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US TV ratings slide without Woods in contention

Tiger Woods is in a bit of a slump, and so are the TV ratings for golf's major tournaments. It's no coincidence.

Just as Woods' unprecedented success drew new fans, sponsors and TV money to the sport, his recent drought in Grand Slam events has been accompanied by smaller audiences.

The latest example: After Woods scrambled to make the cut and tied for 29th in the PGA Championship, the overnight TV ratings for Sunday's final round on CBS slumped 36 percent from last year, when he won the tournament.

At the British Open on ABC last month, Woods tied for 25th, and the ratings were the lowest in five years, off 39 percent from 2000. At the U.S. Open on NBC, where Woods was 12th, final-round ratings dropped 11 percent. He won both tournaments last year.

"You can probably draw a connection," CBS Sports president Sean McManus said today. "It's frustrating to keep comparing this year's numbers to the last two years because those numbers were inflated. We may never see those numbers again."

PGA Tour events in which Woods played last year produced ratings 65 percent higher than when he didn't play. He increased interest in the sport while becoming the youngest player to win a career Grand Slam and the first to win four straight pro majors.

In deals driven by Woods' popularity, the PGA Tour agreed last month to rights contracts with six networks that run from 2003-06 and are worth about $850 million -- roughly a 50 percent hike from the old packages. (The deals don't include the majors.)

Woods never contended this weekend, finishing 14 strokes back. He was done with his fourth round about 3{ hours before CBS went off the air from Atlanta Athletic Club after David Toms completed his one-shot win over Phil Mickelson.

Still, other than 1999, Sunday's 6.4 overnight rating was the highest since 1986 for a PGA Championship without a playoff. (Each overnight ratings point represents 1 percent of TV homes in the country's 51 largest markets; full national ratings are expected Tuesday).

And the PGA broadcasts Saturday and Sunday were the two highest-rated sports programs of the weekend, beating an NFL preseason game on CBS and a major league baseball game on Fox.

"If there was ever proof of the fact that there was a residual benefit of Tigers' presence on the tour, that would be it," McManus said. "If it weren't for a lot of the attention brought by Tiger to the tour, I don't think as many people would be as familiar with the Phil Mickelson story, for example."

When Woods won the Masters in April, CBS drew an estimated 40.1 million viewers and ratings 33 percent higher than last year, when Vijay Singh won. In the 46 years CBS has aired the Masters, the only time more people and TV households tuned in was in 1997, when Woods won his first green jacket.

When he won last year's U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes to start his streak in the majors, it drew the highest Sunday rating for the tournament since 1981. His eight-stroke victory at the British Open -- to complete his career Grand Slam at age 24 _ generated that tournament's biggest Sunday ratings. And Woods' 2000 PGA Championship victory, in a playoff against Bob May, drew the event's highest preliminary TV ratings.

"You're seeing the same syndrome that affected the NBA. We all felt that Michael Jordan brought people to NBA telecasts that did not ordinarily watch, and Tiger Woods brought viewers to golf tournaments that did not ordinarily watch," said TV consultant Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports president.

"When that athlete retires or doesn't play on a given day or is not on the leaderboard, a certain percentage of viewers finds other TV choices."

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