Just think about this for a minute. When you go to work or sit around with your friends and golf comes up, what closely follows? Tigers name. It is just that simple. Disregard, for a minute, the avid golfer who watched before there was a Tiger and would watch after there is a Tiger. He or she loves the game, the purity of it and the grace. That’s not most people. Most people watch to see how Tiger does, plain and simple. TV viewership suffers every week Tiger does not play or when he is out of contention on a Sunday. The world does not care if Stewart Cink or Jason Day can hang on and win. They care if there is a fist pump waiting on the 72nd hole, a sight in golf that belongs to the one and only Tiger Woods.
When I talk about Tiger I do not mean everything Tiger was before the fateful night in November of 2009. I am not referring to the pitch man with the squeaky clean image. Not the robotic person devoid of personal insight. Not the man that scripted his every move to control his carefully calculated image. Not the man who searched for a swing coach to bring him back to his normal stature. I’m speaking of Tiger 2.0. The guy who has the lead on Sunday and won before the tees were pegged into the ground because everyone knew they could not catch him. The man who quietly struck fear and doubt into all his competitors because they knew if they were both at their best they simply could not win.
In fact the human Tiger 2.0 might be the best rating asset the PGA tour has ever known, bigger than when Tiger version1.0 first busted onto the scene in the 1990s. Now for some there is a layer of hate or dislike for the new Tiger. The man who is not the perfect role model everyone thought. This fallible Tiger sparks emotion into people the world over now more than ever, creating a feeling inside everyone’s gut, whether pro or con. Tiger version 2.0 will have people watching to see him succeed or cheering for him to fail. Either way, they will watch.
Can you directly correlate Tiger to ratings? Not without other factors but there is no doubt he is a key reason for ratings increases. Sports Media Watch does an exceptional job breaking down ratings and has followed the “Tiger Woods Effect” for years. In a recent piece about the record ratings at Doral they made a point most of us would not be shocked with:
“Of the past 14 PGA-sanctioned tournaments won by Woods, each has had a double-digit increase in final round ratings.”
In 2011 Tiger played in nine sanctioned PGA Tour events excluding his event, the Tavistock Cup and the Presidents Cup. He made a full return in 2012 playing 19 events with multiple top-25s, top-10s and a few wins. What happened with the ratings? Well according to Sports Media Watch:
” Of the 70 PGA Tour telecasts on CBS, NBC and ESPN, a whopping 50* had increases in ratings compared to the previous edition of the tournament. Furthermore, 42 telecasts were up double-digits, and 23 increased by at least 50%.”
Sure in the time that Tiger fell off his game we experienced the explosion of Rory McIlroy and the growth of the CharlSwartzel’s, Web Simpson’s and Hunter Mahan’s of the golf community but short of Rory there is no real draw to these players. Like I said before, the avid golfer will learn their names and love the game they play but the casual fan just won’t care. The Rory explosion was swift and he quickly became a media darling and just as quickly has drawn the ire of the same media. He will be a fixture but doesn’t cast the same shadow that Tiger does. It is not a knock on Rory or anyone else; it’s just fact.
Rory has done some incredible, record setting things in majors and around the globe, he has a superstar girlfriend and a life most envy but he is not Tiger just yet. The world hears Tiger is in an event and the TV or radio dials zoom in. The ratings go up and the water cooler talk increases for both on the course and off the course discussion. What is key from a ratings and PGA Tour perspective is just that they are talking, period.
In 2012 we got a glimmer of what was to come. He played in 19 PGA Tour events winning three, finishing in the top-10 10 times, and finishing in the top-25 14 times. He won Arnie (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and Jack’s (The Memorial) events while finishing in the top-10 at the British Open. He also missed two cuts, and withdrew from the WGC-Cadillac Championship. A great year for almost anyone not named Tiger but for him it was a looking glass into an apparent appearance of Tiger 2.0 in 2013.
In 2013 it appears Tiger 2.0 has arrived. He is back! At the beginning of the season he went overseas and missed the cut and the experts destroyed him. They said he was off. While he might not have won, a rule infraction is what kept him from playing the weekend so who knows what we would have seen. He has four official starts on tour in 2013 and has made the cut in all of them (Of course the WGC events were no cut events). He was bounced in the Match Play first round but Dove Mountain has never suited him. He already has two wins at the Farmers Insurance Open (Torrey Pines) and the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Innisbrook. He is poised to regain his spot atop the World Golf Rankings if he wins at Bay Hill next week which would bump Rory McIlroy to number two. With a full slate ahead in 2013 we could be staring at a 5 or 6 win, major championship and Fed Ex Cup Championship season for Tiger. He will be the betting favorite heading into the Masters in his attempt to win his fifth green jacket and his 15th major overall leaving him three short of Jack Nicklaus record of 18.
Of course, just his presence in a tournament will increase attendance and TV viewership for a while but if he does not play well it will not last. Tiger needs to win. He needs to chase Jack Nicklaus’ all time major record. He needs wire to wire victories, stunning final round comebacks. In short he needs to be the old Tiger on the course with the new fallible Tiger 2.0 twist. He needs to be someone that is polarizing to the average person. If he can return to form or something close to it the PGA Tour will thrive. Millions will tune in; thousands will show up to see him win, to set the records everyone expected a few years ago. A large mass will also be there, whether in person or watching from home, to see him fail, to choke of Sunday, to snap hook it off the tee, to blow the putt 4 feet by,too watch him lose.
Tiger has become something he never wanted to be before, but the PGA Tour needs, a polarizing personality. Finally there is drama in golf that everyone can get behind. Even the masses that do not play the game will tune to root for or against the man everyone once thought was perfect. This is what golf needs, even if they do not know it. Golf needed a polarizing figured that crosses golf boundaries into the mainstream, someone to spark emotion into everyone. Thank you Tiger for bringing emotion everyone can relate to into golf.If the crystal ball I look into is right and Tiger return to his previous form the PGA Tour can sit back and watch the rating soar. Tiger 2.0 just might exceed the expectations even he sets for himself.
This piece is not intended as an ode to Tiger but rather a reality of the world the PGA Tour lives. Their popularity is directly correlated to Tiger, one day that will change but right now it is the reality we live in. The tour and all its players must always remember the profits and purses before Tiger compared to today. Who will take his place as the one to drive the future of the tour? Many bet on Rory but I, for one, do not think we have seen the person yet. We will but not yet.