Welcome Back, Mr. Woods
Posted by: mike December 7th, 2017
By Bob Oliver
It has been said that there are liars and there are damned liars. There are stories and stories within the stories.
It would clearly not be a lie that Dustin Johnson is currently the well-deserving World Number One golfer, a spot he’s held for nearly a year. Johnson remains ahead of Jordan Spieth, with Justin Thomas right behind. A stellar season by Jon Rahm boosted him to fourth on the list, while Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy round out the top 10.
All are great golfers and they have combined for a bevy of major championships. They are the face of golf’s future. Clearly the PGA Tour has a bevy of fine young talent. Each week a player emerges in form and dazzles the fans. Yet heading into the Hero World Challenge, an 18-player event in the Bahamas, the buzz was all about one Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.
2017 was a disaster for him, as his re-injured back kept him from competition, playing just one PGA Tour event and one European Tour event before being shelved for the season. Oh, there was that little brush with the law.
He fell to 1,199 th in the World Golf Rankings, and there was speculation he might have to leave his sticks in the shed and retire to do whatever an icon does in retirement. Still, a lot of hard work and a little luck has propelled Tiger back into the spotlight.
He entered the Hero World Challenge with a sponsor’s exemption – given to himself by himself he joked at the time, and there was talk he might not complete four rounds pain-free and even if he did, he might not perform in a Tiger-like way.
Those pundits were incorrect, as Tiger finished in a tie for 9th and looked good doing it.
Is he back? Only time will tell, but having him back means a great deal for the game of professional golf. Only a couple stumbles in the third round kept him from competing for the title.
The wind one heard around the golf world after that event was the collective breath of relief by the golf industry as he completed a great first step back. Fact is, Tiger Woods elevates star power to a totally different level. Viewership and readership soars when Tiger is in the field.
This is not a dig at the top-10 listed earlier, or any PGA Tour pro for that matter. They are fine players, living up to the “These guys are good” slogan.
But none of today’s players bring out the casual golf fan like Tiger. None creates his buzz of excitement. None says to the golf public, watch this event. The Hero World Challenge has been the highest watched golf event over the 2018 season, which began a couple months back. NBC and The Golf Channel posted significant gains over other golf coverage. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse at Tiger.
Everyone had an opinion on whether he’d have a successful return. Years ago golf fanatics complained it was all Tiger, all the time, when speaking of golf coverage. Good players were minimized as the cameras focused on Woods. The Big Cat would be five shots back heading into the second, third or fourth round and the coverage would center around the possibility of him charging and winning.
He won so much, was in contention so often, that the fact that he was playing and contending brought those viewers to the tube.
But statistics don’t lie, as when he plays viewership skyrockets. He alone elevated PGA Tour purses by more than 1000% over the years, and witness the Hero ratings he still brings out the eyeballs. As evidenced by the Hero World Challenge, that star-power has not been dimmed. Tiger brings buzz to an exhibition.
To give some credence to Woods past impact, the 2009 Masters had twice the ratings as the prior British Open (where Tiger missed the cut) and three times the ratings of the 2008 PGA Championship which he missed due to injury.
When Woods is in contention, TV sets are turned on to see how he does. When he’s winning, it’s a bonanza for viewers, sponsors and the PGA Tour. Star power equates to numbers, and Woods brings out the best.
If you are a sponsor of a non-major, you want Tiger in the field, as that translates into thousands of ticket sales. If you are a golf fan, you want him there as added incentive to your golf “watch.”
With 79 PGA Tour championships and 14 majors, Tiger is not a stranger to the victory circle. But the question is, what about now?
Will Tiger dominate in 2018? No way.
But if he stays injury free, he will contend and bring out his cache and star power. It is expected he will play a few events prior to the Masters, which will have huge ratings if he could find his way into contention. Most likely he’ll play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a venue where he’s claimed seven championship. Likewise the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where a friendly Bay Hill site is close to home and another venue where he’s dominated with eight wins.
At this point, one has to surmise that Tiger’s comeback is week to week, as four rounds do not make a season.
Still, the Hero World Challenge was a good first step to the comeback story, and it’s clear that advertisers, tournament directors and golf fans are holding their breath and hoping it’s a long-lasting return.
Welcome back, Mr. Woods.
Bob Oliver is a frequent contributor to the Golf Insider’s blog, a veteran Golf Writers of America member and former president of the International Network of Golf. Bob is Chief Columnist at www.golfbuckscounty.com