Likely the greatest benefactor of Tiger Woods' return to golf will be the Internet.
Yesterday during the frenzy surrounding Woods' announcement that he would return to golf at next month's Masters, I heard a CNBC reporter suggest the ratings for Sunday's final round could reach Super Bowl levels if he has a chance to win. I think that's a stretch, even if Woods is in the lead heading into the final day. There are so many Super Bowl viewers that are not interested in football -- those that watch for the commercials, those at parties who normally wouldn't watch the game -- that will not watch The Masters. Woods transcends the sport, but not to the level the Super Bowl transcends football.
I do think the first two rounds could set records for the number of online viewers. Masters.org will broadcast live video of the entire tournament. Just like tomorrow and Friday, when office workers will secretly access live feeds of NCAA tournament games, Woods fans will be tuning in on their computers and smart phones to watch him tee off on the first hole as well as his entire opening and second rounds.
I would expect this year's first two rounds to easily set records for online viewers. It will be another sign that online media is evolving into a major money-maker. I suspect the price for online advertising on Masters-related Web sites already is shooting up.
Undoubtedly more people will tune in to the weekend TV broadcast if Woods makes the cut. But expect the real story to be Thursday, when Woods takes his first swing, and where everyone was watching...
Not on a TV, but on a computer.