Is Rory McIlroy the new Tiger Woods? CBS certainly hopes so.
Not just on the course but as a TV draw. Even before Tiger Woods withdrew from the Firestone Invitational on Sunday — leaving his participation in this week’s PGA Championship in doubt — CBS was already promoting the PGA with spots featuring McIlroy.
It only makes sense. The 25-year-old Irish golfer is ranked No. 1 in the world.
But even when Woods has struggled, his presence in a tournament has boosted TV ratings. And ratings is what CBS Sports is all about.
"We were trying to give as much exposure and promotion as we could to someone who we think is certainly an established and, in many ways, a rising star," said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. "Because I think his best moments are probably still in front of him.
"When you promote an event, you try to promote what you think is the most marketable. And, right now, I think the most marketable thing in golf is Rory McIlroy and the two weeks he’s put together."
On July 19, McIlroy won the British Open — his third major title. On Sunday, he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, making him the first player to head into the PGA Championship after two consecutive wins since 2009.
The first since Tiger Woods, not surprisingly.
And Woods has been the face CBS has used to promote its golf coverage for years. Because they’re good marketers.
The network, which will carry the final two days of the PGA Championship on Saturday and Sunday from Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., is clearly hoping it can transition its promotional power from Woods to McIlroy. Which, perhaps, it should have done earlier — at least in terms of the game itself.
"I think the transition isn’t starting now, the transition started three years ago," said Jim Nantz, CBS’ lead golf announcer. "It’s just a lot of people who cover golf on an occasional basis either didn’t realize it or don’t recognize it.
"His performance at [the 2011 U.S. Open], when he won by eight shots, certainly should have clued a lot of people in that there was a superstar in the making. And then the next year, to go win the PGA championship by eight shots should have been another anvil to the head for people — fringe golf fans that, hey, there’s maybe another era in golf that’s kicking in here."
Yeah, well, the question is not so much about the golf as it is about the promotion. And, again, the ratings.
And it’s not like CBS was promoting the heck out of McIlroy in 2011 or 2012 or 2013.
"He’s been the story the last two weeks in the golf world," McManus said, "along with Tiger’s travails."
You can bet that CBS will make much of Woods if he can make it to this week’s tournament, no matter what he does on the course. Because he remains the most marketable name in golf. More marketable than McIlroy, although there’s clearly no doubt that the Irishman is playing far better these days.
"This isn’t something that’s happened in the last two weeks. It’s three major championships in a three-year span," Nantz said. "It’s very exciting for the game. And I can’t wait to see what he’s going to have next week for us at Valhalla.
The sportscaster said McIlroy reminds him of Woods in his prime. "Just, wow, who’s going to beat this guy? That’s what it feels like."
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune.
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