Tiger Woods is the most popular golfer in the world, and that fact is never more evident than when he isn’t playing.
The 38-year-old will miss his second major championship of 2014, after undergoing back surgery in late March. He didn’t participate in the Masters and won’t be ready for Thursday’s U.S. Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Woods might be the most important individual athlete in any sport. His popularity drives ratings and revenue unlike anyone else.
The U.S Open is already feeling the effects of Woods’s injury. A day before the first round, prices on the secondary ticket market have decreased significantly from the previous year. Philly.com reports that a four-day gallery pass went for an average of $1,400 in 2013. This year, the average pass on StubHub is going for about $428, with the most expensive tickets being offered for less than half of the 2013 average.
Last year’s event registered strong ratings, becoming the most watched U.S. Open in six years. Without Woods, it’s almost a certainty that NBC will see a dramatic decrease in viewership.
Additionally, ticket prices for the Masters took a hit. According to CNBC, TiqIQ saw prices for the first round drop by 66 percent. When Woods announced that an injury would keep him sidelined, tickets on StubHub became 20 percent cheaper.
As Woods sat out the Masters for the first time in 18 years, so did many of the fans. Ratings for the 2014 Masters were historically poor, considering its weekend average rating was the lowest since 1957. Ratings for the final round were the event’s lowest in 21 years.
"I don't ever remember an athlete, whether it's in a team sport or individual sport, I guess with the exception of Michael Jordan, who can so dramatically affect the amount of people watching a tournament," CBS Sports president Sean McManus said in 2000. "It's true at the regular PGA Tour events and it's certainly true at the major events, also."
Fourteen years later, McManus’s words still ring true. Woods helped create record ratings when he won the Masters in 1997, and he’s continued to draw interest throughout his career. From 2007 to 2010, CBS’s 15 most-watched golf broadcasts included Woods, according to espn.com.
Woods’s popularity goes beyond avid golf fans. His greatest value is his ability to draw casual TV viewers to live events. Many are in awe of his dominance, and only watch the sport when Woods is in contention.
In the early part of his career, Woods made his name as the best golfer of his generation, winning 14 majors in 11 years, including four in a row from 2000-2001. Since 2008, however, he’s gone without a major victory. Even though he isn’t the player that he once was, Woods still moves the needle like no other.
The PGA is hoping that Woods’s return isn’t far away. Just weeks after his surgery, the Golf Channel reported that the sport’s most popular athlete was looking to make it back for the Open Championship in July. Woods has since told the network’s Damon Hack that he doesn’t know when he’ll be back on the course.
"I'd love to play," Woods said. "But I just don't know. There is no date. There is no timetable ... I want to play today but it's just not going to happen." The Open Championship will be played from July 17-20, and the PGA Championship marks the final major of 2014 on Aug. 7.