Friday, February 23, 2024

A Ratings Giant Such As Tiger May Never Be Seen Again


Millions continue to wish golf legend Tiger Woods a successful recovery following his near-fatal car crash on Tuesday. Tiger has a difficult road to recovery to live a regular life, let alone play golf again. The injuries suffered included open comminuted fractures in both legs, a broken right foot, and muscle swelling in both legs that required surgery to reduce the swelling. Without a miraculous return to the game, it appears golf has lost the most influential athlete to ever play the game of golf.

No Professional Athlete Will Ever Be Able To Achieve What Tiger Did For Golf

Woods is arguably one of the most iconic and recognizable athletes ever due to his dominance early on in his career. At the age of 21, he set the record as the youngest person to win the Masters in 1997. The final round of the 1997 Masters still holds the record for most viewers for a golf tournament as over 20 million people tuned in to watch Woods win by 12 strokes.

Since the win at Augusta in 1997, Woods became one of the largest ratings draws in sports history and one of the most marketable athletes ever. The only person that could match the golfer in endorsements was basketball legend Michael Jordan. Woods was known for his commercials endorsing Nike, Gatorade, American Express, and countless other products.

Before Woods debut in 1996, the sport of golf was without a recognizable athlete following the departure of Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus in the late 1980s. After the 1997 Masters, every golf tournament that included Tiger became must-see television, while tournaments featured sold-out crowds. One example of how impactful the golfer was came during the Western Open held at Cog Hill every year. Woods playing near Chicago generated massive crowds, along with millions of viewers that had not watched a golf tournament before.

Woods’ dominant performance, along with his ability to have fun with the game, made him an instant favorite with a young generation of fans, who would have never paid any attention to golf. Whether it was the colorful golf attire or constant commercials, golf fans couldn’t get enough of him in the late 90s and into the early 2000s.

It even led to new ventures for the sport of golf, including the creation of Monday Night Golf, which became a yearly event in late July from 1999 to 2005. Tiger would be featured in a match play challenge against one golfer or be featured in a pairing as the event took place at night. The yearly event of golf under the lights was so popular that the initial event drew higher ratings than the final round of that year’s US Open. In 2018, Woods faced off against fellow golfer Phil Mickelson in a head-to-head match featured on pay-per-view on the day after Thanksgiving. The event, known as The Match, was one of the most talked-about sporting events of 2018.

From 1997 to 2002, Woods won seven majors, including a non-calendar Grand Slam, winning four consecutive Majors, but not in one calendar year. The dominant success helped raised the profile of other great golfers on the PGA. These golfers would serve as a potential threat to Tiger, which led to enticing action, especially on final round Sundays. Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Vijay Singh, and Jim Furyk. All were great golfers that fans would either root for or boo simply because they wanted to see Woods, either win or lose.

It was the attention brought by Tiger that allowed those golfers to build and have followers of their own later on. One example is Mickelson’s 2004 Masters’ victory, as it marked the first Majors victory of his successful career. The final round of the 2004 Masters’ recorded over 11.8 million viewers, which were the most for a golf major not to feature Tiger in the final pairing since 2000. Other than Woods, the notable “Lefty” is seen as the second most famous golfer of this generation.

Golf Is More Popular Today Because Of Tiger Despite Not Having A Dominant Star

Following the decline of Woods’ personal life in 2009 that carried over to his golf career, the sport has yearned for a dominant golfer to take his place, despite having an abundance of tremendous golf talent. Many have hoped for golfers such as Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Bubba Watson, and countless others to step up and match the Dominance of Tiger. Unfortunately, these golfers have shown flashes but have never had the same level of prolonged sustained success.

Although the sport lacks the one dominant player, it is still more popular than ever, and more so with a younger and diverse generation. Golf before Tiger was viewed as a sport for middle-aged men played by mostly Americans and Europeans. Currently, many PGA golfers are under the age of 30 and come from all over the world. Before 2010, Majors tournaments struggled to draw good ratings for their first two rounds of play on Thursday and Friday. Golf fans now tune in for every shot of all four days. ESPN and other networks will do anything to ensure that golf fans can watch every hole of a major tournament.

The one unfortunate aspect to Tiger’s decline in play over the last decade is that fans never got to see a rivalry develop with a young golfer or witness a passing of the torch moment. Even when Woods won the 2019 Masters, the round lacked excitement as he beat Johnson by three strokes. The national media was solely focused on Tiger’s triumphant return to the top than with his dual with Johnson and others. Due to an impending storm that day, the final round was finished in the late morning instead of the traditional late-afternoon time slot. The 2019 Masters’ Sunday drew over 10 million viewers.

Golf will never see another player as impact as Tiger Woods again. Before his arrival, the sport was significant but was never as mainstream as other professional sports such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB. After Woods arrived in 1997, golf became mainstream and drew in viewers of different races, incomes, and ages, all because of his dominance. That dominance led to others gaining notoriety allowing the sport to remain popular after his unforeseen decline after 2009. All of this is what made the car accident on Tuesday so sobering as millions fear that Woods may never play golf again.



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