There’s Tiger, There’s Phil, and There’s…Who?

by on January 5th, 2011
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Usually, when a golfer hasn’t won on the tournament scene in over two years, sports writers and commentators have very little to say about him. (They have little to say about female golfers at the best of times, of course.)

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, has never been out of the spotlight. Not only have bloggers on sports-fan websites obsessed about him practically every week, but every other day or so bloggers for the big sports websites also ran articles about him.

The capper was last week, when CBS blogger Steve Elling wrote the following headline: “#1 Luke Donald Flies Quietly Under the Radar.”

The headline might be very true, but it’s only because no one chooses to write about, not because he’s made a conscious decision to stay out of the spotlight.

It seems that no matter who wins a tournament, much of the focus is on Tiger Woods. (“Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won in two years, used to really tear up this golf course.” “Donald won this tourney but would he have been able to do so if Tiger had been healthy.” And on and on and on.

The practice of CBS, ESPN and other major sports sites who focus solely on Tiger when covering golf may seem to have paid off last week, during the Pebble Beach Pro Am Golf Tournament. Tiger Woods had played extremely well for the first three days and was entering the final day with a very good chance to earn a win. And he was paired with long-time nemesis Phil Mickelson. No one expected Phil to do well – he was six shots back, but still, the match-up between the two golfers would be fun to watch, and everyone in the viewing audience could say they were watching when Tiger broke his two-year long drought.

But things did not turn out as most folks expected. Tiger started out with pars while Phil started out on fire (and the leader, Charlie Wi, started out with a double bogey). It ended up with Phil not only winning the tourney but also beating Tiger by 11 strokes.

And that final day was fantastic for the viewing audience – at least those who tuned in only to see the Tiger/Phil match-up, because every single hole of their match was shown from start to finish. It was fantastic from that standpoint. (except for the 35 minute gap between the time the Golf Channel ended their coverage of the event and CBS picked it up. In that 35 minute gap Phil got an eagle and a birdie). And for those of us who wanted to see Phil beat Tiger, the day was especially fun.

Would the viewership have been so great if Tiger had not been poised for the win? Perhaps – if he and Phil had still been paired.

But every sports writer who had obsessed about Woods looked at the ratings for that final day at Pebble and probably thought that that justified their Woods obsession.

I disagree.

The argument has been made before, but I just want to reiterate it. By focusing on Tiger to the exclusion of everybody else, the media is really harming golf ratings. “No one wants to watch anyone else but Tiger, so we have to talk about him,” they say. Well, if you’d give other golfers half the coverage you give Tiger, people might want to watch them.

Of course Phil Mickelson gets plenty of coverage. He is a fan favorite, and Phil the Thrill really delivered last week. But he’s 40 years old. Tiger is 35. It’s time to start focusing on the younger guys. Not only when they are playing in tournaments but also on their off days – as is currently done now with Woods. It’s time to broaden the public’s perception of the pantheon of golfers, because if Tiger goes winless for another year, what will the sports writers find to talk about then?

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