When Tiger Woods suffers on the course, golf's TV ratings plunge

By Leonard Shapiro
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; 5:59 PM

For a telling, troubling peek at the future of golf on television without Tiger Woods as a major (or even minor) force, simply check out the ratings for the last two events on the PGA Tour schedule aired by CBS Sports.

Two weeks ago at the inaugural Greenbrier Classic, which didn't have Woods in the field, the tournament did a dismal 1.2 national rating on Sunday, despite a thrilling duel down the stretch between the hottest player in golf, young American Jeff Overton, and veteran Stuart Appleby of Australia. Appleby came from seven behind after 54 holes and beat Overton to win the tournament by a shot with a final-round 59, golf's Holy Grail score, only the fifth time that's ever been done in a tour event.

But hardly anyone was watching.

The Greenbrier Classic took the place of the old Buick Open on the 2010 tour schedule. In 2009, with Woods in the field and eventually winning, that event had a robust 3.7 rating on Sunday, triple the number for the final round at the Greenbrier.

This past weekend, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Woods was in the field, sort of, though he was hopelessly out of contention from the start after an opening-round 74.

Woods had long since finished playing when CBS came on the air both Saturday and Sunday. The rating Saturday was a 1.6, compared with a 2.4 the same tournament drew on Saturday in 2009, when Woods was high up on the leader board. On Sunday this year, the Bridgestone did a 2.3; on Sunday in 2009, with Woods ultimately winning the tournament, the number was more than double -- a 4.7 rating.

This tumultuous year, Woods clearly has hit bottom in terms of his personal life, and judging from the weekend, his golf game, as well. In the Bridgestone, he finished with an 18-over-par total of 298 and ended 78th, two shots better than dead last, his worst performance over four days in any tournament he's played since turning professional in 1996.

If you think Woods might be just a tad concerned about the state of his once majestic game, how do you think the networks, the tour's corporate sponsors and its tournament directors around the country are feeling at the moment watching him flail and fail miserably, looking dismally dispirited and seemingly uninterested?

Of course they'll all spin it positively. They always do. The tour has never been deeper in talent or more global in its scope, they'll say. Golf has always been bigger than one player, they'll insist. And how about all those talented 20-somethings winning tournaments this season, they'll point out, the latest being Hunter Mahan, a two-shot winner at the Bridgestone with a breathtaking final-round 64 to become only the fifth player in his 20s with three career wins.

That certainly was the message Jim Nantz, CBS Sports' lead golf broadcaster, was putting out in a conference call earlier this week, beating the drums to promote his network's coverage of the PGA Championship this week at Whistling Straits.

"It's been a landmark year for the game of golf," Nantz said. "For guys getting confidence and the internal belief they can win. The driving force is the play of the 20-year-olds this year. This is what the game needed. The next generation needed to be identified. . . .This is where it's going. Young and international. . . .I don't think we'll see anything as dominant as we've seen in the past. Guys are coming from everywhere."

As for Woods's seemingly going nowhere, Nick Faldo, Nantz's colleague in the CBS booth and a six-time major champion, said "he recognizes the problems he has in his swing. . . . Long term, he knows he has to do a little bit of rebuilding. . . . He's in a little bit of a vicious circle right now."

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