For last week's 100th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, NBC deployed 47 cameras—nearly double the standard number—from vantage points in the air, on land and on the sea. The Peacock unveiled newly hired commentator Jimmy Roberts and reverently paid homage to the late Payne Stewart as well as to Jack Nicklaus, appearing in his last Open.
In the end, however, all those elements had less to do with NBC's robust ratings than did one man, Tiger Woods. Last Saturday, with Woods already in command, NBC did a 6.5 in the Nielsens—a 23% leap over Open Saturday 1999 at Pinehurst. On Sunday, which began with Tiger pawing with a 10-shot lead, NBC pulled in an 8.8 overnight Nielsen, compared with last year's 79.
"What we've found in covering any PGA Tour event," says NBC spokesman Kevin Sullivan, "is that if Tiger's on the Sunday leader board, that's worth an extra one and a half Nielsen points or more. That's huge."
At the 1997 Masters, when, as on Sunday, Woods's final round was less a competition than a coronation, CBS eagled the Nielsens, achieving an NBA Finals-like 14.1. The 2000 Open's Nielsen scorecard suggests that, to tune in, viewers don't need a Tiger in the hunt; they just need a Tiger, period. "I'd like to think that our coverage played a role in those numbers," says Roberts, "but maybe it's just that people really do appreciate someone who performs that spectacularly."