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After the marquee teams were quickly knocked out of the March Madness college basketball tournament this year, the biggest name in golf isn’t even going to make it to the Masters Tournament when golfers tee off on Thursday in Augusta, Ga.
Tiger Woods withdrew from the historical tournament to have back surgery to treat a pinched nerve last month, meaning that he will miss the Masters for the first time in his career.
“There is no question that whatever the golf event, there is a very significant spike in the ratings whenever Tiger Woods is in contention and we’ve been blessed to have him a lot over the years,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Since the young phenomenon first played at Augusta in 1995 as an amateur, he has won the coveted green jacket four times (including in 1997 at age 21), finished in the top 10 on nine other occasions and been a constant presence at the prestigious annual Champions Dinner.
The 2010 Masters marked Woods’ return to the spotlight following his cheating scandal (and subsequent divorce from Elin Nordegren); he finished fourth — and boosted the ratings to 46.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched since he won his second green jacket in 2001, and the third of all time.
“We would love it if Tiger was there and it would generate additional interest and ratings, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve also had years when he’s not been in contention and done good ratings, so what is going to happen will depend on who is on the leader board and what develops,” McManus explains.
“The Masters has been successful before Tiger was a factor and will be long after Tiger has retired,” says the chairman of the network that has aired the tournament since 1956. Last year, an estimated 44.3 million viewers tuned in for the third and final round, which was the second-highest number for the past 12 years. The final round attracted 37.4 million viewers, which was topped only by 2001’s ratings of 40.1 million when Woods won.
“He is obviously the most watchable golfer, but if he’s not there then it’s still a great tournament and we’ll do a great event. If we get a good storyline and some telling action on the course, then we’ll do a good rating,” he says.
From the rolling greens to the sweet azaleas, there is no major tournament as tantalizing as the Masters. “It is hard to imagine creating a location that is more special. It is also the only major golf championship on the same course year after year so even people who aren’t golf fans know every hole and every shot,” says McManus.
“It always takes place when the weather around the U.S. is changing from winter to spring, and people start dreaming about playing golf again.
“Even if you’re not a golfer, who doesn’t remember the magical moments you watched as a kid?”
It’s usually impossible to predict when the must-watch events in sports will occur, “but when the leaders walk from the ninth green — you know that something incredible and dramatic is going to happen,” says McManus.
Without Woods, the field is open for his rivals to take the green jacket. “Adam Scott certainly knows what it takes to win at Augusta, Rory McIlroy is young, strong and mentally a lot tougher than many people think, and Phil Mickelson has had his physical ailments recently but when the show gets to Augusta, all bets are off.
“There’s a lot of golfers out there who really have a shot of winning this year; in the end it comes down to who can handle the pressure,” he predicts.
Like millions of people around the country, Woods will be watching from his couch this year as he recuperates, but tweeted his love of the historic event on Thursday.
It never gets old watching the honorary starters tee off. One of the oldest and best traditions in the game.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) April 10, 2014
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