The final round of Rory McIlroy’s eight-stroke win at the U.S. Open drew 26 percent lower television ratings than the finish of last year’s tournament, which concluded in prime time in part of the country.
McIlroy’s record-setting win yesterday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, was seen on Comcast Corp.’s NBC in an average of 5.1 percent of households in the top 56 U.S. television markets, NBC Universal spokesman Adam Freifeld said in a telephone interview.
That’s 26 percent lower than last year’s final-round rating of 6.9, when Graeme McDowell won the title at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California in a final round that concluded at 9:15 p.m. on the East Coast, compared with a 7:45 conclusion for McIlroy’s victory.
Tiger Woods tied for fourth at Pebble Beach, three strokes back. The 14-time major champion didn’t play this year due to injuries.
In 2009, when Lucas Glover won the tournament at Bethpage State Park in New York, the television rating also was a 5.1 on Sunday. That tournament concluded on Monday due to weather delays.
The win for McIlroy, a 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, came two months after he blew a four-stroke final-round lead at the Masters Tournament, finishing with an eight-over-par 80.
McIlroy became the first start-to-finish winner at the U.S. Open since Woods in 2002. With his 16-under-par finish, he set 12 records, including the lowest score in the golf tournament’s 111-year history.
Woods, 35, withdrew from this year’s U.S. Open on June 7 because of leg injuries. He hasn’t won a tournament since November 2009 and has fallen to No. 17 in the Official World Golf Ranking after holding the No. 1 spot for a record 281 weeks.
Woods’s last major title came at the 2008 U.S. Open, where he beat Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff before disclosing that he had played on a fractured leg. The victory left Woods four shy of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time major title record of 18.
The PGA Tour’s network contracts with CBS Corp. and Comcast Corp.’s NBC Universal expire after the 2012 season. Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in January that negotiations would begin soon.
The financial terms of the PGA Tour’s current television contracts haven’t been disclosed. The previous deal, which expired after the 2006 season, was $850 million for four years, bolstered by Woods’s dominance in the sport.
Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, said last year that the value of golf’s last two television contracts were “inflated” by Woods’s play and that the network would be “monitoring pretty closely” Woods’s performance, factoring that into the negotiations.
McIlroy has what it takes to help U.S. television ratings because of his skill and personality, said Rick Gentile, a former executive producer for CBS Sports.
“He’s such an incredibly likable kid that I do think the American audience will react to him,” Gentile, who runs the Seton Hall University Sports Poll, said in a telephone interview. “The idea of Tiger and McIlroy head to head I’m sure has networks salivating.”
McIlroy, who earned $1.4 million for yesterday’s win, has played seven tournaments in the U.S. this year after entering 16 in 2010.
In an interview during yesterday’s trophy presentation, McIlroy expressed appreciation for the fans’ support and said he may have to enter more tournaments in the U.S.
“It’s just been incredible the way people have supported me and cheered for me the whole week,” he said at a news conference that followed. “And to be able to have that when you come over here and feel like you’re one of their own is probably going to be pretty important in the next few years.”