ESPN's ratings have been in the news in recent days for the wrong reasons, but at least one event is turning those numbers back in a positive direction.  Thanks to Phil Mickelson's fifth major victory and the name of Tiger Woods on the leaderboard throughout the weekend, ESPN had their most watched British Open (or Open Championship if you choose the more official title).  Weekend coverage surpassed last year's event as the most watched British Open since the tournament moved all four rounds to cable.  More from the ESPN release…

"With many of the sport’s biggest names in contention, ESPN’s live telecasts of the weekend rounds of play in The Open Championship on Saturday and Sunday, July 20-21, set cable viewership records for golf’s oldest major championship. ESPN’s digital platforms also saw double and triple-digit increases during the event.

According to Nielsen Fast National data, ESPN earned a record-tying 3.1 U.S. rating for the 8 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. ET live telecast of Sunday’s final round as fan favorite Phil Mickelson scored a come-from-behind win at Scotland’s Muirfield Golf Links. The telecast, which averaged 4,372,000 viewers, tied the ratings record set in last year’s final round for the highest-rated cable telecast of the event and set a cable viewership record for the event, eclipsing last year’s mark of 4,227,000.

The 9 a.m. – 2:47 p.m. Saturday telecast earned a 2.7 U.S. household rating, averaging 3,776,000 viewers, beating the 2.6 U.S. rating and 3,545,000 viewership average ESPN earned for third-round coverage in 2012. It ranks as cable’s highest-rated and most-viewed telecast of the third round.

Sunday’s telecast ranks third-highest among all golf telecasts on cable, only behind the 2008 U.S. Open playoff and the 2010 Masters first round (when Tiger Woods returned to golf). The Saturday telecast ranks ninth. ESPN golf telecasts hold nine of the top 10 positions, including all of the top five."

Mickelson called his final round 66 the best round he's ever played and the storyline with his comeback from another second place finish at the US Open made for an extremely compelling weekend.  Add in Lee Westwood looking for his first major and Masters champion Adam Scott holding the lead on Sunday and golf couldn't ask for much more in having top names in contention and drawing viewers in.  At the end of the day though only two golfers are really capable of jumping into the mainstream and moving the needle.  It's a simple recipe for golf – Tiger + Phil equals monster ratings.  One day the sport won't have those stars to lean on, but that's an issue they'll look to solve down the road.