Tiger Woods wasn’t the only one celebrating after he won the Tour Championship. Golf announcers and network executives are excited about the momentum Woods’ comeback season can generate for ratings.
All three of the sport’s major U.S. broadcasters have reasons to look forward to the next nine months.
CBS’ Jim Nantz saw Woods saw signs of Woods working his way back into contention at the Honda Classic last February in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, as well as The Memorial in Columbus and at the PGA Championship, where he finished two strokes behind Brooks Koepka.
“I saw him working his way through it and never doubted that he would win again,” Nantz said. “It could have happened earlier but he would have trouble over the last nine holes and lose some shots. But you don’t say it was ever over with him because he will outwork everyone.”
The immediate beneficiary is the NBC Sports Group, which has this weekend’s Ryder Cup on Golf Channel and NBC. It also had last weekend’s Tour Championship and saw a ratings increase of 178 per cent. Sunday’s final round had a 4.45 Nielsen rating. The round also had 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC’s digital platforms according to the network.
NBC Sports Mike McCarley, who is the president of the network’s golf coverage, said last weekend’s FedEx Cup finale and this weekend’s Ryder Cup present two interesting story lines.
“Last weekend he was squaring off against a generation of players who watched him. Now he is teaming up with them this week,” McCarley said from Paris. “It sets up a good storyline for next year where Tiger will be squaring off with younger players who were inspired by him and attempted to fill the void. Whether it is in the spring or summer it is shaping up as a pretty dynamite season.”
NBC and Golf Channel have 30 hours of Ryder Cup coverage Friday through Sunday. Golf Channel will air Friday’s coverage and NBC will have Saturday and Sunday.
Justin Leonard was paired with Woods at the 1997 Ryder Cup and will be a part of NBC’s crew this weekend. Leonard said what he is looking forward to this weekend is seeing how Woods and Phil Mickelson work together on the same team.
“I don’t think we’ll see a Tiger-Phil pairing, but it will be fascinating to watch how this unfolds, seeing how at the beginning of the year, we didn’t think either of these players would be on this team, and now here they are,” he said.
With Woods back in regular contention, Nantz is hoping that the spotlight will also spread to other players like it did when Woods was at his peak.
“Now that he is re-credentialed as a winner again, hopefully players that win tournaments where he competes will get recognized more,” Nantz said. “I’m excited for the game and next season because of the depth.”
Fox is hoping that the Tiger Effect will be at its best in June, when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach. With the tournament being on the West Coast, that means most of the coverage will be in prime time in the Eastern and Central time zones.
The 2015 U.S. Open, which was the last time it was held out West, averaged 3.5 million viewers. By comparison, last year’s coverage on Fox and Fox Sports 1 averaged 2.85 million viewers, which was an improvement from 2017 (2.67 million) when Woods did not compete.
“It’s going to be at a course where he is very comfortable and lapped the field in 2000,” Fox’s Joe Buck said. “Believe me, if we could package him in bubble wrap between now and next June we would.”
Even though most are looking ahead, Nick Faldo is still marveling over the comeback season that Woods had and said it has been a phenomenal run.
“Tiger didn’t think he was going to play again, ever, and he’s competed for the last two majors which has been an incredible, incredible turnaround,” Faldo said. “He must be excited that every week he plays, he plays a little bit better. I think, you know, having Tiger back is phenomenal for everybody, both inside the ropes and outside the ropes. It’s great having him back.”
Joe Reedy, The Associated Press