Golf fans tuned in at record numbers to watch Tiger Woods clinch the 2008 U.S. Open, not knowing it was their last chance to see him on the green this season.
Two days after defeating journeyman professional Rocco Mediate by a single stroke following an epic 18-hole playoff, Woods announced he would miss the rest of the 2008 season following reconstructive surgery to repair ligament damage in his left knee.
For Woods, this marked his 14th major championship. But he wasn't the only winner at this year's U.S. Open. ESPN, which shared coverage of last week's dramatic 19-hole playoff with NBC, garnered a 4.2 rating and more than 4 million households, making last Monday's action the most-watched golf telecast in cable-television history.
ESPN broadcast the June 16 playoff from noon to 2 p.m. ET before NBC took the reigns for the thrilling conclusion.
Before last Monday's playoff coverage, ESPN's telecast of the 2008 Masters tournament held the record, with a 3.1 rating and more than 3 million households.
ESPN's coverage of the first two rounds of this year's U.S. Open was the most-viewed combined telecast since 2000. The two-day coverage (four telecasts, Thursday and Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., ET) averaged a 1.8 household rating and 1,780,000 impressions. Key male demos were up across the board compared to 2007, including men 18-34 (31%), men 18-34 (26%) and men 25-54 (43%).
“The Sports Leader's” U.S. Open coverage on ESPN.com mirrored its broadcast success. ESPN.com — between Thursday, June 12 and Monday, June 16 — generated more than 5.1 million visits, up 256% from 2007, and 36.7 million page views, up 282%, with the June 16 playoff alone generating nearly 2.4 million visits and 10.7 million page views.
Also, ESPN's WAP (wireless Web) site averaged more than 2 million unique daily visitors to golf content during tournament, generating nearly 3 million page views.
Woods's absence figures to have a significant impact on ratings going forward. Although Woods, the world's top golfer, plays infrequently and often commits to tourneys at the last minute, his regular schedule would have put him line to tee off at the Buick Open from June 26 to 29 (Woods is a spokesman for the automaker) and his own AT&T National event, from July 3 to 7.
The Golf Channel has historically seen between an 18% to 30% fall-off in events sans Tiger.
CBS, TNT, ABC and ESPN will also be hurt in the weeks ahead. The drama network is on deck for 2008's remaining major tournaments, covering the British Open from July 17 to 20, along with ABC and the PGA from Aug. 7 to 10, with CBS. ESPN and NBC will pair on the biennial Ryder Cup competition from Sept. 16 to 21.
Mike Reynolds contributed to this report.