Last weekend, CBS had its own version of Mission: Impossible. A week after Tiger Woods made history (and drew an estimated 40.1 million viewers on Sunday) by winning the Masters for his fourth consecutive major title, CBS somehow had to excite golf fans about the WorldCom Classic, a Tigerless tournament whose defending champ was Stewart Cink. It was the equivalent of promoting a concert by the E Street Band without that Springsteen guy.
During the two-month stretch between the Masters and the U.S. Open, this will become a familiar challenge. Because Woods is scheduled to be playing sporadically (next at the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic in May), networks won't have the instant cachet and the truckloads of viewers he brings. (On average in 2000 a tournament in which Woods was in contention had a rating nearly 115% higher than one in which he was not.) So how does a network go about covering an event without him?
At the WorldCom, which Jos� Coceres won in a playoff on Monday morning, CBS took a two-headed approach. Before its Saturday coverage, it ran an hourlong retrospective special entitled Raising the Bar which described 2000 as "Tiger 2K" and overflowed with fawning testimonials to Woods. Once play began, however, Tiger became a nonfactor. On Sunday it took one hour and 27 minutes before his name was uttered (in a taped Masters segment), and he wasn't brought up again until the end of the tournament, and then only incidentally.
"We weren't ignoring that Tiger wasn't here, but we had a story to tell," said announcer Jim Nantz after the final round. "I'm not going to create synthetic drama, and I'm not going to worry about Tiger Woods when a guy like Coceres is walking up to the 18th green."
For last weekend CBS's WorldCom coverage averaged a 2.6 in the preliminary Nielsens—11.9% lower than its numbers for the same event a year ago, that was also Tigerless. The network caught a tough break when weather delayed the final round, bumping the playoff to TNN in the Eastern and Central time zones. Would there have been such a shift had Tiger been in that playoff? "We would have made the same decision," says Rob Correa, a CBS Sports senior vice president. "It wouldn't have mattered who was playing."
Right, and nobody would rather see Springsteen.