Hideki Matsuyama's Sunday victory at Augusta National was a win for Asian golf and a huge ratings surge over last November's COVID-delayed Masters, but a significant decline from the tournament's traditional April slot.
Sunday's final round on CBS averaged 9.45 million viewers, an increase of 69 percent from November's Dustin Johnson victory, per Sports Media Watch. However, the Matsuyama win marked a 13-percent decline in viewership from the last time the tournament had been held in April, a Tiger Woods victory in 2019. Worth noting: the last two Masters Sundays were completed early because of weather; Matsuyama's win was down 27 percent in viewership from 2018, the Patrick Reed victory and the last time the Masters ran in its normal Sunday late afternoon time slot.
Sports Business Journal's Austin Karp noted that this year's Masters totaled the lowest viewership since 1993, but was the highest-rated round of golf on TV since the 2019 Masters. During the brief period when Matsuyama's lead narrowed, viewership rose as high as 12.6 million.
The tournament didn't offer a significant ratings draw either on the leaderboard or on the course. Most of the field's biggest names either missed the cut (Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy) or had little impact on the final outcome (Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas). Jordan Spieth made some noise, but Matsuyama's victory was apparent from the start, despite some late-round wobbles.
Golf's ratings conundrum can be summed up in one word: Tiger. When Woods is even in a tournament, ratings surge, and even more so if he's in contention, as he was in 2019. The Tiger Effect means it's almost pointless to compare ratings from tournaments where he's not in the field with those he is, at least for the purposes of any apples-to-apples breakdowns. Woods was not in the field at the 2021 Masters; he remains at home in Florida recovering from a February car wreck.
The rebound in ratings does give more weight to the theory that much of the decline in 2020 sports ratings arose as a result of the unusual scheduling. The Masters was one of many events played well outside its normal window, and while the novelty of a fall Masters looked good on television, it didn't fit well with the tournament's traditional role as the azalea-laced harbinger of spring.
While politics have impacted ratings in other sports, that doesn't appear to be the case with Augusta. Ratings surged late in the day on Sunday when Matsuyama's lead shrunk, which is what you'd expect from a viewing population that tuned out because of lack of interest, not because of political protest.
The Masters steered a middle course in dealing with political and social upheaval in Georgia in the days before the tournament began; the tournament expressed support for multiple points of view on the state's election law last Wednesday, then made no mention of it the rest of the week. Players were asked about the state's election law early in the week, but once the tournament began, it was all golf.
The question for the Masters, and for sports as a whole, is just how much the American public is suffering from sports fatigue in general, for any of a variety of reasons.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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