Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour provided an expected boost to TV ratings, but he had little to do with Golf Channel breaking a six-year-old record. The network announced on Thursday that it was Sunday's playoff (eventually settled on Monday) between Jason Day and Alex Noren at the Farmers Insurance Open that is now considered its most-watched PGA Tour telecast ever. Yep, ever.
If you're wondering, When did Alex Noren become such a big draw?, you're not alone. But there's actually a lot more that went into this. First, as Golf Channel explained when contacted by GolfDigest.com, "most-watched" is not the same thing as "highest-rated." According to the network, their "most-watched" number comes from "average viewers per minute" -- obviously higher during a playoff -- coupled with streaming views. That gave Golf Channel a total audience delivery (TAD) of 2.717 million average viewers per minute, which broke the previous record of 2.337 million for Golf Channel's lead-in coverage of the final round of the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Woods and Phil Mickelson, the tournament's eventual winner, were paired together on that day.
You might also be wondering if there's a difference between "coverage" and a "telecast," and the answer is yes. A telecast refers to a specific span of coverage. Therefore, the playoff -- although, technically, part of Golf Channel's Sunday coverage of the event -- counts as its own telecast.
Of course, Golf Channel didn't expect to show anymore of the tournament when it signed off at 2:45 p.m. ahead of CBS' coverage. But when Day, Noren, and Ryan Palmer finished regulation tied at 10 under, CBS kicked the playoff over to Golf Channel to show its Grammys Red Carpet Show. Palmer was quickly eliminated, but Day and Noren matched scores for more than an hour over five holes until it got too dark. Day beat Noren on the sixth playoff hole on Monday morning.
While the record viewers number may have been affected by people who originally tuned in to see Tiger on CBS (Woods finished his round hours before) and wound up watching the tournament all the way through, it more likely got a boost from viewers choosing bonus golf over early Grammys coverage -- not to mention an hour of prime time air. In fact, during the 7:15-8:30 ET window on Sunday, Golf Channel was also the No. 1 Nielsen-rated cable network for total viewers, beating 2nd-place ESPN by 24 percent.
Regardless of the how and why -- maybe we are just discovering an "Alex Noren Effect" on TV ratings -- the Day-Noren playoff now holds a special spot in Golf Channel coverage history having taken the "most-watched telecast" title from Tiger and Phil. At least, until those two legends draw another late Sunday tee time together.