In case you needed any more evidence that Tiger Woods drives ratings like no other athlete in sports, here’s some: ESPN’s 2.2 overnight rating for the first round of The Masters on Thursday was up 40 percent from 2017 and 16 percent from 2016. That made Thursday the highest rated opening round since 2015, the last time Tiger competed, and the fourth-highest rated opening round since ESPN began broadcasting the event in 2008.
ESPN probably benefited Thursday from strong showings by stars Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, but in the end it all comes back to Tiger. The network’s strong rating Thursday continues a trend that has been unmistakeable over the past few months.
Tiger’s return to golf after a year away from the course boosted ratings for December’s Hero World Challenge by 27 percent. His strong showing at the Valspar Championship last month resulted in the highest rating for any PGA broadcast at a non-major since 2013, as the event rated more than three times as well as the NCAA Tournament selection show that same day. The following week, his presence at the Arnold Palmer Invitational boosted ratings 136 percent.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 5, 2018
In many ways, it’s flat-out remarkable that Tiger still drives viewership to this degree in 2018. The guy is ranked No. 103 in the world, a decade removed from his last win at a Major and on his third or fourth comeback, yet people still follow his every move and flip on the TV to see what he’s got. After years and years of younger players being deemed “the next Tiger,” no one generates buzz and attention like the original.
Tiger didn’t play a great first round Thursday, shooting what he called an “up and down” 73 that left him tied for 29th and seven strokes off the lead. But if he can avoid a collapse Friday, ESPN (which has promised most of his round will be televised Friday) should benefit again. And if he can hang around and make a run this weekend, CBS could be in for some scary-good ratings.