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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Does Golf TV Have a Scottie Scheffler Problem?

  • The audience for the final round of the Masters dropped 20% from last year.
  • The machine-like Scheffler bores casual golf viewers.
Adam Cairns, Adam Cairns / USA TODAY NETWORK

Scottie Scheffler is No. 1 in the golf world—except in TV ratings.

With Scheffler winning the Masters for the second time in three years, CBS’ TV audience for Sunday’s final round plunged 20% to 9.589 million viewers from 12.058 million in 2023. That’s the smallest audience for the tournament’s final round since Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama’s 2021 victory pulled 9.64 million viewers. It was Scheffler’s third win in his last four tournaments. He pocketed a $3.6 million winner’s check and his second green jacket from Augusta National Golf Club.

The Masters is always the most-watched golf tournament of the year. Even though viewership fell, this year’s event was still the most-watched golf tournament on TV since the ‘23 Masters. One reason for the dropoff is that last year’s final round was played on Easter Sunday. That means CBS benefitted from an influx of out-of-home audiences, as families gathered together. The out-of-home audience increased last year’s viewership by 21% vs. 8% this year.

Sunday’s final round peaked at 12.562 million viewers. CBS points out Saturday’s third round coverage was in line with previous years. This year’s average of 8.210 million viewers was just behind last year’s 8.985 million—and well above the COVID-19 era years 2020-21. It was also the most streamed day of golf ever on the Paramount+ platform. 

Still, I wonder if Scheffler’s inability to draw viewers will be a trouble spot for the PGA Tour and its media partners moving forward as it vies with rebel LIV Golf for business supremacy.

Besides his eye-popping footwork, the world’s No. 1 player is not exciting to watch. Scheffler is polite, soft-spoken, modest. He doesn’t react to shots, good or bad. Instead, he plows along with his head down, rarely interacting with the crowd. Like a machine, Schefter methodically grinds down his opponents and the course. He’s more of a boring Ben Hogan than a swashbuckling Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson.

Golf purists may admire his sustained run of on-course excellence. But FS1’s Colin Cowherd summed up the ambivalence of casual viewers toward Scheffler. Whether it’s Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, or Patrick Reed, most of the golfers with outsized personalities have decamped to the flashier LIV. Love them or hate them, they make you feel something a vanilla personality like Scheffler doesn’t, said Cowherd.

“If Phil Mickelson Sunday was in the final group, I’m watching. If DeChambeau is, I’m watching. If Scheffler is … whatever,” Cowherd said on his show. 

The 27-year old Scheffler is simply playing on a different level than everybody else. Even when he started off slowly on Sunday’s front nine, his victory seemed inevitable. He previously won the ‘22 Masters by three shots. With little suspense surrounding his four-shot victory, CBS turned to saluting 83-year old Verne Lundquist for his 40-year run calling the Masters. That’s why I loved the pics of Scheffter visiting a dive bar in Dallas in his green jacket. At least it showed he’s got a pulse outside the ropes.

Scheffler, though, needs more rivals. Great duels and back nine roars at Augusta drive TV ratings. Back in the 60’s, ‘70’s and 80’s, we had Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Johnny Miller, and Tom Watson. Then Woods and Mickelson. Then Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Rory McIroy. And now?

Spieth won 10 times between 2015 and 2017, but has since fallen off a cliff. McIlroy hasn’t won a major in a decade. He’s still looking for his first green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam of majors. DeChambeau started hot with an opening round 65 at this year’s Masters, but he finished nine shots behind Scheffler, as golf’s mad scientist continues to fiddle with his body, his swing, and his clubs. That leaves five-time major champion Brooks Koepka. With his ability, he should be pushing Scheffler. But Koepka crashed to nine-over par at this year’s Masters, his worst showing other than missing the cut in 2022.

In short, we need other stars to push Scheffler to the limit to really find out if he drives TV ratings. Consider the appeal of Woods, golf’s all-time TV draw. Even playing on one healthy leg, the 48-year old’s appearance at this year’s Masters spelled big box office for ESPN. With Woods making the cut, ESPN averaged 3.4 million viewers on Thursday-Friday; its biggest two-day viewership since 2018. When Woods fell apart with an 82 during CBS’ Saturday coverage, the air seemed to go out of the tournament. He finished dead last out of the 60 golfers who made the cut. 

The good news for golf TV networks is Woods says he plans to play in this year’s three upcoming majors. But given his injury history, who knows? The bottom line: Networks can no longer rely on an injured, aging Woods to drive ratings. It needs younger stars like Scheffler to start doing the heavy lifting.

Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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