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When Tiger fades so do the TV ratings

The television ratings for the PGA Championship had a creative spin to them.

Network ratings of the final round, which Vijay Singh won in a playoff at Whistling Straits, were reported as being up 4 percent over last year's championship, when (former Indiana University golfer) Shaun Micheel clinched the title with that memorable 7-iron to 2 inches at the final hole at Oak Hill.

The truth is, the past year's ratings were down 41 percent over Rich Beem's final-round duel with Tiger Woods at Hazeltine the year before.

That means this year's rankings were roughly 37 percent down from Classic Tiger TV. That's what golf remains at its best for the networks: Tiger TV.

When Woods isn't center stage, in the starring role, the ratings plummet. The odd fact here is that there's more drama of late in golf, more thrilling finishes and edge-of-your-seat action.

Still, people want to see Tiger, who tied for second in last week's NEC Invitational, dominate. Ratings were off the wall when he won the Masters by 12 shots in '97 and the U.S. Open by 15 in 2001.

With Tiger's streak of winless majors reaching 10, with Tiger holding a lone PGA Tour victory this season, with TV showing Tiger hitting more errant tee shots than ever before, golf's TV ratings are sliding at a crucial time.

Phil Mickelson's stirring victory at Augusta National with a birdie on the final hole was called the greatest Masters ever by some prominent longtime golf writers.

But, now, without Woods challenging, the Sunday TV ratings were down from the previous year.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Woods has played in 30 televised weekend rounds this year, and the ratings were down in 17 of them.

This is especially noteworthy because the PGA Tour's television contract will come up for negotiation next year, with the current deal ending after the 2006 season.

When the PGA Tour negotiated its past two TV deals, Woods was red hot.

The world's No. 1-ranked golfer won his first Masters before the 1998-2002 TV pact was signed. He won those four consecutive majors before the 2003-06 deal was inked.

When the PGA Tour negotiated its current four-year TV deal estimated to be worth $850 million, Woods gave the tour remarkable leverage.

The tour deal in effect when Woods turned pro was valued at $160 million.

As the PGA Tour has noted, "These guys are good." But when it comes to TV, one guy's great.

This article appears courtesy of Randall Mell of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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