Tiger Woods sets return to golf

Golfer to return to game next month at Masters

Masters to be broadcast in 3D

Tiger Woods is back, and he’ll be in 3D.

After stepping away from golf to get his personal life in order, Woods announced Tuesday he would return to the game and play in this year’s Masters Tournament, scheduled April 8-11 in Augusta, Ga.

ESPN carries the first two rounds of the tournament and CBS, which has aired the Masters since 1956, will again offer Saturday-Sunday coverage.

Said John Wildhack, ESPN’s exec VP of programming and acquisitions: “Tiger’s return to competitive golf at this year’s Masters will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen. We will cover the Masters Tournament and Tiger’s return across a variety of ESPN platforms, both domestically and internationally.”

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect,” he said in a statement. “After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.”

On Monday, Comcast announced that this year’s Masters would be broadcast in 3D on compatible television screens and com-puters. Comcast will offer a dedicated channel and Masters.com will also be available for 3D viewing.

A handful of holes on the back nine will be viewed in 3D, and for only two hours a day. Comcast will begin its 3D coverage on the day before the tournament begins as part of the traditional par 3 contest.

Prior to Woods’ announcement, CBS Sports topper Sean McManus said, “I think the first tournament Tiger Woods plays again, wherever it is, will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years. It is hard to overestimate how much interest there will be. Tiger Woods is the most famous, most recognized, most accomplished athlete in the world, and his celebrity and prominence is even larger than it was. Whatever he does on the golf course for the first time since Thanksgiving will be of interest to almost every man and women in this country.”

Golf ratings have been down this year with Woods off the course; 2.4 million viewers have been tuning in to Sunday coverage through March 7. That’s off 12% from last year over the same time frame.

Woods last played competitively in November at the World Golf Championship, where he tied for sixth. Ratings for the Masters — golf’s most prestigious tournament — skyrocket when he’s in contention.

In 1987, when Woods won the first of his four green jackets, CBS drew an all-time Masters high of 20.2 million viewers for its final-day coverage. Four years later, when Woods won again, 19.1 million tuned in on Sunday.

By comparison, last year’s tourney averaged 14.3 million over the final two days. Woods made a brief run on Sunday, but Spaniard Angel Cabrera came out on top.

April 5-11 will be a banner week for CBS Sports. Only three days before the Masters begins, the Eye will air the championship game in the NCAA basketball tournament, which is also a huge ratings draw for the Eye.

Unlike most golf tournaments, the network doesn’t handle commercial inventory for the Masters; all ad time is negotiated through the Augusta National Golf Club. Tournament advertisers this year are IBM, AT&T and Exxon-Mobil for the CBS portion of the telecast and Mercedes, Coke and IBM for ESPN’s Thursday-Friday coverage.

Said Brad Adgate of media buying firm Horizon Media: “There will be a lot of heightened interest this year. Say what you want about him as a spokesman and about his personal life, but he’s still a draw, and the casual golf viewer will be interested in what he’s doing. The numbers could be through the roof if he’s in contention in the final rounds.”

Adgate also added that, despite the huge media attention Woods will receive in Augusta, those companies for whom he was once a spokesman but dropped him following the revelations of his marital infidelities most likely won’t be wishing they had him back.

“A lot of them deliberated on it and they can always revisit it,” he said. “I don’t think they’re second-guessing themselves. Everyone knew he’d come back, it was just a question of when.”