WASHINGTON, November 24, – PGA officials hope Tiger Woods will bounce back from a year of scandal and setbacks with a strong 2011 season and revive interest in himself and golf ahead of US tour television contract negotiations.
Woods endured a sex scandal and a winless 2010 campaign, falling from atop the world rankings as his marriage ended in an August divorce and his five-year golf reign ended when England’s Lee Westwood took over three weeks ago.
US PGA television ratings are down ahead of planned 2011 talks on terms for the 2012-2016 seasons and having Woods in top form would help as networks and sponsors consider how much money to sink into the sport in the near future.
"The most dominating player in a sport in history, you want him playing because it makes a lot of things work a lot better," US PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
"And we want him playing. We want him playing well and given his intensity, we assume that will be the case."
Viewers beyond the typical golf crowd have tuned in to watch Woods win 71 titles, 11 shy of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA record, and 14 major titles, four shy of matching golf’s holy grail of records set by Jack Nicklaus.
The quest by Woods to overtake those marks would likely ensure strong interest from people who do not usually watch golf, providing Woods is able to bounce back and show some signs that he can simply win any sort of tournament.
Often winning by record-setting scores or margins, Woods lured viewers from beyond golf’s usual crowd the way Mike Tyson brought people to boxing with fast knockouts in his prime.
Woods helped boost US PGA TV contracts, sponsorship and prize money and his first events back after scandal drew global attention, although the buzz faded during 2010 as Woods went winless, unable to duplicate past amazing shotmaking.
The fall from grace by Woods and a major economic downturn combined to hit the US PGA Tour like a tee shot into a water hazard.
Some rising stars in golf’s new world order will not join the US PGA in 2011 as world number one Lee Westwood of England, third-ranked PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer of Germany and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy will stay on the European Tour.
Sponsorships for some events became a struggle to secure. TV ratings fell and next year’s schedule still has not been announced, two months after Finchem said it was coming soon.
According to The Golf Channel’s website, ratings for its PGA Tour telecasts were down 26.7 percent from 2009 and 17.7 percent from 2008 with final-round ratings down even more.
Finchem sees the economy, not Woods, as the culprit in PGA setbacks and said he does not see Woods having an impact on TV negotiations.
"As long as the business model is working, I don’t think so," Finchem said. "Tiger brings a lot of unique viewers to the telecast. Tiger doesn’t generate the core audience that we have week in and week out.
"We have 47 tournaments. Tiger plays in 16. The economy is the problem, not Tiger."
One PGA growth area is global interest, with US events telecast in 30 languages to more than 225 nations.
"We are continuing to focus even more energy on growth in Asia and in Latin America and we see that continuing in the years to come," Finchem said.
Finchem noted that there has been only a minor drop in the number of US households exposed to PGA telecasts, 148 million excluding major tournaments, even with Woods missing the first three months of 2010.
"Having the No. 1 player out hurts… not just the weeks he plays but just bringing interest to the game," Finchem said.
"You would much rather be in a growth environment, no question about it, but given the circumstances, given the difficulties, given the cutbacks we’ve seen in other sports and given the fact that we’re headed into television negotiations, we are cautiously optimistic."