Last weekend, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods played together in the final round of the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.  Phil Mickelson shot an 8 under round of 64 to come back from a 6 shot deficit to win the tournament.  After talk circled around the weekend that Tiger may finally break his winless drought, he shot a dismal 75 in the final round.  While Phil beat Tiger head to head to win the tournament, the PGA were big winners as well thanks to both players being in contention.

The final national ratings at Pebble Beach were released on Thursday.  The tournament ended as the highest rated Pebble Beach Pro-Am in over 10 years, averaging 5.7 million viewers for weekend coverage on CBS.  Golf Channel also received record ratings for the lead-in to the CBS coverage on Sunday.  In no other sport do the top superstars affect ratings more than golf, especially with Tiger Woods.  When Tiger first missed time due to injury in 2008, golf ratings dipped almost 50% compared to tournaments he played the year before.  That whole episode with the fire hydrant and the Perkins waitresses didn’t help things either.  

And yet, the PGA will take great solace in Tiger Woods back on the leaderboard and in contention last Sunday… even if Phil Mickelson is destroying him by 11 shots.  The numbers for the 2012 tournament almost doubled the ratings for the 2011 tournament, won by D.A. Points.  The 5.7 million viewers in 2012 were also triple the ratings from the 2010 tournament, won by Dustin Johnson.  

It’s only one tournament examined in a vacuum, but the ratings data from Pebble Beach tell an interesting story.  Here are the numbers since 2000 of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am (thanks to the acclaimed person behind TVSportsRatings, whoever he or she is) with the total average number of viewers for CBS’s weekend coverage and what it means for the PGA Tour…

Year # of viewers (millions)
2000 4.1
2001 5.9
2002 4.5
2003 4.1
2004 4.1
2005 5.0
2006 3.3
2007 3.6
2008 2.9
2009 1.6
2010 1.9
2011 2.9
2012 5.7

A few takeaways from those numbers…

*Tiger Woods made his first appearance this year at Pebble Beach for the early season tournament since 2002.  Woods played at Pebble Beach in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2012.  The average number of viewers for those 4 tournaments was 5.05 million, including a Monday finish in 2000 (thus the low 4.1 number).  The average number of viewers for the 9 tournaments Tiger didn’t play at Pebble from 2003-2011?  Just 3.27 million.  That’s an increase of 54% for Pebble Beach when Tiger has played since 2000. 

*It’s harder to gauge the impact of Phil Mickelson on ratings given that he plays at Pebble Beach every year.  Mickelson has won three times at Pebble since 2000 – 2005, 2007, and 2012.  The 2005 tournament was the only non-Tiger tournament to reach 5 million average viewers.  In that 2005 event, Mickelson led wire to wire and won by 4 strokes.

*The 2009 and 2010 numbers were as hideous for the PGA Tour as any time Steve Williams speaks publicly.  Is America that disinterested in Dustin Johnson (who won both tournaments) or was it the Tiger factor once again?  In 2009, the event was rain shortened and only 54 holes, somewhat understandable.  However, the 2010 event didn’t have any excuses.  DJ repeated and won by a stroke over David Duval and JB Holmes with Mickelson finishing in the Top 10.  And yet, the 2010 event fell in the middle of Tiger’s self-enforced absence, back when we had no idea when he would play in a competitve tournament again.  With Tiger and Phil on the leaderboard a mere two years later, ratings tripled for the event.  

It’s a Catch 22 for the PGA Tour.  Tiger and Phil brought great ratings news last weekend with almost a 100% increase compared to the audience from the year before.  The week before in Phoenix, the tour saw a 51% drop in viewership from 2011 to 2012.  Imagine any other sport either seeing their ratings double or cut in half from week to week for any reason!  As long as Tiger Woods and (to a lesser extent) Phil Mickelson are playing well, viewers will tune in.  But as long as the PGA Tour is so utterly dependent on Woods for ratings success, how can they expect to be healthier without Tiger’s presence?  Even in 2012, it’s a question the PGA Tour is still seeking an answer to.

About Matt Yoder

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

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