Woodsí injury leaves golf out of spotlight
By Doug Ferguson
Tiger Woods was must-see TV at the U.S. Open, making birdie on the final hole to force a playoff, another clutch birdie the next day to extend the playoff and winning his 14th major on what amounted to one good leg.
Halfway across the country, ticket sales were brisk in St. Louis those two days.
Woods is the defending champion in the BMW Championship, a PGA Tour playoff event in September that will be held at Bellerive. Fans in St. Louis havenít seen him in person since a practice round for a World Golf Championship on Sept. 11, 2001. The tournament was canceled the next day.
iEverything was going great ó until yesterday,î tournament director Jon Kaczkowski said Thursday. iIf youíre a golf fan in St. Louis, youíve got to feel snakebit.î
That goes for everyone else in a golf industry that will have to do without its biggest star the rest of the year. Woods said Wednesday he would miss the remainder of the season to have reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
Television networks no longer can count on higher ratings driven by the worldís No. 1 player.
Woods had planned to compete nine more times this year, and organizers must try to put a positive spin on any tournament that no longer has him as a headliner. His departure even affects bookmakers, who are making refunds on wagers that Woods will win two majors this year.
Maybe the biggest reminder that Woods is done for the year is that British-based William Hill lists Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia as the betting favorites for the British Open at 12-to-1.
A week ago, Woods was listed at 5-to-2.
iWhen he plays, everyone in golf benefits,î Kaczkowski said.
This is not the first time Woods has been on the disabled list. He missed two months in 2006 when his father died, and two months this year when he had surgery on his left knee to clean out cartilage.
His absence is most strongly felt in St. Louis, a golf-hungry town that again had dessert snatched away.
iWeíve had a few callers to our office that have asked for a refund, which is to be expected,î Kaczkowski said. iIím surprised we havenít had more. Theyíre deflated a little bit. They understand we have a great field and a great tournament. But they thought they would have a chance to see the greatest player maybe ever in their town.î
The tournament typically is played in Chicago, but moved to St. Louis for this year in an experimental rotation. Kaczkowski said ticket sales are still double what they had been at Cog Hill, and corporate sales also doubled.
Even so, with weekly tickets still available, he estimated Woodsí absence will cost the tournament $500,000.
iItís hard to say how much this is costing us in ticket sales, but the tickets feed into concessions and merchandise,î he said.
A year ago, Woods won the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta to capture the first FedEx Cup. Ticket sales already were 20 percent ahead of last year, but daily tickets wonít go on sale until August.
iThatís a big time, the last eight weeks leading up to the tournament,î said Todd Rhinehart, the tournament director. iFrom our perspective, this has not impacted us yet. But it will be interesting to see how we do in August and September.î
The Tour Championship already has sold about 17,000 tickets, meaning 8,000 will be available in August. Rhinehart is hopeful that a revamped points system in the FedEx Cup playoffs at least will allow for more possibilities ó and more drama ó in the season finale at East Lake with $10 million for the winner.
TV ratings likely will see the biggest change.
Woods spikes ratings when he plays, even more when he is in contention, with ratings more than 50 percent higher last year on the weekend in tournaments where he competed. The U.S. Open went prime time last week in San Diego, and drew the highest ratings for a U.S. Open in six years.
NBC Sports might have gotten off easy. It broadcasts a dozen PGA Tour events. Woods played in four of them and won three ó the Accenture Match Play Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and U.S. Open.
iThereís no way to quantify it,î NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said Thursday. iYes, he has an impact. Heís the most dominant figure in any sport in America. He has an impact on ratings. But when you construct a golf package, you donít know that Tiger is going to compete. And you donít know that heís going to be in contention.î