Whether Tiger Woods is playing beautifully or like a weekend hacker, he is more interesting to watch than some of—most of—the PGA Tour’s top players. So, believe me when I say all elements of the golf world embrace his return this week after almost four months off at the Hero World Challenge in Islesworth, Fl.
Why? Because he moves the meter. Woods, the only Black player on the PGA Tour, inspires viewers, brings people out, increases purses.
He has hardly been the same player since his personal life unraveled in public and injuries piled up. But beating Woods remains a significant feat for tour players. Fans tune in to watch him flourish or struggle. He’s that magnetic.
He’s hoping, as are many fans, that he is over the injuries and can return to consistent competitive golf after playing in just eight tournaments last year.
“I’m excited that I have this much time off to obviously heal and get stronger and get my game in order for next year,” said Woods, whose season was halted by March 31 back surgery and another back injury in August. “I went through a period there for the last year, year and a half, where I didn’t really practice that much.”
The golf world missed him. His impact can be measured in viewers and dollars. As talented as Rory McIlroy is and others on Tour, they do not make golf fans want to tune in. Woods attracts the fan and the person who just wants to see what he’s doing.
Here’s how it shows up: The 2013 U.S. Open, a coveted major, with Woods participating pulled a 6.1 Nielsen rating. With Woods out because of injury this year, the ratings dropped to 3.3. The 2013 Masters with Woods drew a whopping 10.2. Without Woods in 2014, the numbers dipped signficantly to 7.8.
“I’m not saying anyone has to be a cheerleader,” Sean Foley, the swing coach Woods fired a few months ago, said. “But at least be fair, have some respect. I think when he came on the tour the purse was about $70 million and this year it’s $297 million. That escalation over 20 years is attributable to one person’s influence.”
This is how Roger Pielke Jr. of SportingIntelligence broke down what he calls the “Tiger Woods effect”:
The PGA Tour distributed $101 million in prize money in 1996, which was Woods’ final year before turning pro, and $292 million in 2008, the last year of Woods’ amazing run of dominance.
The 9.3 percent average annual increase in prize money during the Tiger era is nearly triple the 3.4 percent average annual increase that the tour experienced in the six years before Tiger joined the Tour.
Further, according to Pielke, the PGA Tour distributed $3.1 billion in prize money between 1997 and 2008. If Tiger didn’t exist and the prize money kept increasing by 3.4 percent per year instead of 9.3 percent per year, the tour would have only headed out $1.5 billion.
So, when he tees it up on No. 1 Thursday, even those who would rather see him continue to struggle are glad to see him back. He makes it better—and richer—for everyone.