Every sport has its icon. Basketball has Jordan, boxing has Ali, soccer has Messi or Ronaldo, tennis has Federer or Williams, and baseball has Babe Ruth. Being an icon is rarified air. It has to with both dominance in your respective sport, and then becoming a household name and transcending the game. And as great as all these guys are, none can match Tiger Woods’ level of combined dominance, influence, and value to his/her respective sport.
Tiger’s 20+-year career is a tale of two halves: the second half of it has been mired in off-the-course problems and injuries that have made us forget just how dominant he was in his first 11 years. Love or hate him, you have to respect his play, and what he means to the sport of golf, because without Tiger Woods, who knows where golf would be?
His dominance against his peers is almost unmatched. He is a record, 11-time Player of the Year recipient. He has held the world’s number one ranking for 643 weeks (Greg Norman is second all-time with 331 weeks). This includes 281 straight weeks (also record) during one stint, and 264 weeks another time.
He is second in overall wins at 79 (three behind Sam Snead’s 82) and has the all-time best winning-percentage (comfortably over 20%). He is second behind Jack Niklaus (18) with 14 majors. However, his 14 majors came in his first 11 years before his career track started downwards. Jack Niklaus won an impressive 12 in first 11 years and took 13 years to reach 14 majors. That alone is ridiculously amazing and will go unmatched. But it shows the greatness of Woods and pegs the age-old question of “What could’ve been?”
Tiger Woods exploded onto the scene in 1997 by becoming the youngest player ever (at 21 years) to win the Masters (he still is), and did so by setting the tournament’s course record at -18 (tied with Jordan Speith). And perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he won it by a record twelve strokes. That is identical to lapping the field twice.
He also won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes, which is considered the most dominant performance at a golf major ever. But perhaps his most impressive performance was his 2008 U.S. Open victory when he played his last round on a broken leg and won in the playoffs.
Before he burst onto the scene, golf’s popularity wasn’t that high, and the ratings and winner’s purses reflected that. But Tiger Woods brought a fresh energy and swag (if that’s possible in golf) that the sport had never seen. He became the ultimate fan-favorite and the guy that both golf and non-golf watchers would root for over anyone else. He inspired a new generation of golfers (including many non-white ones).
When he became big-time, the “Tiger Woods Effect” followed. He became the face of golf and still is, which is surprising when you combine the level of talent in today’s game and his absence from the game in recent years. Tiger Woods is synonymous with golf. The average person will know him but no other golfer. The “Tiger Woods Effect” in unparalleled and unmatched by any athlete in recent memory.
Winner’s purses are at an all-time high, as are sponsorships. Because of this, players don’t have to play as often to make up the money. And making the cut, alone, will get a player a solid amount of cash.
The fact that Woods can draw millions in to sit in front of a TV and watch the sport of golf says enough. As an avid golfer who enjoys watching golf, I will admit that it’s not entertaining unless you appreciate the game. And personally, I usually only watch golf if Tiger is playing or if it’s the weekend at a major championship.
The PGA has one of its best collection of talent, possibly ever. The competition is high, and there is quality in quantity. The product is excellent. Yet, the ratings and popularity of the sport do not reflect it. From 2014 to the beginning of this year was somewhat of a dark age for the game because of Tiger’s absence due to injury. Ratings were down because people just were not interested in watching, even with the collection of talent available.
But 2018 is a new year; a year that has brought Tiger Woods back. Just this past March, during the Sunday of the Valspar Championship, he was in contention and finished in second place. That day had a 5.1 rating according to Nielsen, which is up 190% from last year’s Sunday at the same tournament. 5.1 is the highest non-major tournament rating since 2013 when Tiger won The Players and is the second-highest in general (including majors) since 2013.
According to research done by Colin Cowherd, host of The Herd, the average price to attend the 2018 Masters with a weekly badge was $7,684, nearly double last year’s $3,722. Network viewership, as of this past spring was up 93% during the first four tournaments that Tiger Woods finished in the top 25. Viewership as a whole was up around 150%
Once Tiger stopped using Nike golf clubs, the company dropped their golfing line, save for clothing. Woods went to Bridgestone, and before he even played in a tournament in 2018, sales were up 30%.
And then came the 2018 British Open. Per Sports Media Watch:
Saturday’s third round of the British Open earned a 2.6 rating and 3.72 million viewers on NBC, per Nielsen fast-nationals — up 24% in ratings and 21% in viewership from last year (2.1, 3.07M) and up 8% and 12% respectively from 2016 (2.4, 3.31M).
Ratings and viewership were the highest for the third round of The Open since 2013 on ESPN (2.7, 3.78M).
So, you can bet it was even higher during the final round when he was in contention to win it. According to Broadcasting & Cable:
“NBC drew a 5 rating in the Nielsen overnights from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET, the biggest number since Woods completed the career Grand Slam by winning the open in 2000. The rating was up 38% from last year’s final round. … NBC says 33.9 million (minutes) were streamed, up 67% from last year, making it the most streamed golf event ever for NBC Sports.”
Also, the ratings peaked at 6.74 when Tiger was in first. If you were to check on social media, it wasn’t The British Open that was trending, but “Tiger Woods.” He is the reason various sports personalities and former athletes are tuning in to watch and tweet about golf. I’ve been to the same tournament twice, and the one that had more buzz was with Tiger Woods. And even with a loaded field and him being out of contention, it felt like almost half the audience was following him. And it’s always been like that.
He is the reason that golf is talked about as much as it is on ESPN and Fox Sports. How do I know? Well, he is usually the main topic of conversation. That is what you call a draw.
There are a lot of numbers out there, but it might get too much to handle. But these stats alone paint the picture of his value to the sport of golf. His dominance and swagger have helped him transcend the game and become even more prominent. Without him, golf would be dying fast.
Every other sport is in a healthy position because the game itself is entertaining for the average viewer and has multiple stars. Basketball has gotten even bigger post-Jordan. The NFL will be fine once Tom Brady retires. No superstar talent in baseball or hockey has received the same attention as Tiger.
The “Tiger Effect” is real. You cannot deny it. He is both the most dominant athlete ever, or at least recent memory, and combined with his global status as an icon, you will never find anyone like him again. No one has carried their respective sport and dominated it like Tiger. Nor do they have equal gravitas (other than LeBron, but he doesn’t have the dominance). This all shows how much Tiger Woods is on a planet of his own, and we must appreciate his iconography.
Featured Image via Flickr/TourProGolf Clubs