‘The Tiger Effect’: What is it about Tiger on a golf course that is so gripping?
Thirteen months after a serious car accident that shattered his leg, Tiger Woods has returned to Augusta to play in this week’s Masters.
Tiger is back. Again.
After recovering from a serious car accident that occurred a little more than 13 months ago, Tiger Woods will make his return to golf — at least on a limited basis — on the sport’s biggest stage at this week’s Masters tournament.
Woods has made more comebacks than tight jeans and the flu during his brilliant and sometimes strange career, which has played out in public at times like a reality show, with car wrecks, lurid affairs, divorce and injuries. Each comeback is greeted as if the Beatles were somehow returning to the stage.
Last week golf websites breathlessly reported that Tiger’s plane had landed in Augusta, apparently for a practice round and someone tracked his flight on a map posted on Twitter. Golf.com reported that “over the weekend, a Zapruder-style film leaked to social media of him teeing it up at the Medalist (Golf Club).”
Oh, the suspense. Well, not so much.
“As of right now I feel like I am going to play,” Tiger announced Tuesday.
This is good for golf. Maybe you’ve heard of “The Tiger Effect.” To put it simply, when Tiger plays, TV ratings, attendance and general interest in the sport skyrocket; when he doesn’t play, the interest sags.
“Tiger Woods moves the meter more for his sport than any other athlete,” wrote Kyle Stuart, who researched Tiger’s effect on the game as a student at Samford University. “More than Roger Federer, more than LeBron James, and more than Tom Brady. Tiger Woods is golf’s pulse, its lifeblood.”
From 2013 to 2017, Tiger played only rarely because of injuries and personal issues. TV viewership fell 18%, attendance 11%. According to Golf Digest, when Tiger returned for the 2018 British Open, TV ratings increased 38% from the previous year. When he returned for the 2018 PGA Championship, ratings increased 69% from the previous year. When he returned for the 2018 Tour Championship, which he won, the final round produced the highest rating of the year for a nonmajor tournament.
When Woods missed the 2014 Masters, ratings for the final round dropped 24% from the previous year and were the lowest since 2004, per Golf.com.
The Tiger Effect began almost as soon as he turned pro. In 1997, when Tiger won the Masters at the age of 21, the number of rounds played on U.S. golf courses increased by 63 million over the previous year.
When Tiger was at his best, the only one who could beat Tiger was Tiger himself and he has done a fine job of it on several occasions. He won 14 majors from 1997 to 2008 — but only one since then. In the meantime, he dealt with injuries and the fallout from a messy personal life and the aforementioned single-car automobile wreck.
Tiger has had five surgeries on his left knee and five surgeries on his back, which forced him to miss many tournaments (he has missed 16 majors in the last 11 years). There were surgeries for spinal fusion, the removal of cysts and tumors from his knee, the repair of a damaged ACL and MCL, a pinched nerve in his back, a ruptured Achilles tendon, a herniated disc in his back, and more.
If you looked at Tiger’s medical history, you’d think he was a middle linebacker, not a golfer.
Maybe the most damaging event occurred near the end of 2009, when his secret life of extramarital affairs was made public and left his reputation and marriage in tatters. He was winless in 2010 — the first time that had happened.
In February of last year, Tiger sustained the worst injuries of his career. According to Los Angeles police, Tiger’s SUV struck the center median, then crossed into the opposing lane of traffic, hit the curb and a tree and then rolled over several times. Tiger had to be pulled from the wreck with the “jaws of life.”
According to the police report, the crash was caused by “driving at a speed unsafe for the road conditions and the inability to negotiate the curve of the roadway.’’ According to the report, Woods was traveling 82 mph in a 45-mph zone.
Tiger was left with multiple open fractures (broken through the skin) in the tibia and fibula in his right leg and several injuries to his right foot and ankle. The injuries required multiple surgeries to repair. A rod was used to stabilize the fractures in the tibia, and screws and pins were inserted in his foot and ankle. He also needed surgery to repair soft-tissue injuries.
“My right leg does not look like my left, put it that way,’” the golfer once said.
He also told reporters, “I’m lucky to be alive and to still have the limb. I’m very grateful that someone upstairs was taking care of me … (amputation) was on the table.”’
In February, Woods told The Athletic, “Will I come back and play a full schedule? No. That will never happen again. I can play certain events here and there, but on a full-time level, no, that will never happen again.”
At least for this weekend, he’ll be back on the Tour, starting at Augusta. His latest comeback will undoubtedly dominate the event.