Viewership records for the Masters Tournament could be toppled over the next few days as Tiger Woods makes his return to golf. ESPN is up first, carrying the preliminary rounds Thursday and Friday. CBS will air the final rounds on Saturday and Sunday.
The record to beat is 20.3 million, which is the Nielsen estimate for viewership in 1997, the first time that Woods won the Masters.
Although ESPN is carrying the weekday rounds, when most people are at work, it could still see a large spike in viewership from the average of 3.4 million for its two days of coverage last year.
ESPN and ESPN HD will present live first- and second-round action, Thursday and Friday 4-7:30 pm ET. An encore presentation will air in primetime each night 8-11 pm. ESPN Deportes, ESPN’s Spanish-language US sports network, will also televise the first and second rounds live 4-7:30 pm.
But prior to the live television windows Thursday and Friday, SportsCenter will provide live cut-ins and in-progress highlights beginning at 9 am, including the first tee shots Thursday live from the grouping that includes Tiger Woods.
CBS Sports says it “will bring viewers all the color, artistry and drama inherent to the world’s most prestigious golf tournament and first major of the year” with live third-round coverage of the Masters on Saturday 3:30-7:00 pm ET. Final-round 18-hole coverage is scheduled for Sunday 2:00-7:00 pm ET. Highlights of early-round play will be presented by CBS Sports on Thursday and Friday, 11:35-11:50 pm ET both nights.
Both ESPN and CBS are planning extensive coverage of the tournament as well on their websites.