It is safe to say that a number of golf organizations, and indeed, almost everyone else who benefits financially from the game of professional golf, were quite miffed when Tiger Woods first became embroiled in his infidelity scandal. But after Tuesday's announcement by Woods that he would return to golf at the Masters on April 8, there is at least one organization that must be doing a victory dance: CBS (CBS).
My first thought upon hearing the news was that this would not just be good for ratings: that it would be better than the Super Bowl. I knew that I would be watching, as I haven't in the past several years; I knew that new people would be watching, those who have never watched golf. I knew that there were more like me, as Tiger was injured and healed, as sometimes he won and sometimes he did not, golf became ordinary. He was still a superstar but he was no longer a superstar that surprised you. He was an icon, but not one that left you breathless, tears in your eyes, as he broke barriers. They'd all been broken.
The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch published a story with a headline similar to my first thought so quickly after Woods' announcement that, another DailyFinance writer mused, it must have been written in advance. The lead in was no less hyperbolic than the headline: "Tiger Woods' return to golf -- at the Masters, no less -- will generate the biggest television ratings of the year. What about the Super Bowl? Forget about it." Questions would be answered, Jon Friedman went on: "Can Woods, the greatest golfer of his generation, regain his magic touch and win the Masters, his first tournament since his life turned upside down on the morning after Thanksgiving last year?" My questions will be answered, too: Will Tiger crack? Will journalists spontaneously combust with excitement?
Remember the Early Days of Tiger Fever?
In 1997, I was 24 and working with a group of ex-New York investment bankers at First Union in Charlotte, N.C. My co-workers were weary after years of turmoil at Chemical Bank, Salomon Brothers, "Manny-Hanny"; they had played in, and watched, many a golf tournament. I was young and hopeful, and just learning golf. I was also thoroughly in love with Tiger Woods, who was playing in his first Masters Tournament. So were they. We watched the early rounds of that year's tournament from TVs in the office, in our favorite Caribbean lunch spot, at happy hour in the building's bar. We barely worked at all that weekend: We were all watching golf. (If you don't know, Tiger won.)
This new Tiger Woods is nothing like the old one. The old one captured the imagination of minorities, golf lovers, investment bankers young and old. This new Tiger Woods has all the other media junkies along for the ride, too: readers of US Magazine, watchers of reality TV, paparazzi more accustomed to following Lindsey and Paris and Britney. This is Tiger Woods, dumbed down, sexed up, way more fun than ever before.
The spike in CBS' stock since the Woods announcement late Tuesday morning is nothing short of evidence: We are all anticipating this event with a glee unmatched by that of a kid on Christmas morning. It will be watched in the same way as the Olympic opening ceremonies, anticipated like the first pictures of Brad and Angelina's lovechild. Is that too expansive? Perhaps. But whether or not Woods' return to golf is triumphant, the CBS stock chart surely is. As of this writing, shares of CBS were up $0.28 to $14.72, almost 2%, very near their 52-week high, and the apex of the company's long slog from its March 2009 lows near $3.
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