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Year in Review: 1997

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Re-rank the list of top sports stories of 1997

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Tiger Woods takes
golf world by storm

Pedro Martinez signs
record deal with Sox

Latrell Sprewell
assaults coach, gets ax

Rick Pitino becomes
Celtics coach, president

Bill Parcells quits after Patriots' banner year

Martina Hingis
rules women's tennis

Florida Marlins win World Series

Women's pro hoop
meets with success

A Patriots surprise:
Super Bowl XXXI berth

Wil Cordero charged
with assaulting wife


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Check out the top news stories of 1997

With his competitive ways, Woods really rates

By Howard Manly, Globe Staff, 03/27/97

Television executives are trying not to gush over Tiger Woods. Some say his marquee value is still in its potential stage. Others say his success in boosting golf ratings is still immeasurable.

All of them readily concede, however, that Woods is a phenomenon, capable of personifying the growing interest in golf sweeping the country and crossing lines of age and race.

``He is way more than hype,'' said Fox spokesman Vince Wladika. ``He is winning, playing well most of the time, and people love watching him. He is not just the usual athlete or, for that matter, star.''

The Tiger phenomenon starts on the course. Take last week's Bay Hill Invitational, carried by NBC. Woods wasn't even on the leaderboard, yet about 2,000 people followed him around the course. The leaders had galleries of around 20 people.

NBC showed Woods throughout the program. ``We didn't show every shot,'' said NBC Sports executive producer Tommy Roy. ``He wasn't a significant story. But he is something that golf hasn't seen since Arnold Palmer. He has tons of charisma, and a heck of a golf game to match.''

Woods finished seventh, but his presence caused NBC's ratings to jump by 17 percent from last year's tournament.

Woods and high ratings are seemingly no coincidence. Last year's US Amateur, in which Woods came from behind in a dramatic finish to beat Steve Scott, was the fifth-highest-rated golf show on a Sunday all year. NBC earned a 4.6 rating that day.

And Woods wasn't even a pro yet.

The roll continued after he hit the PGA.

The Golf Channel, which is owned in part by Fox, showed most of his early tournaments, and, according to spokesman Josh Friedman, ratings have approximately tripled since the arrival of Woods. ``He has definitely increased the level of awareness of golf,'' Friedman said.

Friedman pointed out another indicator of Woods's impact in the media. At the Nissan Open last year, 175 media credentials were issued. This year, the total was more than 400.

ABC also has seen significant results. Two years ago, ABC showed the Skins Game, with the Saturday broadcast drawing a 4.4 rating and the Sunday broadcast a 3.6. Last year, the Skins Game had an added attraction -- Tiger Woods. And the ratings almost doubled: Saturday earned a 7.1, Sunday a 5.2.

``We know this guy is a phenomenon,'' said ABC spokesman Mark Mendell. ``When he is on, we know people are going to turn him on, and when he is winning, it's unbelievable.''

CBS programming vice president Rob Correia said that he cannot dismiss the preliminary indications of Woods's impact. But he believes that the Tiger phenomenon is more a matter of what the industry thinks is going to happen in the future rather than of what is happening now.

``He will be terrific,'' Correia said. ``He can have a terrific impact on the game, as long as he wins and plays well. He can almost singlehandedly expand the viewership of the sport. He plays to win, and Americans love that in their athletes. He is very appealing, and he has delivered.''

Thirty years ago, Palmer transformed an otherwise staid sport into a television feast. For the most part, he stayed in contention during the first three rounds, and then exploded in the fourth, producing dramatic finishes in which he often was victorious.

Woods has the same style of play: steady in the early rounds, with a challenge in the last.

Last-minute triumphs are what sports are all about. At least, those shown on television.

Add celebrity status, with hundreds of media types following every swing and utterance, and the stage is set for a phenomenon.

Said NBC's Tommy Roy, ``Tiger is attracting the general sports fan, not just the golf fan.''

Woods is young, attractive, exciting, often pumping his fist into the air or slamming his club on the ground.

And when Nike made him its latest poster boy, his status was elevated to an almost Jordanesque level.

``Tiger has the whole package,'' Correia said. ``Television is guilty -- and, for that matter, print journalism as well -- of making athletes into superstars without much performance. But Tiger has lived up to the hype.''


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