This weekend was an eventful one with all the storylines going on with the NFL regular season, the playoff races in the MLB coming down to the last week, and last, but not least, Tiger Woods is back in the win column. After five long years, the wait is over, and Woods hit number 80 in PGA wins. But it wasn’t about the number 80; it was more about the one. That one stinking victory that we weren’t sure if we would ever see. Woods certainly wasn’t; his reaction after the 18th hole showed it, as he choked up a little.
Woods went through arguably the toughest four-year stretch any athlete you can think off. He had countless back problems and surgeries over the years, which is the worst thing, for only an athlete, but a person in general. It felt like he was missing from the sport of golf for half-a-decade, and when you put it in perspective, he pretty much was.
And then he hit arguably his lowest point last year when he was pulled over in Florida and arrested for a DUI incident. That’s rock-bottom; physically incapable to earn you checks and mentally in a terrible place for the whole world to see. It was fair to wonder if we would ever see him back on the golf course, let alone win a tournament.
However, Tiger Woods made his return this year, and thus began an unbelievable comeback story; one for the ages. But it definitely did not take over without any turbulence. It was clear from the beginning that Woods was a shell of himself. First off, he didn’t have a swing, continually changing it because he could not find one. Then his short game was not great. And as crucial as those, he didn’t have the confidence and swag he once had, going from a polarizing figure because of his moxie to a near-unanimous sympathetic figure. Without his conviction, his swing and short game won’t be where he wants it to. As an avid golfer, it’s essential.
However, as the season went on, he started to find something, and we were reminded of the “Tiger Woods Effect.” He is the only golfer to be able to get millions to sit in front of a TV and watch the sport of golf.
During the Sunday of this year’s Valspar Championship, Tiger Woods was in contention to win, ultimately finishing second. That day had a 5.1 rating according to Nielsen, which was up almost 200% from last year’s Sunday at the same tournament. And at that time, the 5.1 rating was the highest non-major tournament rating since 2013, when Tiger won The Players and was the second-highest in general (including majors) since 2013.
And during the British Open, you felt it again, 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).
And, according to Broadcasting & Cable, when he was in contention:
“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.”
He was building himself up throughout the year, gaining strength and consistency the more he played and the further he got away from the physical and emotional issues; kind of like a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery but having to get eased in. Or the buildup of a story via character and plot development. That’s what this year was all about; setting himself for success in 2019 and beyond.
And it was a successful season. Tiger Woods was in contention for two majors on a Sunday. Let that sink in because that is one of the best sentences you will ever find in sports. And before them, he was close to winning two others. But because of either a slow start or fading away at the end, he was not able to do it. But that was part of the process.
He finally put it all together during the Tour Championship this past weekend, and it was quite extraordinary. The atmosphere both on the course and on social media just waiting for Tiger to arrive. He racked up the moral victories making you think Tiger Woods was (almost) back. And in the season’s last tournament, he finally got over the hump, beating the field by two. Yes, it’s not a major, but it’s the final round of the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs. This is one of the toughest fields he would face all season and 25 of the hottest golfers in the world. And he just missed winning the entire Fed Ex Cup (which is based on a point system) by a hair.
Every other time Tiger Woods been in contention this year, especially the majors, he struggled to put together four consecutive strong days. He always made his move on the weekends. However, this time, Tiger was strong the first three days but tapered off a bit on Sunday. But the fact that he was able to start off strong and sustain it for 72 holes is promising. And the scene on the last hole was simply remarkable
We are lucky to be able to have been a part of this comeback, and one that will undoubtedly continue over to 2019. This was just a chapter in the Tiger Woods story, with a few more remaining, with the next one coming during this weekend’s Ryder Cup, and the one after winning a major. We are just halfway through the book.