SAN DIEGO – PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said golf doesn’t depend solely on TV ratings, although good news never hurts.
Golf has shown some promise the first month of the year, with significant increases in viewers on Golf Channel, which broadcast the opening three events and the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines; and CBS Sports, which had the weekend at Torrey.
Even without Tiger Woods around – he tied for 44th and was on the air for about 30 minutes Sunday – CBS said its national rating for the final round was 3.5 with a 7 share, which was up 59 percent from a year ago.
Golf Channel, meanwhile, said it got a 1.0 with 997,000 viewers for the first round at Torrey Pines, which was up 89 percent from last year. It said the season-opening Tournament of Champions was up 38 percent, and the Bob Hope Classic was up 60 percent, despite the final round going up against the NFC and AFC Championship games.
Finchem described ratings as a “unique animal,” and said golf depends on them less than other TV programs. The tour during the past few years has touted “cumulative audience” because it is on TV for some six hours on the weekend.
He also mentioned that golf ratings were hurt last year by a successful Winter Olympics, Woods being out of action for the first three months of the season and having his worst year, and by the NFL having one of its best years.
“We’ll see how we perform this year,” he said last week. “We’re up a little bit early in the year, but it’s way early.”
It might have helped golf that its first network coverage came on a weekend when the East Coast was buried under snow.
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THE KING IS GROUNDED: After nearly 55 years in the air, Arnold Palmer is leaving the cockpit.
Palmer on Monday flew his Cessna Citation 10 from Palm Springs to his home in Orlando, Fla., a significant trip because it was his last one as the pilot. His license expired that day, and the King chose not to renew it.
“I’ll still be flying in my plane as much as always, just not in the cockpit,” the 81-year-old Palmer told Golf Digest for a story on its website. “Flying has been one of the great things in my life. It’s taken me to the far corners of the world. I met thousands of people I otherwise wouldn’t have met. And I even got to play a little golf along the way.”
Palmer grew up about a mile from the Latrobe, Pa., airport. He earned his first license in 1956 (and made his first solo flight after only eight hours of training) and bought his first plane in 1961.
In 1976, he set a record that still stands when he circumnavigated the globe in a Lear 36 in 57 hours, 35 minutes and 42 seconds. His longtime assistant Doc Giffin told the magazine that Palmer stopped to refuel in Boston, Paris, Tehran, Sri Lanka, Jakarta, Manila, Wake Island and Honolulu.
“The stops were brief,” Giffin said. “But Arnold had time to ride an elephant in Sri Lanka, and in Manila he was given a gift from President Ferdinand Marcos that he still has.”
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NO MEXICO: The LPGA Tour, already facing a limited schedule, lost another tournament this year when it decided to postpone the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico, over concerns of violence from drug wars.
The tournament had been scheduled to be played April 21-24. Ai Miyazato won last year.
“It won’t be held this year,” LPGA spokesman David Higdon said in an e-mail. “Our security firm determined the safety issues were too severe. We hope to return next year, though things will have to improve dramatically.”
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HARMON SPEAKS: Butch Harmon believes 2010 took its biggest toll on Tiger Woods between the ears.
Harmon, the coach for Woods when he turned pro and during the rebuilding of a swing that produced four successive majors, said what once separated Woods from everyone else was his mental strength. That changed last year, when Woods endured a year of being mocked for his extramarital affairs that ruined his marriage, and a game that was so bad he didn’t win for the first time in his pro career.
“I think his nerves aren’t quite as good as they used to be,” Harmon said on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show last week. “I don’t think he’s as mentally tough as he used to be.”
Harmon attributed that to a life that “got out of hand.”
“I think that takes a toll on your nervous system, and it takes a toll on your focus,” Harmon said.
Harmon said he expects Woods to have a good year when he gets through another swing change under Sean Foley, and he expects that he will get back to No. 1 in the world.
“I don’t think he’ll ever dominate like he did before,” Harmon said. “I don’t think anyone can in this age.”
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OCHOA AWARD: Lorena Ochoa is being honored for her work with underprivileged children in Mexico, including “La Barranca,” which began as an elementary school and last fall opened the high school.
The Golf Writers Association of America selected Ochoa for the Charlie Bartlett Award, given to professional golfers for unselfish contributions to improve society. Ochoa will be honored April 6 at the GWAA’s annual awards dinner in Augusta, Ga.
It will be her second award this year. She is to receive the Bob Jones Award this week from the U.S. Golf Association.
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PAC CHANGES: The 16-member Player Advisory Council for 2011 has a few new faces this year, such as Justin Rose of England, Jason Day and Kevin Sutherland. This is the group that advises the Policy Board and commissioner Tim Finchem on tour issues. The other PAC members: Jonathan Byrd, Michael Bradley, Ben Crane, Tom Gillis, Charley Hoffman, Matt Kuchar, Billy Mayfair, Webb Simpson, Paul Stankowski and Mark Wilson.
From that 16, three players are up for election to be the PAC chairman, meaning he will graduate to the Policy Board. The election is among Jim Furyk, David Duval and Scott Verplank.
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DIVOTS: The PGA Tour continues to tweak pairings, serving up the all-South American trio of Jhonattan Vegas, Angel Cabrera and Camilo Villegas. … Robert Garrigus, who won the last tournament of 2010, picked up the tab for the caddies’ meals all week at Torrey Pines. Garrigus wanted to do something earlier, but the caddie trailer does not travel to Hawaii for the first two events. … The PGA Professional National Championship is going to Bayonet and Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula in 2012. … Rickie Fowler becomes the numerical replacement of Tiger Woods in one respect: He’s been signed as a playing editor for Golf Digest magazine.
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STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have combined for only one PGA Tour victory in the past 16 months.
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FINAL WORD: “I can’t understand it when people say, ‘Would you swap something?’ Because in golf, you certainly only ever get what you deserve.” – Lee Westwood, on whether he would trade the No. 1 ranking for a major.