Commentary: A few weeks ago Tiger Woods who was off to a rough start in 2014 announced he needed to take some time away from golf in order to get a pinched nerve fixed via surgery. In the few events he played in 2014 he wasn’t a serious factor on Sunday and missed the cut in one of the three tournaments he played in. After withdrawing from one his favorite tournaments in Bay Hill where he had won eight times including the last two.
After dominating golf for a decade he hasn’t won a major golf championship since winning 2008 United States Open in 2008 over Rocco Mediate in a playoff. After winning that tournament on an injured knee he took time off from the tour in order to fix the knee. After coming back in 2009 and having a solid season by winning five times in 2009. However in November 2009 he had a domestic disturbance with his wife and the subsequent airing of his dirty laundry has had a negative effect on his career.
Woods went more than two years without winning a tour event till he won at Bay Hill again in 2012. In 2012 he won twice more that year and five times in 2013. However in major championships he never serious;y contended on Sunday. Including 2013 when at the Masters he faded after being penalized for taking the wrong drop. This penalty didn’t occur while he was playing but called in to officials after his round by senior player Dave Eger who reported it. The wind fell from his sails after that despite a fourth place finish.
Even though he wasn’t expected to contend this year at The Masters his presence whether or not he is on the leaderboard or always draws more viewers to the television than tournaments he doesn’t play in. The networks whether or not he is contending always tend to show a lot of shots of him whether he is by five shots or down by six shots on Sunday. When he gives interviews after each round he will say a couple of things and not really say much.
With his absence the conventional wisdom was that viewership and interest would be down compared to other years. In fact CBS which has the weekend rights to the tournament had its lowest rating on Sunday since 2004. The Saturday rating was also off compared to other years as well. Part of the problem for television and interest was that the other big names in the sport failed to put themselves in position on the weekend to make a move or missed the cut. Phil Mickelson for example a three time champion at the tournament missed the cut for the first time since1997.
This year was the perfect storm for a ratings disaster with Woods being out, no huge names on the weekend leaderboard, and the tournament effectively over after nine holes on Sunday. When the four shot swing occurred Sunday on the eigth and ninth wholes between Jordan Speith and Bubba Watson effectively ended the tournament on the back nine. Usually their is either a duel or somebay makes a run late in the tournament to steal but this year neither happened.
So in a sense what could go wrong for ESPN and CBS went wrong as not enough happened over the four days to overcoume the loss of Tiger. In essence the 2014 Masters proved that Tiger pushes the needle in professional golf whether he is in contention or just trying to finish out the tournamnet on SUnday and escape. Not many athelets are capable of that in todays world anymore or can transcend their sport like Tiger can. If he doesn’t play in June’s United States Open then the ratings will suffer again barring a riveting tournament.