It’s been no secret that having Tiger Woods in contention has been great for golf ratings. But what about when Woods isn’t in contention, as was the case for the Masters this weekend after the first two rounds? Well, the ratings were still very good, with all four rounds up double digits year-over-year and Sunday’s final round up 14 percent. And part of that may be about CBS’s decision to continue to show viewers a whole lot of Woods coverage, even with him thoroughly out of range for the lead and eventually finishing tied for 32nd.
Jeff Haggar of Classic TV Sports has been tracking televised shot counts for the final round of golf majors since 2014, and his shot chart from Sunday’s coverage illustrates just how much CBS emphasized Woods:
CBS covered all 71 strokes from winner Patrick Reed. Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy were spotlighted for 58 shots each. Runner-up Rickie Fowler and third place finisher Jordan Spieth also received significant coverage. Overall those five players accounted for over 74% of the televised shots. Early in the telecast, CBS went overboard on the well out-of-contention Tiger Woods who was shown for 18 strokes (two of which were taped highlights from prior to airtime) which wound up being the sixth most of any player. CBS also included a 3-stroke highlight package of Phil Mickelson who had already completed his round.
The highest finisher not shown by CBS was Marc Leishman who wound up 9th (after being featured prominently on Saturday). CBS televised strokes from just 22 players during the Sunday round.
There’s a tough balance for networks like CBS in a situation like this. From the perspective of actually covering the results of the sports event, there wasn’t much of a need to show Woods, who entered Sunday tied for 40th with a +4 on the tournament, 18 shots behind leader and eventual winner Reed. His chances of winning were incredibly remote, and he was even nine shots back of a top-10 finish. If Woods was exchanged for “Golfer X” in that situation, you probably wouldn’t see any shots of that golfer. And that would be appreciated by many more fervent golf fans who want to see a focus on the people actually in contention.
But, on the other hand, the ratings make it quite clear that there are a lot of people who only tune into golf for Woods. And with that being the case, it wouldn’t necessarily be wise for networks to ignore him when he isn’t in contention. It’s notable that he’s not the only one in this situation, either, as Haggar’s shot chart indicates that there was some love for Mickelson (who finished tied for 36th) and Fred Couples (who finished tied for 38th) as well, while ninth-place finisher Leishman wasn’t shown at all. However, Mickelson and Couples only had three and two shots shown respectively, and there’s at least an argument for dialing Tiger coverage down towards that a bit instead of showing him for 18 shots, the sixth-most of any player.
Two other data points worth at least some consideration here come from Haggar’s shot charts for the final round of the 2015 Masters, the last one Woods played before this, and the 2017 Masters. In 2015, CBS showed 35 shots from Woods, the fourth-most of any player, and he finished tied for 17th. That was more than the 34 shown from fourth-place finisher Rory McIlroy, and much more than the four shown from fifth-place finisher Hideki Matsuyama. So compared to that, CBS actually dialed it down a bit this year.
And the 2017 chart is notable as an illustration of what they’ve done in a Woods-free tournament. First- and second-place finishers Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose received the most coverage with 66 shots shown each, but Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth finished tied for 11th and were seen for 50 and 35 shots respectively (boosted by being in the second pairing and being in contention early). And Mickelson was seen for 11 shots despite finishing tied for 22nd.
So there’s always some focus on names even in a Woods-free tournament. But CBS does seem to take it to another level when it’s Woods, and although the 18 strokes here is a nice change from his last Masters (just over half of the 35 strokes shown in 2015), it could still be perhaps dialed down a bit more. It’s not an enviable position for CBS to be in, though, having to balance actual sports news with the only golfer some viewers want to see. And they, and other networks, are going to have to continue to try and find that balance as this season progresses.