A decade after earning low-amateur honors at the 2011 Masters, Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday returned to Butler Cabin to don the Green Jacket. In holding off a surging Xander Schauffele and the rookie phenom Will Zalatoris, the 29-year-old Matsuyama not only became Japan’s first men’s major champion, but he helped give golf its biggest TV audience in two years.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, CBS’ coverage of the fourth round of the 85th Masters Tournament averaged 9.45 million viewers and a 5.5 household rating, making it the most-watched round of golf since Tiger Woods won at Augusta for the fifth time in 2019. While Matsuyama’s victory marked the lowest TV turnout for a regularly scheduled Masters in the modern Nielsen era—November’s out-of-sync tourney closed out in front of a Sunday audience of 5.59 million viewers and a 3.4 rating—the deliveries were anything but disappointing.
As we noted last week, the unique structure of the Masters’ sponsorship arrangements effectively dilutes the relevance of the overall TV ratings. IBM, Mercedes-Benz and AT&T underwrite CBS’ production costs, and in exchange for some $24 million, the three Augusta backers share four minutes of airtime per hour. As is the case with the Super Bowl, CBS makes no performance guarantees to the advertisers; in other words, the network isn’t on the hook for any audience-deficiency units/make-goods.
Messaging from a fourth Augusta sponsor, Rolex, appeared in the Masters live stream, which offered alternate feeds from featured groups and continuous coverage from Amen Corner and the 15th and 16th holes.
Matsuyama’s one-stroke win capped an outsized week of action for CBS, which got things rolling last Monday night with its broadcast of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. Speaking of March Madness, Sunday’s golf outing out-delivered all but two of the 65 college hoops games, as the Final Four matchup between UCLA and Gonzaga served up 14.9 million viewers and a 7.6 rating, while Baylor’s dismantling of the Bulldogs in the final averaged 16.9 million viewers and a 9.4 rating.
The fourth round of the Masters also put up bigger numbers than four of the six 2020 World Series broadcasts on Fox and easily outpaced each of the six October NBA Finals games on ABC. (As with last fall’s Masters, the NBA championship series lost ground in the face of a radical temporal shift, which in turn led to some rather unfavorable head-to-head matchups with NFL games.)
The week before the Masters was set to tee off, Jim Nantz assured a group of reporters that golf’s grandest tourney wasn’t wholly dependent on the fortunes of Tiger Woods. “I think we’ve arrived at the point now where we don’t have to rely on just Tiger,” Nantz said, adding that the PGA’s “pool of [young] talent is being recognized, which is reflected in the ratings.”
While this year’s Masters may have drawn a crowd that was more in line with Bernhard Langer’s Easter Sunday audience in 1993 than the one that turned up for Tiger’s record-smashing 1997 triumph, Nantz’s point about golf’s youngest stars was prescient. Not only did the 24-year-old Zalatoris finish just a stroke behind the far-from-superannuated Matsuyama, but Jordan Spieth, the long-struggling 2015 Masters champ, put himself back on the map with a third-place finish, tying Schauffele. Both duffers are 27.
If the younger pros will have to do most of golf’s heavy lifting now that the GOAT is laid up for an indefinite stretch, that’s not a bad group from which to start. Add to their number some of the tour’s luminaries who failed to make the cut (Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka), and broadcasters and viewers should have a lot to look forward to. And the wait may not be long. Four of the aforementioned pros are among the betting favorites to win next month’s PGA Championship.