Tiger Woods singlehandedly fuels pro golf ratings

Tiger Woods didn’t win any of the year’s four major golf tournaments, but his presence was the only story that mattered this summer. The ratings numbers prove it.

Over the three major tournaments this summer where Woods was in contention, the “Tiger Effect” averaged out to a 40% final round bump.

CBS and NBC reaped the benefits. ABC and ESPN, which stopped broadcasting the British Open last year, may wish they had held on to the rights for a little longer.

Tiger Woods waves to the fans at the 11th hole during the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Aug. 2, 2018, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
Tiger Woods waves to the fans at the 11th hole during the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, Aug. 2, 2018, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

As Woods finished better and better over the course of the summer, the television ratings bump for the final round grew bigger and bigger.

When Woods was in contention in the final round of The Masters in April, CBS’s ratings on Sunday ended up 14% higher than the final round of the year before, according to Nielsen. He finished tied for 32nd.

At the British Open in July, NBC’s ratings on Sunday were up 37% over the previous year. Woods tied for sixth.

And at the PGA Championship, CBS’s ratings soared by 69% as Woods chased Brooks Koepka on his way to finishing in solo second place.

Woods missed the cut at the U.S. Open in June. Ratings for Fox on that Sunday were up just barely over the year before, and it was the third-lowest rating on record for the final round of the U.S. Open.

The lesson is clear: When Woods is absent, casual fans tune out.

It began with the Valspar Tournament in March. On the way to Woods tying for second place, NBC saw a record 5.11 overnight rating on Sunday, the best rating for a non-major PGA Tour event since 2013. Sunday of the Valspar was also the best-rated golf telecast other than The Masters, since the 2015 PGA Championship.

In addition to finishing second at the Valspar, second at the PGA Championship, and tying for sixth at the British Open, Woods tied for fourth at the Quicken Loans National and tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

At the end of 2017, Woods was ranked No. 656 on the Official World Golf Rankings. After the 2018 PGA Championship, he’s up to No. 26. Sports fans are coming along for the ride.

The ratings injection lends credence to some of the hyperbolic praise of Woods that has come from such industry voices as former Bridgestone Golf CEO Angel Ilagan, who told Yahoo Finance last November —before Woods’s comeback began — that Woods “transcends” his sport and belongs in the company of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.

The sharp contrast in ratings when Woods is in the mix on Sunday compared to when he isn’t is a reminder: for all the hype over the past few years about young golf stars like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Jason Day, none of those great golfers move the needle for the sport.

No one in golf has as big an impact on mainstream interest in their sport as Tiger Woods. Chris Solomon, co-host of the popular golf podcast No Laying Up, takes it one step further: “There’s no one that has ever meant more to their sport, maybe in the history of sports, than Tiger has.”

Chris Solomon of the No Laying Up podcast was the special guest on the latest episode of the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast. You can listen here.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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