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Missing Tiger Woods, Players Championship TV ratings plummet

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Tiger Woods’ absence from PGA Tour events continues to have a huge negative impact on TV viewership.

Richard Heathcote

The Tiger Woods Effect is in full swing, with last week’s Players Championship the most recent PGA Tour event to suffer from the absence of the soon-to-be world No. 2.

Martin Kaymer surviving a near-disaster at the famed island green and then hanging on to win at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday may have made for good theater but only diehard golf fans tuned into NBC to witness the drama. Hardly a shocking development, what with the needle-moving Woods still on the bench after spine surgery, but overnight TV ratings for Sunday’s finale tumbled to match their lowest level in 15 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

Final-round coverage of the so-called "fifth major," with one of golf’s most memorable holes in play at the end, the par-3 17th at Sawgrass, was down 54 percent from last year (2.6 overnight rating compared with 5.7 in 2013) when Woods overcame a third-round tiff with Sergio Garcia to earn his 78th tour win.

NBC’s numbers were also down 24 percent from 2012 (3.4) and tied for the lowest rating for Sunday broadcasting of the tourney since 2005.

One reason for channel-surfing away from the Players action may have been a 90-minute rain delay that occurred as Kaymer seemed to have nailed down the win. Kaymer treated those who tuned back in to an entertaining finish, as he held off Jim Furyk with a mammoth par putt on 17th and another putt for par on 18 for a one-shot victory.

Still, as the ratings (or lack thereof) for the Masters proved, no Tiger means no viewers, and we imagine that ESPN and NBC can’t wait for the figures to roll in for their split coverage of the Tiger-less U.S. Open in June.

For those fearing the worst when Woods finally does hang up his spikes, check out Ed Sherman’s prognostications for the post-Tiger PGA Tour. While noting that golf remains a niche sport, despite the 14-time major champion making it seem otherwise, Sherman debunks the Tiger-Less Tour is Dead theory by comparing the premature obits of the NBA following Michael Jordan’s retirement to the doom and gloom surrounding Woods' eventual final putt.

For sure, Sherman observed, "the game is getting another glimpse of what it will be like when the Michael Jordan of golf completely fades from the spotlight." NBC’s Dan Hicks told Sherman that "we’re in for a correction," and Peter Kostis of CBS agreed that golf cannot replace the "lofty levels" it attained during the pinnacle of Woods’ career.

In the meantime, Sherman believes TV and tour executives are counting on Woods to make another comeback and the "few ratings spikes" a successful Tiger resurgence are bound to generate.