The chokehold Scottie Scheffler has had on professional golf for the last three months snuffed out most of the drama from this year’s Masters—in terms of viewing interest and, likely, weekend TV ratings. The adjectives that describe Scheffler’s 10-under, 278 performance—steady, unflappable, consistent—apply to the man as well, which makes for good golf but subpar television and limited marketing appeal.
The tall, long-hitting Texan arrived in Augusta having won three of the last five tournaments he’d played, rising from No. 15 in the world in early February to No. 1, but despite that run of play, he admitted that early in the week a cart driver greeted him as Xander, confusing him with fellow pro Xander Schauffele. More people know his name now, but he’s a long way from crossover stardom. “He’s not a flashy guy,” Bob Dorfman, a creative director at Pinnacle Advertising, said in an interview. “He looks older than 25, so he doesn’t really have youth appeal and he’s not compelling in a Mickelson sort of way. What it’s going to take for him is total domination to be a marketable star.”
Scheffler’s lead ballooned to six on Saturday when the most interesting thing he did all day was put on and take off his Nike vest after each shot, providing a boost for his apparel sponsor (he plays TaylorMade clubs) when the garment became something of a Twitter sensation. That likely made up for some of the Swoosh’s pain after Tiger Woods showed up in FootJoys, which he said better supported his still recovering right leg.
Woods, who got off to a great start with a 71 on Thursday, helped goose the early rounds to record high viewership, as ESPN reported a 21% boost in Thursday’s ratings and a 31% jump on Friday over last year. Including streaming on ESPN+, more than 5 million people watched, an increase of over 1.2 million from last year.
Woods made his first competitive start since severely injuring his leg in a car accident in February 2021. Surgeons nearly amputated, but even after they instead pieced his shin back together with rods and screws it was unclear how well he would ever walk again, never mind play golf or Tour level golf. So Woods’s appearance at the Masters, sooner than even he’d originally though possible, drove early excitement and interest, as he always has.
Only Tiger, who fell off the pace Saturday, can drive that level of passion, but even the second-tier stars held little chance on the weekend. The only potential challenge came from Australian Cam Smith, 28, who also arrived in good form—having won two of his last four starts. Smith employs a more dramatic playing style and sports the intriguing look of a confederate Civil War reenactor. More important, he’s something of a Gen Z avatar, with his glorious flowing mullet and sleeping caterpillar mustache. And he has personality to go with the presentation, freely talking about his rugby fandom, love of cars and desire to open a coffee shop upon retiring. That’s a guy sponsors could love.
Scheffler, by contrast, is married to his high-school sweetheart, a lawyer, and the only “interest” listed on his official PGA Tour bio is playing pick-up basketball. Still, by Sunday night he’d won his fourth tournament in 60 days and his first major, which is the kind of play that will grab attention. “He’s gonna have to keep doing what he’s doing,” said Dorfman. “Just keep winning and winning.”