in the sport.
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In fact, you could argue he’s the only draw. The whole thing doesn’t seem right. Golf has no shortage of seemingly marketable young stars. Who doesn’t want to watch an affable Irishman do things that almost nobody else can do?
Well, we don’t. Sorry Rory McIlroy.
Surely a 21-year-old talented Texan would be enough to bring in the big numbers and make us all forget about Eldrick. Actually no. Sorry Jordan Spieth. You’re not moving the needle. At least not yet.
The CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz has said he thinks Tiger is getting too much attention, at the expense of rising stars like the aforementioned McIlroy. Woods, Nantz argues, hasn’t won the Masters in a decade, while McIlroy has managed to win four majors since 2011. That’s all true, but you can’t fault reporters for writing about Tiger.
He’s still the story, even when he stinks.
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Back in his prime, television ratings would fall 25% when Woods didn’t play in a tournament. He’s been out of that so-called prime now for about 9 years. Nine years! But last year, the PGA Tour ratings were terrible. Average weekend numbers on Comcast's NBC (CMCSA) were down 18%, (CBS) saw a decline of 14% and even the Golf Channel experienced a 9% drop. Tiger Woods played in only 7 tournaments in 2014, and when he did play, he usually didn’t do very well.
Now let’s look at the Masters. As we’ve established, Tiger hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005, but when he plays, people watch. It’s that simple. From 2006 through 2013, Tiger finished no lower than sixth. That helped TV ratings. In 2010, after a confrontation with his angry wife at the driveway of their home, Tiger came back to play the Masters – and the ratings shot up 22%. When Tiger did not play in 2014, the numbers plummeted, and the tournament’s ratings were its worst since 1993.
So Jim Nantz may be right. Maybe Tiger Woods doesn’t deserve this much attention. But he’s still getting it, and he’s getting it from the general public, not just from the media. As long as that continues, golf still needs Tiger. And that’s a problem.
Sorry Rory and Jordan.