Tiger Effect in Reverse
The PGA Tour needs a popularity transfusion. As the tour begins its talks with the TV networks, the contract story is a perplexing one indeed. As Tigers wins are down to the lowest point of his career (one, equaling 1998), so is the money professional golf can expect in the future from television.
Television is a true believer in the adage that as Tiger goes, so goes the PGA Tour. And statistics back them up.
The ratings for last weeks Deutsche Bank Open tell an eye-opening story, typifying just how much Eldrick means to the big eye ' and to the tour. With Tiger and Vijay Singh battling not only for the win, but for the No. 1 world ranking, the event drew a 4.3 rating and 9 share in the overnight markets on Labor Day. And that doesnt even include six major markets in Florida that couldnt report because of Hurricane Francis. A 4.3 is right on par with what the majors did this year.
Woods win at the 97 Masters drew a ratings number of 14.1, an all-time record for golf in the cable-TV era. He won by a whopping 12 shots ' not much drama there, but oh, so many people were watching on the telly!
Contrast that with the ratings for this years Masters. Phil Mickelson birdied five of the last seven holes, including an 18-footer at No. 18, to overtake Ernie Els in a thrilling victory. Both players are at the top of their profession. Mickelson, by all accounts, is second only to Woods in fan appeal. You dont get much more drama than this one had.
And the Masters this year could pull no more than 7.3. Thats little more than half the 14.1 of 98.
Its no wonder that the tour is quietly pulling hard to Woods to snap out of his drought by the end of the year. The tour is silently saying he should go back to Butch Harmon, he should go back to his old swing, go back to anything that might have helped him win 40 victories. And by the way, do it quickly! There isnt much time left!
Apparently, if Tiger isnt going to be winning eight times, as he did in 99, or nine times, as he did in 2000, you the public just dont have as much interest in golf. And if you the public dont have as much interest, the networks certainly dont. There are not many things worse than having a tournament with Jim Nantz whispering in reverence while nobody bothers to watch.
In 1997, with Tigers immaculate timing at the Masters, television was willing to cough up about $650 million for the next four years. That was almost twice as much as the previous four years. The previous four years showcased Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Fred Couples, but you the public didnt really get into it the way you did with Woods.
The next TV contract was even more of a windfall. After Woods had completed his Tiger Slam, winning four majors in succession, television stepped up big to the tune of $900 million. That is the contract under which the networks are laboring now - a mega-fortune that, frankly, is not supported by ratings.
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem reasons that the ratings have taken such a drastic slide because of the overall economic slump since 9/11. That probably does provide a partial explanation. But Finchem has to hang his negotiating hat on SOMETHING ' and the ol 9/11 thing is as good as any. A Tiger rebound, though, would blow the 9/11 theory completely out of the water. And a continued Tiger slumber would continue to limit the tour vis--vis TV contracts.
You might feel a bit more sympathy for the tour were it not so ruthless in demanding more-more-more from the individual tournaments since Tiger came on the scene. A rising tide floats all boats, so the theory goes, and all the tournaments must pitch in when a cash cow (read Tiger) shows up once a century or so. Tiger is never going to play in Houston or Honda or at the Bob Hope, for example, but those events had to pitch in with a much higher purse just as if Woods were on the marquee. Finchem has twisted arms until these tournaments were ready to cry uncle, and dont you believe that theyll ever see any revenue from the Great Woods Experiment.
More sponsors are waiting, though. The Associated Press reports that 10 sponsors have signed up through 2010. But Ill bet a dollar to a dingbat that they are not Bank of America, Valero, 84 Lumber or the Southern Farm Bureau ' all sponsors of tournaments in which Tiger doesnt participate.
Certainly, a part of golfs appeal to sponsors is based on the caliber of the audience. Golfers have more money to spend, ergo golf is going to attract businesses that have products to sell. That appeal is endless, whether Tiger is around to help sell or not. And there is much anecdotal evidence that Tiger attracts a large number of fans that are not in the ideal demographic range. Many are younger, and many are below the desired income level.
But lets face it ' Tiger Woods has the ability to attract a huge audience base. And its an ability that no other golfer has. The PGA Tour is quite cognizant of this.
Unfortunately for the tour, so are the networks. Remember ' as Tiger goes, so goes the tours pocketbook.
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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.
Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign
A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.
Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.
Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.
And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”