When Tiger Woods first announced that he was withdrawing from the U.S. Open, our initial reaction was that the television ratings would suffer a bit. But now that play has begun at Congressional, the buzz surrounding the course concerns the real impact of Tiger’s absence.
Unfortunately, golf fans are getting used to not having him compete for major championships any more. Their interest is now geared toward cheering for Phil Mickelson and hoping that he secures his first U.S. Open victory, while others will watch how the young lions (Charl Schwartzel, Ricky Fowler and Rory McIlroy) fare at Congressional this weekend. NBC will have a ratings bonanza if there’s a dogfight for the Open title on Sunday afternoon.
The sport misses Woods on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to a major, as the media coverage becomes “Everything Tiger All the Time.” Obviously, you want him here competing for the championship, but the U.S. Open will take center stage on the weekend regardless of who’s playing in the field.
Multiple storylines will occur over the four days, and they all add up to make the U.S. Open a great event. Viewers want to watch which players will handle the pressure the best, which unknown will become a household name by Sunday evening and which player will make that colossal mistake that ultimately cost him a major championship.
The fact that Tiger isn’t in the field will make this U.S. Open a far more captivating event for the true golf fan. No expert or television commentator can offer a clear-cut winner for this weekend.
Tiger’s presence will be missed by corporate America, as his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines brought the USGA approximately $40 million from domestic and international television revenues. NBC will take a hit on losing viewership from the “Tiger Effect” golf fan, as they were caught up in his aura rather than the sport itself. Since 1987, only three U.S. Opens (2000, '02 and '08) yielded television ratings into the eight million viewership range, and oh by the way, Woods was the Open champion at each of those events.
When Tiger’s in the hunt for a major championship, the golf ratings soar. The fans tune in to root for or against him. The bigger question that needs to be answered is, will the ratings drop this weekend?
Well, if the ratings numbers are significantly down, then NBC will drown its sorrows at the 19th Hole on Sunday evening.