Essential Golf: A passion for the game

Tiger Woods’ Participation at the PNC Championship

tiger woods

Tiger Woods’ participation at the PNC Championship was as pleasing for fans as it was for the sponsor.

The world waited with bated breath to see as Tiger Woods, somewhat surprisingly, re-entering the competitive world of golf at the PNC Championship.

Senior executive of the PNC Championship, Lou Cestello learned of Tiger’s participation at the same time as the rest of the world did.

“Like everyone else, we were watching social media,” Cestello said, “It seemed like it was a game-day decision for lack of a better term, or maybe a couple of weeks before game day. But we had our fingers crossed.”

Cestello is a senior executive at PNC and he oversees the bank’s sponsorship team so was even happier than most golf fans when he learned of Tiger’s decision to return this week. The participation of Tiger and his son Charlie means the level of attention on the event will have grown significantly. Cestello mentioned how happy he is for both Tiger and his family that he is far enough along on his recovery from his car accident in February to compete again before talking about how huge Tigers participation is for the event as a whole.

“It’s almost immeasurable,” Cestello said. “We’ll have to see what the TV ratings end up being. Tiger just kind of blows the lid off it in terms of popularity.”

This is the second consecutive year in a row Tiger and Charlie will turn this somewhat low-key off-season tournament into one of the must-see tournaments of the year.

Intrigue

Over 1.5 million viewers tuned in last year on both Saturday and Sunday to watch Tiger and Charlie which was the first time the world got to watch father and son in action. These viewing numbers were over three times the amount they were in previous years and Tiger playing this time around brings far more intrigue than it did last year.

Tiger will do on the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes course what looked impossible even a couple of weeks ago. To be back swinging full-swing drives and fairway shots in a competitive televised event less than ten months after an accident so severe it was touch-and-go whether doctors would be able to save his right leg is truly remarkable.

“We’re math people,” Cestello said when he was asked at the start of the week about Tigers potential impact on drawing viewers this week. “We’re always watching ratings and numbers and trying to measure everything we can. We expect there to be a big bump this year.”

Swinging

Tiger hosted the Hero World Challenge in Barbados two weeks ago, his first public appearance since his car crash in February. Days before the tournament Woods posted a video on social media of him swinging a golf club. This naturally got a lot of people excited that we were close to Tiger making a return but when talking to the media in Barbados Woods was quick to temper expectations by saying that he doesn’t think he will ever be able to return to the PGA Tour as a full-time participant but hoped to be able to play ‘here-and-there.’

Tiger certainly didn’t give any hints at all about returning anytime soon. That is why it was such a pleasant shock to so many when he announced that he would be playing in the PNC Championship.

Woods played in Friday’s pro-am event without Charlie, but the father-and-son played together on Saturday and Sunday, in a ‘Texas scramble’ format where each player drives, you pick the best tee shot and both play from there, and so on.

The pair combined so well they had 11 birdies in a row during a second round 57 – one shot off the tournament record – thrilling the sellout crowd.

Their teamwork took them to the brink of a fairytale success before finishing as runners-up by two shots to John Daly and his 18-year-old son, also called John, who finished on 27 under par.

PNC will not just benefit with TV viewing numbers due to Tiger’s participation – it will also enjoy unprecedented publicity from numerous media outlets that covered the event, many of which will be from outside of the golfing world. Requests for media credentials were been so high that the tournament had to take emergency measures in the form of a spillover press center in the on-site hotel.

Sunshine

This event was founded in 1995 and was originally known as the Father/Son Challenge – a fun tournament closing up the year with the major winners and their sons pairing up for a 36-hole scramble. Ray and Ray Jn Floyd dominated the event in the early years before Larry and Drew Nelson enjoyed a few years of dominance in the Florida sunshine. The event became sponsorless in 2009 and dropped off the calendar, but in 2012 PNC stepped up and the event was back following its three-year hiatus.

With some media billing the event as ‘Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf’, the event could hardly match the hype – the opposition included sides led by 86-year-old Gary Player and 82-year-old Lee Trevino. But though Tiger showed signs of pain, even when riding in a cart, the signs are good that if he can get his legs working sufficiently to walk 72 holes, he will return.