Last week, we wrote about the massive year-over-year ratings gains ESPN had seen for the first two rounds of the Masters and attributed those spikes largely to Tiger Woods, who was playing golf’s biggest tournament for the first time since 2015.
But as the weekend progressed and Tiger disappeared out of contention and away from America’s TV screens, viewers didn’t abandon the event. In fact, ratings for the final round Sunday was up 14 percent from last year, with an 8.7 metered-market number, despite Woods standing far back of the leaders. As Sports Media Watch points out, all four rounds of the Masters were up double-digits from last year.
There are always a ton of reasons why ratings for an event wind up good or bad, but in this case we shouldn’t undersell the simplest one: that this year’s Masters was a thoroughly exciting tournament, with great young players battling for the green jacket. Between Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and eventual winner Patrick Reed, the leaderboard was loaded with compelling storylines. That clearly helped out ratings more than a little.
But although the final two rounds this weekend proved that golf doesn’t need a competitive Tiger to draw ratings, it’s hard to deny that Woods had a profound effect on viewership for the tournament, even while out of contention. For one thing, Thursday and Friday were up 40 and 55 percent, respectively, on ESPN, while Saturday and Sunday were up only 24 and 14 percent on CBS, suggesting that his presence did make a large difference. Besides, it seems almost certain that Tiger drew in fans during the opening rounds who continued watching over the back half of the tournament. Add in the extra press coverage the Masters got thanks to Woods, and it seems clear that he was a big reason ratings for the tournament were up from start to finish.
In the end, ESPN and CBS can walk away feeling good about its Masters viewership. And if Tiger returns to Augusta every year to compete in tournaments that feature down-to-the-wire races between talented players, the networks sure won’t complain.