Reynolds Rap

Pining For Ratings

6/12/2008 5:36 AM

Could the U.S. Open set up any better for ESPN to break its own cable ratings record for golf?

Probably not! The top three players in the world — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott,
respectively — are being paired together at San Diego’s Torrey Pines for the first two rounds of the national championship event.

During the second round of The Masters on April 11, ESPN holed a 3.1 household rating and 3.01 million impressions with its coverage from 4 p.m. to 7:44 p.m.. The performance marked the first time one of the first two rounds of The Masters, previously televised by USA Network, surpassed the 3 million household mark, making it the most-viewed golf telecast in cable history.

As you read this, the trio, which teed off at 11:06 a.m. (ET) are playing their first round at Torrey Pines South Course with ESPN on the scene through 3 p.m. NBC, then picks up the action from 3 p.m.-5 p.m., before ESPN resumes coverage from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tomorrow, though, is the day when the record should fall. Tiger, Phil and Scott are scheduled to begin play at 4:36 p.m., meaning NBC will hand off most of the coverage of the group to ESPN in the five-hour period that will extend well into East Coast primetime.

Of course, there are few bunkers that could get in the way: Woods’s recovering left knee and lack of practice time, Scott’s broken right pinky and Mickelson’s mental state. Still, given Lefty’s familiarity with his home course and Tiger’s success here — he’s won here six times, including his last four outings — it seems unlikely that both players, who aren’t particularly fond of one another, blow up with high scores. And even if Scott well off the pace, too, do you think ESPN’s moving away from these three?

The other is the length of telecast: it might be difficult to maintain that ratings level over a five-hour window. But with the cameras trained on the game’s best — and golf fans arriving home from work back East, or blowing off their gigs entirely – watch for ESPN to establish a new cable Nielsen mark for golf on June 13.

September