Tim Bourret, the long-time sports information chief at Clemson, traded one love for another last year, leaving the Tigers full time to become a researcher for NBC golf telecasts. And wouldn’t you know it; his first week in his new gig blew the ratings through the roof.
The Bourret Impact? He laughed at the suggestion and said, “I think Mr. Woods had something to do with it.”
Indeed, Tiger Woods bidding for his first PGA Tour triumph in five years that day in the 2018 Valspar Championship re-enforced one of golf’s most obvious truisms: Tiger moves the needle.
Sunday, with his victory in the 83rd Masters, he added another chapter to the legend.
Fans lined the fairways and circled the greens to get a glimpse of the one-time master of the game who is again the master of the game. His triumph Sunday completed his comeback from multiple back surgeries and personal problems, and this one ranks among the most popular at the Masters since ... well, since he won in 2005.
Sunday’s scenes tell the tale so graphically. Players on 17 holes at Augusta National Golf Club went about their business almost in anonymity; all of Richmond County followed Tiger.
Woods played his second shot into the par-4 ninth to the back of the green. The crowds — six, seven, eight deep — struggled for vantage points and even the slope to provide more viewing opportunities did not help.
He sent his birdie putt toward the hole and those upfront began mummers of anticipation. Those with hopes of seeing the cause of those expectations jumped, up and down, up and down — a scene worthy of a trampoline park or a pogo-stick contest.
The mummers reached a crescendo climbing toward a roar, but they turned into oohs — the sound of a near miss. That left him 12-under par, one stroke behind Franceso Molinari, and the throng followed him to the back nine.
The Pied Piper never had a more captivated audience.
“I’m just glad to be in his era,” Kevin Kisner said in a pre-tournament interview. “It’s fun to have him back out there of the Tour. He’s an amazing dude.
“He has an amazing brain and will power. You can tell that it takes a lot of effort for him to play the games (after the surgeries), and he doesn’t have to. But he has that much drive to be one of the best in the world.”
Kisner cited the difference in television ratings and attendance figures in Tiger tournaments and Tiger-less events. Those numbers, he said, “tell how much he matters.”
The Masters would be the toughest ticket in golf no matter what, and Woods’ increased presence on the leaderboard sent the scalpers’ prices skyrocketing this year. He has that impact everywhere.
“I’ve been to Mexico (City for the World Golf Championship tournament) for three years now,” said Kisner, who finished tied for 21st Sunday. “The first two, he’s not there. He was this year and the crowds were much, much larger. Kids were everywhere following him.”
That scene sounds like the pre-television days when Arnold Palmer came to town for an exhibition or a Major League Baseball team stopped at a minor-league park for a preseason game. Fans flocked.
“Pretty amazing,” Kisner said.
Although he won the Tour Championship last fall and chased the winner to the finish line in the previous two majors, some skeptics still doubted. They pointed to his losing to Lucas Bjerregaard in the Match Play quarterfinals, missing a 4-foot putt on the final hole.
When, they asked, has Tiger missed an important putt?
He put that memory aside and came to Augusta with confidence. And those who followed in his wake Sunday saw the New Tiger resemble the Old Tiger, applying the screw down the stretch and watching the pretenders fall by the wayside.
Considering where he has been and where he is now, major championship No. 15 ranks up there with his sweetest.
Although the context is different and more foreboding, William Blake’s words from long ago are apropos today:
“Tiger, Tiger, burning bright.”