Tiger still has enduring hold on US public

In spite of his previous attempts to quell the public obsession with his ailing golf career, Tiger Woods is truly the only spark that ignites the interest of the general US public.

Tiger still has enduring hold on US public

His practice round on Monday will have done nothing for the real experts who have seen it all before but for the rest of us, that round with Mark O’Meara is evidence of a return to form for the 14-time Major winner and therefore a reason to consider tuning in before Saturday rolls around.

Woods’ quotes yesterday at his press conference did even less to calm things down and now, here we are again, hoping beyond hope for antoher grlorious chapter to be written by a modern great.

The rest of the professionals be damned for all we care; give us Woods and plenty of him. We’re pathetic.

The steady allure of Augusta doesn’t overly depend on us bandwagoners but CBS and every other media entity could really do with Tiger making the cut. An obvious truism that greets every major tournament.

It might be the US Masters but just look at the competition for headlines outside of Augusta: Duke clinching the college basketball National Championship on Monday night in an exciting win over Wisconsin; the pomp and ceremony of opening day in Major League Baseball; and the exciting run-in of the regaular NBA season with teams jockeying for play-off berths.

It’s not surprising or alarming but golf’s strength lies solely within its admittedly large niche.

Only Rory McIlroy comes close to distracting casual viewers away from Woods’ struggles and specifically his decision to return to competition after a two-month break.

And there is a very apparent swing towards sympathy for the one-time devil whose previous dramatic return to action at the Masters was overshadowed by the public dressing down conducted by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne five years ago.

It was of course at an infamous press conference prior to the 2010 Masters that Payne expressed his hopes (and prayers of course) that Woods would “begin his new life here ... in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner, but this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, but for all of us who believe in second chances.”

In the Masters tradition, he is a champion forever and it’s only natural that the cameras will follow his every stroke up to and hopefully beyond the cut.

But what’s really at stake for CBS and the slots they sell to advertisers over the two final days - after they take the reins from ESPN - is a mystery and a fascinating one at that.

Since 1956, a series of one-year deals have been agreed to by a handshake, dictating the traditions of the business partnership between the Amerian media giant and the powerbrokers at Augusta National.

Shrouded in secrecy is the figure CBS pay but some of the terms and conditions are revelatory in the carefully thought out manner it conceals the many telling truths.

No references to prize money are permitted while the broadcasters are also instructed to avoid information about membership - the cost or how it’s attained - as well as being barred from mentioning the brands associated with the players themselves.

Instead, a controlled and relatively muted brand partnership is employed. Muted in comparison to the practices of other US sport’s marketing approaches: this steady drip feed throughout the broadcast of three of the biggest corporate behemoths in the US is a mutually beneficial appreciation circle.

Reportedly, CBS will ask for their costs to be covered and Augusta National then acts as a broker to have IBM, AT&T and ExxonMobil square things away.

All very civilised and a world away from the plastering of logs on everything that moves at the recently decided NCAA basketball tournament.

And all very convenient for those of us who deign to luxuriate annually in the technicolor timewarp of Augusta National in spite of the questionable past.

Just over a decade ago, the organisers went without branding two years in a row so as to avoid associating sponsors with the ongoing controversy over the lack of women members.

The casual viewer cared little for that and we return in droves each year until it becomes clear that the big names have been undone by the course’s cruel lack of consideration for the fortunes of the great and the good.

Woods is on a

hiding to nothing unless he can somehow delay his downfall until the back nine on Sunday. Mediocre or worse will push us all further away from caring whether he can get to 18 majors or not.

johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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