NEW YORK – Tiger Woods was almost done playing as ESPN began coverage of the Masters’ second round Friday, a day after the network rode interest in his return from a self-imposed hiatus to its highest golf ratings ever.
The Nielsen Co. said 4.94 million people watched ESPN’s opening round coverage on Thursday, 47 percent more than last year’s first round. The reason was abundantly clear: curiosity-seekers who wanted to see how Woods looked, acted and played golf since his personal life publicly crumbled in a shocking sex scandal.
ESPN responded to the interest Friday by keeping viewers in the loop all day with graphics displaying Woods’ score, more so than it updated people on Masters standings as a whole. The network had hourly updates while Woods played, showing on tape delay his drives, chips and putts.
He ended his round with a putt on the 18th hole as the network was beginning Friday’s coverage.
Even more than on Thursday, the reasons for Woods’ absence were kept under wraps.
Showing a few clips of Woods’ first round play in the opening of Friday’s broadcast, ESPN’s Mike Tirico said that the Masters had “cast light on what had been enshadowed.”
ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi interviewed Woods as he came off the course Friday. They talked golf, about the speed of the greens Friday and how Woods was putting.
“Thanks, Tom,” Woods said at the conclusion.
“Tiger Woods, not only back in competition, but back in contention,” Rinaldi said when he turned to the camera.
The big number for CBS to shoot for this weekend is 14.9 million. That’s the biggest average audience for Master’s coverage since the start of record-keeping in 1977, achieved for the final round in 2001, Woods’ third Masters championship.