Rory McIlroy’s two-stroke win yesterday at the Open Championship marked the third major championship victory for the 25-year old from Northern Ireland. He put on a dominating performance through Saturday, building a six-stroke lead heading into the final round where he was rock solid in the face of the mounting pressure of a major championship Sunday.
McIlroy joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers to win three major championships before the age of 26. In doing so, he strengthens his case to supplant Tiger as the sport’s biggest draw.
But the television ratings, for one, tell the opposite story.
ESPN’s Open Championship rating for Sunday was down 28 percent from last year’s broadcast, drawing a 2.6 rating beginning at 8:00 am EST. Yesterday marked the lowest Sunday rating for ESPN in the four years since it’s broadcast the Open Championship. Unfortunately for the network, Tiger never played a factor in the tournament after a promising three-under (69) in the opening round.
It’s a difficult ratings comparison to last year’s Open Championship Sunday, which included drama on the leaderboard with the ever-popular Phil Mickelson overcoming a three-stroke deficit to win his first claret jug. McIlroy’s big lead left little in doubt heading into Sunday’s broadcast.
However, it’s hard to envision a 25-year old Tiger dominating the field on his way to a major championship victory without drawing eyeballs to the television. His eight-stroke victory at the 2000 British Open drew an overall 5.9 rating on ESPN/ABC, the biggest tune-in for the event since the early seventies. Even a Tiger Woods victory lap on Sunday was must-see TV.
It’s not an indictment on McIlroy, who has established himself as the best young player in golf. It just appears that he may not be compelling enough, perhaps not American enough, to carry the sport to the same heights as Tiger. However, with the full weight of Nike behind him, and continued performances like the one at Royal Liverpool, we’ll certainly get the chance to find out.