Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Shane Bacon take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by writing firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee and @shanebacon. Today, we discuss the lack of ratings at the U.S. Open, and if that means that as much as we love Rory McIlroy, if golf stills must have Tiger Woods to make people interested.
Busbee: It was a thrilling Open, it was a historic Open, it was an Open that much of the country simply didn't watch, if you believe the ratings. So let's get all Freakonomics and start parsing some numbers. What does the 28 percent decline from 2010's numbers mean? No Tiger, no ratings? Or was 2010 an aberration, since this year's ratings were roughly comparable to 2009?
Bacon: Well, first things' first -- are you trying to get all our UK brethren to hate us? This was the U.S. Open, not the Open. For some reason, they're real picky about that!
But yes, I think Tiger not being in the field is the number one reason the numbers were down, and number 1A is because the final round was such a blowout. People like you and I love watching Rory McIlroy make history, even if it means he's doing it by eight or nine shots. Regular sports fans aren't exactly like that, and blowouts normally mean people change the channel. This is a HUGE "what if," but if Tiger had been where Y.E. Yang was starting the day on Sunday, don't you think numbers would have been off the chart?
Busbee: Right, right, "U.S." Open. Sorry, Euros! And yes, Tiger's absence and Rory's domination had much to do with it. But let's broaden the conversation a bit. The U.S. Open's ratings were 5.1, which is decent enough, but Sunday at the Masters did a 10.4 (and that was down from last year, when it did a 12.0). Does the U.S. Open just not resonate with the viewing public the way the Masters does, or was this another case of no Tiger, fewer viewers?
Bacon: I think you're onto something there, Mr. Busbee. The Masters is everything you want in a sporting event, right down to the snazzy jacket. The U.S. Open (and yes, even this one Mr. Gumbel) is about tough courses, grinding out scores and winning ugly.
I think it's tougher to get into the second major of the year than any other, actually. The Masters is the Masters. You can watch the British while still in bed and still play 18 holes when it wraps. The PGA is the last big event of the year, but the U.S. Open is just tough TV.
Busbee: I think it CAN be good TV -- watching pros actually have to work at the game is good for the soul -- but you need more than just good golf. There has to be a compelling storyline there, some kind of hook to allow you to identify with (or root against) these players. For the good of the game, I'm hoping McIlroy vaults into the Tiger-Phil level where every tournament, you want to know how he's doing. He's not there yet, but he's close.
Bacon: So, two part final question - did Rory do enough to push golf fans past this "must have Tiger" motif that we've been dealing with? He is on the cover of SI, a big talk in the golf world, so was this good enough for everybody?
Busbee: Nope. I'd be willing to bet that the percentage of stories that didn't mention Tiger in noting Rory's win was 0.00001 percent. It'll take years--decades, even--for Woods not to be part of the conversation. Shoot, look at this year's NBA Finals--Michael Jordan's name came up over and over again. It's long past time people stop railing about Woods showing up in every story. It takes nothing away from Rory's greatness to compare him to Woods. He's a force of nature, in influence if not in person. I think the best thing that can be said about Rory in this context is that not one credible source is saying the outcome would have been any different had Woods been there. There is no asterisk.
Bacon: Couldn't agree more.
And now your turn. Do we still have Tiger-fever, or has Rory, and some of the youngsters, changed the interest level of golf forever?