From the couch: Tiger’s sub-par ratings
Updated Aug 10, 2010 7:29 PM ET
Before the focus on Tiger Woods shifted from his putts to its Yiddish homonym (has it really only been since last Thanksgiving?), his exploits on the golf course were one of televised sports’ most reliable draws.
Since his return, however — despite all the talk about the dividend networks would reap from having him back on the links — a funny thing has happened. Woods has looked decidedly mortal, most recently in his dismal showing at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Indeed, it was weird tuning in Sunday and not even glimpsing Woods, who was so far back — finishing 18 over par, his worst performance since turning pro — as to have already finished and been beneath notice.
Suddenly, with the PGA Championship looming this weekend — which CBS promoted Sunday as Woods’ “one last chance to win a major this year” — breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories no longer appears a foregone conclusion.
And guess what? As Woods’ scores have risen, golf’s Nielsen ratings have sunk.
After his much-ballyhooed comeback at the Masters in April — where viewership was up nearly 20 percent vs. 2009, and Woods stayed in the hunt 'til the final round — Woods’ allure as a TV attraction has gone flaccid.
Tune-in for the Quail Hollow Championship, where he failed to make the cut, fell more than 40 percent; the AT&T tourney, which Woods won last year, fell by half; and there were significant drops for the Players Championship, Memorial Tournament and British Open, though the last of those aired on ESPN this year instead of ABC.
Overall, even with the Masters included, tourneys featuring Woods in 2010 have averaged 5.2 million viewers, nearly a 10 percent decline.
Part of this supports my long-standing theory about Woods: namely, that hand-wringing about his personal life, his endorsements, his value as a “role model,” placed a very distant second (and third and fourth) to his fiendish skills holding a club. People weren’t watching Tiger because they so profoundly admired his home life; they wanted to see him reach the green in two on a par-5.
Nor is there much interest in casual fans watching to root against him, or see him experience the indignity of looking like any weekend hacker, as he did at Bridgestone.
On its face this might be good for golf, and thus its ratings. In theory, the prospect of having Phil Mickelson assume Woods’ No. 1 ranking — Woods has occupied that lofty perch for nearly five years — ought to stoke excitement and broaden the game’s appeal, as could recent wins by international players.
But the wider-than-usual fascination enjoyed by golf was, specifically, about Woods — a young, mixed-race guy waging a one-man assault on a sport long associated with bastions of privilege. Even if Woods didn’t make it about politics, there was something cathartic, even inspiring, seeing him bring staid old Augusta, which didn’t admit an African-American member until 1990 and still excludes women, to its knees.
Today, Woods, in his mid-30s, no longer qualifies as a prodigy, and the only people likely to be more privileged are his wife’s lawyers.
So what’s the solution for golf and its fallen son? Simple, really: win. For all the righteous anger, few of those outraged by (or envious of) Woods’ extramarital dalliances will hold a grudge if he’s three strokes up in a major tourney heading into the final six holes. (Although frankly, some of us immature types will never stop giggling at how practically every golf term sounds dirty now when connected to him.)
Beyond all the fodder he provided to late-night comics, the bottom line is the networks’ golf coverage faces a rough lie in the near term if Tiger — after his extended stint in the PR sand trap — has truly lost the eye of the you-know-what.
SOURCE: FOX Sports
Tiger IS golf. He's bigger than the sport. Period.t