Woods' return could be TV bonanza Hole in One
Pro tour players from Hawaii
By Bill Kwon
There's no cheering in the press box. It's a given.
Surely, the same holds true in a television booth. But you can't help but wonder if CBS Sports, delighted that Tiger Woods is playing golf again after a five-month leave of absence — and in the Masters yet — is cheering like hell for Tiger to be around for the weekend at Augusta National.
The first two days, including today's opening round, will be on ESPN, before CBS takes over on the weekend for what could set a record as the most-watched golf event because of Tiger's return after his fall from grace. According to Nielsen ratings, the top 10 telecasts for the final round of golf's four major championships were all from the Masters.
Nielsen looked at TV ratings for the final rounds of golf's four major tournaments since 1977 and found that the top 10 telecasts were all from the Masters, golf's grandest stage. The top-rated telecast came at the 1997 Masters when 20.3 million viewers (14.1 percent of all TV households) took in the first of Tiger's four victories for a green jacket. The second-highest-rated golf telecast (13 percent) came in 2001 when Tiger won again. Both rankings will pale in comparison, and could reach NFL or American Idol numbers, if Tiger is on the leaderboard Sunday afternoon.
There's a good chance he'll be there. Tiger has missed only seven cuts and never in 13 Masters since turning professional at the 1996 Milwaukee Open. He's looking for his fifth Masters jacket to go along with six top-10 finishes there.
So you figure CBS shouldn't have to sweat it out. But it's a cause for concern because it's an extraordinary moment involving an extraordinary golfer who will be playing competitive golf for the first time since winning the Australian Masters two weeks before that unforgettable day after Thanksgiving last year when all of his tribulations began.
The Masters has never been just another tournament. It will be even more significant with Tiger's first appearance of 2010.
He couldn't have picked a better tournament to make his return. For one, it's the first major of the year and you know that he has this thing about winning majors. Second, he couldn't have chosen a better venue, one with the most controlled environment for a golf tournament. The folks at Augusta will do their best to tone down the anticipated circus-like atmosphere. And you can bet there won't be any hecklers in the gallery.
We'll likely see a more humble Tiger, no emphatic fist pumps, swearing or slamming of golf clubs. He'll likely have a friendlier rapport with the gallery. But can the new Tiger, the rehabbed one, actually win?
There will be distractions and he'll be competitively rusty, but Tiger being Tiger, we believe he'll at least be around for the weekend. Unfortunately, the same might not be said for K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar, his playing partners in the first two rounds. Talk about trying to play your own game without distractions and stress added to the intimidation of playing with the world's greatest golfer.
But can Tiger win despite all of what has happened and under this most unusual of circumstances ever seen in golf? Arnold Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, can't fathom it. Neither can many of Tiger's peers, who know how hard it is to win, let alone after such a long, self-imposed layoff.
Imagine, though, if Tiger can actually pull it off after all he has been through. It would be the most dramatic comeback in golf since Ben Hogan, who lost in a playoff to Sam Snead in the 1950 Los Angeles Open, a year after his near-fatal auto accident. And it would be a win-win situation for Tiger: a 15th major title and the first step in winning back his fans. It would be something worth watching Sunday.
Bill Kwon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org