Instead of Tiger, Phil and Jordan teeing it up at next week’s PGA Tour Championship, it could be Chez, Charles, and a couple of Kevins -- a potential ratings blow for NBC.
Some of the PGA Tour’s biggest names are scrambling this weekend to avoid elimination as the field for the season-ending playoffs is pared down to the top 30 FedExCup points holders at the conclusion of the BMW Championship in Medinah, Illinois, on Sunday.
But Woods, a 15-time major winner, hasn’t thrown in the towel.
He put himself in with a chance with a bogey-free five-under-par 67 on Saturday, leaving him tied for 31st in the BMW Championship. The PGA Tour estimates Woods would need to finish the tournament tied for six or higher to qualify for the Tour Championship.
“I figured I [was] going to have to do something in mid-60s for two straight days there,” Woods said after Saturday’s round. “At least, I’ve got a shot at it.”
Missing the likes of Woods and Mickelson, as well as recent British Open winner, Irishman Shane Lowry; 2018 Open champ, Italy’s Francesco Molinari, ranked seventh in the world; popular but struggling three-time major winner Jordan Spieth; and highly-ranked Australian Jason Day would take some luster off the event at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Course.
Woods picked up $1.6 million in 2018 by winning the Tour Championship in nail-biting fashion. It was his first win in more than five years, a key step in a comeback from personal travails and multiple back surgeries that culminated in a Masters victory in April.
When Woods triumphed at East Lake it was a victory for Comcast Corp.’s NBC as well. The final round drew a 5.2 rating, up 206% from a year earlier when American Xander Schauffele hefted the trophy. NBC is broadcasting the 2019 Tour Championship.
Next week’s event marks the end of a compressed 2019 PGA Tour schedule designed to keep fan interest high by featuring a marquee event each month from February to August. Last year’s season-ending tournament was held more than a month later, finishing Sept. 23. The 2019 playoffs have also shrunk to three weeks from four.
Some professionals have highlighted the physical and mental toll of needing to “peak” repeatedly. It’s arguably hardest for players nearing the end of their careers, including Woods, 43, and Mickelson, 49.
The two other 2019 major winners -- world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland -- are set to advance to East Lake, along with highly ranked Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and others.
Yet for TV ratings, and the ability to draw an audience beyond the avid golf fan, there’s nothing quite like Tiger Woods.