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Masters Ratings Falter as Final Round Falls on Easter Sunday

Low HUT levels, wilting Tiger add up to 8-year low for CBS

Bubba Watson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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A two-hole playoff matching the country’s highest-ranked golfer and the winner of the 2010 British Open wasn’t enough to keep viewers locked in for CBS’ coverage of The Masters.

Final-round coverage of golf’s most celebrated tournament fell to an eight-year low as CBS drew an 8.1 overnight rating. That marked a 22 percent drop versus last year’s Sunday round (10.4).

In an emotionally charged victory, American duffer Bubba Watson claimed his first major PGA title, holding off South African Louis Oosthuizen. Watson became only the third left-handed golfer to don the fabled green jacket, joining Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010) and Mike Weir (2003).

Overnights measure deliveries in 56 urban markets and generally offer an accurate assessment of where the final ratings will fall.

As was the case in 2004, when CBS’ final-round coverage from Augusta drew a 7.3 overnight, this year’s closing round fell on Easter Sunday, when HUT levels were down as much as 12 percent.

Per Nielsen, four of the five lowest-rated Sunday rounds have fallen on Easter.

Not helping matters was an AWOL Tiger Woods, who was never in contention. Although he hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, a competitive Woods ensures robust ratings.

Last year, Woods had a share of the lead heading into the final round. He finished tied for fourth place. In 2010, Woods’ failure to make a run in the closing round was offset by a thrilling finish by fan favorite Mickelson. That Sunday, CBS notched a 12.0 overnight rating, the third best in the last two decades.

Woods first won the green jacket in 1997, beating Tom Kite by a 12-stroke margin. His historic victory helped CBS capture a record 15.8 overnight on April 13, 1997.

Expectations for a big showing for Woods were high heading into the Masters, as he entered the tournament coming off a win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 22-25). Woods’ 13-under-par performance broke a PGA winless streak dating back to September 2009.

But it wasn’t to be. Woods on Sunday shot a two-over-par 74 and finished the tournament five over par, matching his worst Masters score of his career. (Incidentally, he shot that earlier plus-five in 1995, when he was still an amateur.)

CBS has televised the Masters every year since 1956. Augusta National renews its rights deal with the network in single-year increments and limits the amount of advertising seen in each broadcast.

So unswerving is Augusta’s grip on the Masters that it demanded commercial-free coverage in 2003, with an eye toward sparing advertisers of a controversy over its males-only membership rules. The club asked that CBS comply with the ad-free format in 2004 as well.

In keeping with the house rules, the 2012 tournament once again featured limited commercial interruptions from a handful of sponsors, including: IBM, Exxon Mobil and AT&T.

Global sponsors are Mercedes and Rolex.

While financials are a closely guarded secret, analysts estimate that a Masters sponsorship costs north of $10 million.