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Can Golf Be Back If Tiger Doesn't Win?

As Tiger Woods made the turn to the back nine yesterday, I could feel the intensity. And I was sitting in my man cave at home in New Jersey.

As 15 years of data have proven, and it's not going to change, when Tiger is in hunt for a title, more people are going to watch. If it's a major, ratings with Tiger in it will jump up significantly. If it's a garden variety tournament, Woods' presence at the end could be worth double the viewers.

CBS got a 10.4 final round overnight rating. That’s the second best final round overnight, after last year, in a decade, even beating out the final round overnight of when Tiger won his last green jacket in 2005. It's encouraging that the final round peaked at the end, in between 6:30 pm ET and 7 pm ET, after Tiger had finished his round. That also might be because Woods still had a chance at winning.

Tiger Woods walks up the first hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.
Andrew Redington | Getty Images
Tiger Woods walks up the first hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

As the PGA Tour readies to commence TV negotiations — the six-year deals worth almost $3 billion expire at the end of 2012 — what are the networks going to be paying for? They lost Tiger to injury for the second half of 2008, didn't see him before the Masters last year due to the scandal and now they don't know exactly what they have.

Let’s take a look at the ratings so far this year.

Weekend ratings are up 20 percent season-to-date through the same events and only one weekend round — The Transitions Championship — declined versus last year.

Tiger didn’t play in any of those events in 2010 and played in four in 2011. What’s positive is that Tiger didn’t do exceedingly well in any of those tournaments. He finished tied for 44th at the Farmers, lost in the first round of the Accenture Match Play and finished 24th at Bay Hill. His best finish was 10th at the Cadillac Championship. So it’s hard to say it’s definitely the Tiger factor.

Up 20 percent is positive until you consider that weekend ratings in 2010 were down 26 percent on CBS versus ’09 numbers. NBC’s numbers last year were down 33 percent versus the year before. So versus 2009, Tiger’s last full year, it’s closer to flat.

The PGA Tour’s pitch to the networks is that sponsorship packages for tournaments include an ad buy that assures the networks of a guaranteed 65 percent of ads already sold to sponsors. It’s a unique model that is worth mentioning.

But if Tiger is back to his old self, the rest of the inventory is worth tens of thousands of dollars more than it is now. Take that and add it to every tournament and spread that return over say, a six-year period of time. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars of speculating in there.

So with Tiger not exactly back to being a sure thing — who knows if it will happen again? — what will the PGA Tour do? How long will they wait? Or maybe it's, how long will the networks make the PGA Tour wait?

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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