Tiger Woods is back, y'all. And if you were worried you might not be able to watch him play the British Open while you're at work, well, ESPN is here with a dedicated online stream to cover his every move.
Tiger may not be a top contender this week at the Open, with it being just his second competitive start since mid-March. But he's still the top draw, and the ratings for the two Tigerless majors this year hammered that home in the harshest way to the networks. So ESPN is here to make up for lost time, setting up the "Tiger-cam" that will follow him all four rounds. On Thursday, he'll be out at 4:04 a.m. ET (9:04 local) alongside Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera. The tee time also puts Woods out on the course right as the ESPN TV coverage starts at 4 a.m. back in the States. He'll obviously be a focal point of the regular broadcast as well, which will be simulcast on ESPN3/WatchESPN.
While it's getting a lot of publicity as the Tiger-cam, the stream is essentially a "featured groups" stream that we get at most of the major golf events. In the afternoon, Phil Mickelson's group will get the spotlight. The defending champ goes out with Bubba Watson and Ernie Els at 9:05 a.m.. In the second round, Phil and Tiger switch tee times on separate sides of the draw, so Mickelson's group with show up first on the Tiger-cam before Woods takes over later in the day.
There's been some whining from the usual Tiger critics, but it's good to have these options as opposed to the antiquated "limited coverage" traditions in place at the Masters. People want to watch Tiger, and want to watch golf -- let's not inhibit their ability to do so or have the most popular player ever to play in obscurity. Here's the schedule for Tiger-cam on Thursday:
Thursday's first round coverage
4 a.m. to TBD ET -- ESPN3 Tiger Woods (4:04 a.m.) and Phil Mickelson (9:05 a.m.) cam, streaming every shot
4 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- ESPN3 simulcast of TV coverage, Spanish feed, and International (BBC) streams
4 a.m. -- ESPN3 featured holes stream, Nos. 13 through 15
4 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- ESPN
Trey Wingo and Jim Kelly will split duties anchoring the featured holes stream and the Tiger stream. And here are the reporter assignments for Thursday's first round:
4:04 a.m. ET -- Tiger Woods-Angel Cabrera-Henrik Stenson group - Andy North
3:37 a.m. -- Luke Donald-Rickie Fowler-Sergio Garcia group - Billy Kratzert
4:26 a.m. -- Rory McIlroy-Hideki Matsuyama-Jordan Spieth group - Dottie Pepper
9:05 a.m. -- Phil Mickelson-Ernie Els-Bubba Watson group - Judy Rankin
9:27 a.m. -- Adam Scott-Justin Rose-Jason Dufner group - Billy Kratzert
So what happens if Tiger doesn't make the weekend, which was the case in his first event back from surgery at Congressional? Well, ESPN has indicated they'll keep the stream up and running and just switch over to other marquee groups that are playing the final 36 holes at Royal Liverpool.
This is obviously a big first test for Tiger, who's in danger of falling behind the pace of Jack Nicklaus' major championship record. It was at the same age of 38 that Nicklaus won his 15th major title at the Open. Tiger, now stuck on 14 for more than six years, had been well ahead of the Nicklaus' pace for so long and it seemed like a record-breaking 19 majors had been locked up in his early 30s. But here we are, Tiger trying to get healthy, stay healthy and put together four good rounds to end this drought.
ESPN will catch some crap for dedicating so much coverage to one player from the 156-man field, but the decision to have a Tiger stream is a no-brainer. There's no one like him in the game -- no one comes close to drawing the same interest or ratings. And now that he's back, those casual fans seeking him out should be able to watch his every shot.