According to the Nielsen ratings, the audience for last weekend’s coverage of the Masters on CBS, on average, was 8.6 million viewers in 6.4 million homes. That represented the fewest viewers since 1993.
Why such a sudden dip after 20 years? Well, starting in 1994 and through April 2013, the Masters featured Tiger Woods and/or Phil Mickelson playing on the weekend.
Neither was there this year. Woods was forced out of the first major of the year after back surgery. Mickelson missed the cut.
So there was no Tiger, no Phil, and basically no drama as Bubba Watson won his second green jacket in three years.
The old saying is that the Masters isn’t decided until the back nine on Sunday. That’s usually true, although Woods nearly lapped the field in his first victory at Augusta National in 1997. That win, historic for any number of reasons, came by 12 strokes — he led by nine entering play on Sunday — but still drew record ratings for a final round. Tiger’s 2001 Masters win represented the second highest.
Watson’s victory last weekend came closer to the opposite kind of record. He and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, trying to become the youngest Masters champion, were tied entering play, but Spieth went bogey-bogey just before making the turn and that was that.
Some fans either grabbed their channel changers or, at least in our parts, headed outside to enjoy the first decent weather of a delayed spring.
Would it have been different had Mickelson made the cut and at least a modest charge? Perhaps. Would it have been different with Woods on the course? Most definitely.
That all leads to this question: is Tiger the most important athlete to his particular sport, as the ratings numbers would indicate?
It’s hard to compare individual and team sports. Michael Jordan’s retirement sent NBA ratings south, but the league is now riding the LeBron wave. Would NHL ratings, such as they are, suffer if Sidney Crosby of the Penguins was not on the ice? Would baseball ratings slip if Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera was injured? There are other players and other stars. The NFL’s ratings barely skipped a beat when Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season.
The numbers say it is different with Tiger and golf. Remember, when Woods missed half of the 2008 season with a knee injury the same events he played in 2007 suffered a 47 percent drop in TV ratings without him.
Nobody moves the needle in any sport the way Tiger does for reasons both good and bad since his fall from grace amid personal scandal in late 2009. As many tune in hoping to watch him shoot 78, I suppose, as others do to see if he can rekindle some of the magic and again dominate a field.
I didn’t expect the Masters ratings to take such a beating because it has been almost six full years since Tiger won a major. On that basis, his absence should not have had such influence on an event that can stand on its own.
But it did.
Woods will continue to chase majors, but won’t be a hanger-on until he can play senior golf because I doubt that tour even interests him. For any number of reasons, including health, his days are numbered. And there is no other Tiger waiting in the wings.
Golf got another glimpse of its future without him last weekend. It wasn’t, and isn’t, pretty.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.