Woods, Tour Championship making ratings waves

You have to admit, the guy draws a crowd, as here on the fifth hole Friday at the Tour Championship.  (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
You have to admit, the guy draws a crowd, as here on the fifth hole Friday at the Tour Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

You wonder why golf coverage is so Tiger Woods-centric? Need a reminder other than a simple overhead shot at this Tour Championship, where some of the biggest weekday crowds in memory have gathered?

Then listen to the Golf Channel ratings for Thursday’s first round. They came in 26 percent higher than last year’s Tour Championship first round and were the highest for an opening round at East Lake in six years. Woods had not played here since 2013.

They now have something called streaming numbers, too. Those also are experiencing the Woods Bump, and are the highest for any non-major event this year since the Players Championship in May, according to Golf Channel.

Rickie Fowler said the other day, “In my eyes, the biggest win for him is just staying healthy and being out here all year consistently. I’m definitely happy for him. It’s obviously great for our sport.”

He wasn’t just being kind. He spoke truth, especially in the closing sentence. More ratings bonanzas are virtually guaranteed.

A scrambler's pride: Despite hitting only six of 14 fairways Friday, defending FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas managed not to shoot himself out of contention. He scuffled to a 1-under 69 and stands just three back of the leaders going into the weekend.

“I wish I had my B-game today. I would say I had my C- or D-game today,” he said after the round.

Nevertheless: “I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top five rounds of the year I’m most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4 or 5 over and not had a chance to win the tournament. I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

The Spanish Scorcher: Jon Rahm put together a round Friday at East Lake that was really more suited for a noted piece of property just a little west of here on I-20. For this wasn't so much golf as it was a Six Flags ride.

Six birdies on his first nine holes – his front-nine 30 tying Rahm for the lead at 7 under. He had come out and announced his presence with authority, with birdies on his first three holes. And then followed with a bogey.

Rohm went 4 over on his first six holes on the back side, including a watery double bogey on the par-3 15th. But he had a big finish, as on any roller coaster – a birdie on the par-5 18th. He and Billy Horschel led the field in birdies Friday – seven each.

From first to worst: Bryson DeChambeau's goal may have been dramatically downgraded, from winning the FedEx Cup to simply avoiding making some tarnished Tour Championship history. Following his 5-over 75 on Friday, DeChambeau, the FedEx Cup points leader coming to East Lake, found himself near the bottom of the 30-man Tour Championship leaderboard, ahead of only Brooks Koepka. For his information, Matt Kuchar holds the dubious distinction of the worst Tour Championship finish by an incoming FedEx Cup points leader (T25, 2010). It's an exceedingly low target, but a target nonetheless.

Physics is DeChambeau’s thing. Agronomy is a different subject. He’s really not digging the East Lake grass. As the newcomer to the Tour Championship said after his first round, Thursday, “That rough is brutal out there. I’ve never encountered something that thick. It’s a zoysia and Bermuda blend – and new conditions for me.”

Just trying to be helpful here. If maybe he hit a few more fairways (he was 6-of-14 on Thursday and only 5-of-15 on Friday) he could really get to love the shorter stuff.

Round numbers: Hardly a surprise that Rickie Fowler ran out to a share of the first-round lead at the Tour Championship on Thursday. You'd expect nothing less from the PGA Tour's leader in first-round scoring average (68.68). Naturally, there has been some tailing off in later rounds, else he would have won every tournament he entered.

He’s not so bad on Fridays either – his scoring average of 69.53 ranks 18th this season. His 2-over 72 here Friday didn’t exactly fit that pattern. He has not been one to routinely do his best work at money time. Fowler ranks only 74th in fourth-round scoring average.

The Tour’s three top players in final-round scoring average are in the field, but the top two are in no position to win with a Sunday charge. No. 1 in fourth-round scoring, Koepka (8 over), is in last entering the weekend. No. 2 Phil Mickelson (5 over) is T25. Only No. 3 Dustin Johnson (1 under) might be able to work some magic.

Tournament newbie report: Twenty percent of this Tour Championship field is made up of first-timers. They should have arrived filled with hope, seeing how Xander Schauffele showed them the way last year, winning the tournament on his first exposure to East Lake.

Instead, they so far have managed to prove the difficulty of what Schauffele managed.

Here’s where the Tour Championship rooks stand at the halfway mark: Tommy Fleetwood (2 under), Aaron Wise (1 under), Patton Kizzire (2 over), Cameron Smith (3 over), Francesco Molinari (5 over) and DeChambeau (6 over).

Not a Schauffle among them.

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