Given the incredible final round drama and exciting playoff finish in this year’s Masters, it was a surprise to see Masters overnight ratings down 22%.  The golf world proclaimed Bubba Watson, his homemade swing, shotmaking ability, and likeable personality to be a rising star in the game.  That may be true in due time, but his playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen provided the lowest Sunday rating number since 2004, posting an 8.0 national rating for Sunday’s coverage.  The Masters found slightly better news in terms of overall viewership, with 13.5 million viewers on Sunday.  That’s still down from 15.3 million viewers last year, and is the lowest since 2008, but doesn’t reach the low since 2000 – 11.7 million viewers in 2003.  Here are the Augusta ratings since 2000, both with the national rating and average million viewers for Sunday, weekend totals, as well as the tournament champion…

Year Sunday Rating Sunday AVM Weekend Rating Weekend AVM Champion
2000 10.0 13.6 7.6 10.1 Singh
2001 13.3 19.2 10.7 14.9 Woods
2002 9.2 13.1 8.1 11.3 Woods
2003 8.3 11.7 6.9 9.5 Weir
2004 7.3 11.8 6.7 10.2 Mickelson
2005 9.8 14.6 8.0 11.8 Woods
2006 8.4 12.4 6.9 9.9 Mickelson
2007 9.1 14.9 7.6 11.9 Johnson
2008 8.6 13.1 7.3 10.9 Immelman
2009 8.3 14.3 7.1 11.8 Cabrera
2010 10.7 16.7 9.0 13.8 Mickelson
2011 9.5 15.3 8.2 12.8 Schwartzel
2012 8.0 13.5 6.8 11.0 Watson

Considering Phil Mickelson was in contention on Sunday and paired in the final group, it could have been thought that the rating would come closer to matching the 10.7 from 2010 (more on that in a second).  Alas, Mickelson’s presence on the leaderboard, a double eagle, one of the best shots in Masters history, and a playoff couldn’t overcome the dominant ratings factor in not just golf, but all of sports.

Tiger Woods.

The more things change in golf, the more they stay the same.  Ratings are all about Tiger, even for the most prestigious tournament in the world.  This week proved to be an interesting case study in that regard.  ESPN touted their ratings increases for Thursday and Friday coverage, but CBS was left with large decreases in their weekend coverage.  In fact, Saturday’s coverage lost almost a quarter of its viewership from last year while ESPN picked up more than double digits for Rounds 1 & 2…


Thursday (ESPN): 2.3 rating – up 10% from last year
Friday (ESPN): 3.3 rating – up 15% from last year
Saturday (CBS): 5.0 rating – down 23% from last year
Sunday (CBS): 8.0 rating –  down 16% from last year

Clearly, viewers tuned in Thurday and Friday to see if Woods could reside at the top of Augusta’s leaderboard once again.  His long winless drought ending at Bay Hill earlier this year gave hope that he may be able to win his first Masters since 2005.  But, as his game started to disappear and he plummeted down the leaderboard, so did the ratings.  The 6.8 rating for CBS’s weekend coverage is among the worst since 2000.  For as much talk as there has been about golf building for a post-Tiger foundation, Woods is the preeminent force in getting eyeballs to the television set.

Since 2000, The Masters has averaged a 9.7 Sunday rating when Woods has finished in the Top 5 (9 out of 13 times).  When Tiger finishes outside the Top 5 (4 out of 13 tourneys), the Masters averages an 8.0 on Sunday, which is right at the number for the 2012 tournament.  All in all since 2000, the Masters has averaged a 9.3 Sunday rating with 14.2 million viewers.  

What about golf’s second most popular star, Phil Mickelson?  Doesn’t he move the needle?  In a word… eh.  Like Woods, Mickelson has finished in the Top 5 at Augusta 9 times in the last 13 years since 2000.  Those tournaments have averaged just a 9.1 Sunday rating, below the 9.3 average.  The four times Mickelson finished outside the Top 5, the tournament averaged a 9.6 rating.  Sure, it’s more correlation than causation, more people aren’t watching the Masters because Mickelson isn’t contending, but it proves that Mickelson isn’t quite the ratings draw you would have suspected.  In fact, the legendary 2004 victory for Mickelson (maybe the most exciting Masters Back 9 in history) is the lowest Sunday rating since 2000.  It just so happened that Tiger’s bad years (outside the Top 10) at Augusta occurred when Mickelson did well:

2003: Tiger 15th, Phil 3rd, 8.3 rating
2004: Tiger 22nd, Phil 1st, 7.3 rating
2012: Tiger 40th, Phil 3rd, 8.0 rating 

And, the high rating in 2010 wasn’t really about Mickelson at all, it was about Woods.  The 2010 Masters was his much celebrated comeback tournament after his sex scandal rocked the sport in late 2009.  The 2010 Masters is second only to 2001 in terms of overall viewership for the tournament.  That 2001 Masters was Tiger Woods at his golfing climax as he won his fourth major in a row and completed the Tiger Slam.  The tournament was well off those numbers on Sunday.

But what about the thrill of a playoff?  Doesn’t a close, exciting finish have anything to do with viewership increasing?  Again, it depends on who is involved.  There have been four playoffs since 2000…

2003: Mike Weir d. Len Mattiace, 8.3 rating
2005: Tiger Woods d. Chris DiMarco, 9.8 rating
2009: Angel Cabrera d. Kenny Perry & Chad Campbell, 8.3 rating
2012: Bubba Watson d. Louis Oosthuizen, 8.0 rating

The four playoffs combine for an 8.6 Sunday rating, again lower than the 9.3 average.  The only playoff with an above average rating featured you know who winning.  Let’s be honest though, those other eight names aren’t exactly worldwide superstars, although several of them are great golfers.  Unfortunately, those three playoffs without Woods are three of the four lowest rated Masters since 2000.  It’s a shame the playoff doesn’t increase viewership, otherwise more folks would have gotten to see the epic missed handshake between Bubba Watson and Billy Payne.

In the end, golf depends on its starpower more than any other sport.  Nevertheless, there is only one star that truly does increase viewership.  As a golf fan, I hope the game will some day not have to depend on Tiger Woods for ratings.  Of course, golf may never again reach the peak that was 2000-2001 when Tiger Woods was the most famous athlete in the world and nearly everyone was picking up a golf club.  There will hopefully come a day when names like Watson and McIlroy and Oosthuizen will draw in viewers, but as the 2012 Masters proved, that day isn’t here yet.

(Thanks to TVSportsRatings for the numbers)

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.