Shooting from the lip
Is the Masters a great golf tournament because the golf and course are incredible or because we've all been programmed by CBS to believe it's the greatest golf tournament in the world? There is no other sporting event — not even the Super Bowl — where the network (in this case, CBS) constantly jams down our throats how special the event is. With host Jim Nantz using a thesaurus as a script and the commentators rarely going more than three sentences without talking about how great the Masters is, the coverage feels more like a cult meeting than a golf tournament.
Look, the Masters is a special tournament, but is it any more special or historic or filled with tradition than the U.S. Open or the British Open? In fact, I prefer those two tournaments over the Masters. It would be nice if CBS just let this tournament and course speak for itself instead of harassing us with the syrupy piano music, flowery prose and insistence that every golf tournament beside this one is akin to goofy putt-putt.
Worst part of the Masters
You can't really blame CBS for wanting Tiger Woods to make a Sunday charge because the better Tiger does, the more interesting the tournament is. But it became frustrating to listen to the commentators talk about Tiger in comparison to the other golfers. When the other golfers made a mistake, it was chalked up to "nerves.'' When Tiger made a mistake, he was never called out on it. In fact, no one even tried to explain why Tiger couldn't get in the hunt even though no golfer ran away and hid from Tiger and the rest of the pack. It has gotten to the point that no one on any of the networks ever criticizes Tiger.
Tiger Woods is golf's sun and moon. So much so that some suggest there are two tours: the events Tiger plays in and the ones he doesn't. But for networks to see a boost in their ratings, not only does Tiger have to be playing, he has to be winning. That's what the numbers suggest anyway. CBS kept insisting Tiger was in the hunt Sunday at the Masters even though he really wasn't. CBS's Ian Baker-Finch, apparently with a straight face, said, "Tiger, ominously lurking, is just five strokes behind.'' This was with only seven holes left to play!
But viewers are smarter than the networks give them credit for, and they can read a leaderboard. So it's no surprise that the overnight ratings of Sunday's coverage were down slightly from a year ago. Sunday's final round drew an 8.9/18 rating, meaning 8.9 percent of homes with televisions and 18 percent of televisions in use were tuned to the Masters. Solid numbers, to be sure, but disappointing considering Saturday's ratings were the best third-round ratings in five years. And Friday's numbers on ESPN (more than 3-million were watching) were the highest ever for golf on cable.
Best Masters analysis
It would be wrong to let you think there was nothing good about the Masters coverage. CBS does have Nick Faldo, who isn't quite in the same category as NBC’s Johnny Miller or Dottie Pepper, but has become a pretty decent golf analyst.
Biggest train wreck
What in the world was Fox doing on Saturday? Yes, the network caught a bad break when its baseball Game of the Week between the Yankees and Red Sox was delayed more than two hours by rain and backed up into its NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage, but Fox bungled it about as badly as it could. With the Yankees down by a run and batting in the top of the ninth, it was apparent the game was not going to end before the start of the race. On the baseball telecast, fans were told the game would be switched to FX and the start of the race would be seen on Fox. The start of the race was delayed, but with two outs and two strikes, the Yankees' Robinson Cano kept fouling off pitches. So the race couldn't wait any longer and the network, contractually obligated to show the entire race, switched the baseball game to FX in the middle of the at-bat. Only a quick remote finger over to FX — which, by the way, is only seen in about three-fourths of the country — allowed you to see Cano make the last out.
Obviously, Fox was gambling that the half-inning would end before the race started. But it should've just gone to FX to start the inning. Better yet, it should've just stayed with the baseball for the rest of the half inning and then told NASCAR to lump it if we happened to miss the first couple of laps. After all, we couldn't miss a few laps of a 312-lap race?
Boston College beat Notre Dame 4-1 to win the NCAA hockey championship Saturday, but Notre Dame was robbed on a call. It had a goal disallowed for being kicked in, but it didn't appear the puck was kicked. At the time, it would've cut the score to 3-2 with more than 14 minutes left. Instead, it stayed 3-1 and less than a minute later, BC made it 4-1. Kudos to ESPN announcers Gary Thorne and Ray Ferraro for criticizing the replay official for blowing the call.
There is one way to stop these controversies: allow pucks to be kicked into the net. You're allowed to kick a pass, you should be allowed to kick a goal. Some think you put goalies at risk for being kicked, but there are always skates flying around near the crease and it's hard to imagine goalies being at any more risk than they already are. Players wouldn't be kicking that many pucks to begin with and the ones they would kick would be on the ice, not 3 or 4 feet off the ice.
Best in the clutch
Rays TV color analyst Joe Magrane made a great point Sunday about slugger Carlos Pena. Magrane pointed out that Pena who hit 46 homers last year and already has six this year, never seems to hit his homers in "garbage time,'' like when the the Rays are trailing 11-1 in the ninth inning or up 9-0 in eighth.
"It seemed like they all meant something — getting back into the game, taking the lead, tying the game,'' Magrane said. "He was there when the Rays needed him most.''
Check it out
HBO's Real Sports returns with a new show Tuesday at 10 p.m. And it is another solid lineup of features.
* James Brown sits down with Twins-turned-Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who talks about turning to baseball while growing up with a crack-addicted father. And he discusses his dismay that many African-Americans have become disconnected from baseball.
* Frank Deford looks back at the Mike Coolbaugh tragedy and its aftereffects. Coolbaugh was the minor-league first-base coach killed last season by a line drive.
*Bernard Goldberg does a piece on former high school basketball star Lee Benson Jr. of Dayton, Ohio, who was sentenced to seven to 25 years in prison on a firearms charge and is now trying to make a comeback by playing junior college basketball.
* In the most revealing piece, host Bryant Gumbel talks with presidential candidate Barack Obama about how basketball shaped his life. The piece includes footage of Obama playing hoops March 19 with troops at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In the story, Gumbel tells Obama that the White House has an outdoor basketball court, and Obama says, "I wasn’t aware of that. I was thinking I was going to have to tear down the bowling alley to build a basketball court. But I'm still thinking if I get there, we may need at least a little indoor halfcourt.''
Check it out, too
After a four-month hiatus, ESPN’s news magazine show E:60 returns at 7 tonight with three features:
* A profile of Tiger Woods’ caddy, Steve Williams.
* A look at former Arkansas running back and NFL draft prospect Darren McFadden.
* And, the most interesting story of the bunch, a look at Oscar Pistorius, a South African amputee and track star. Pistorius is petitioning to compete in the upcoming Olympics, but critics argue that Pistorius’ high-tech prosthetics called “Cheetahs” give him an unfair advantage.
Check it out, three
Since I'm pumping TV shows, check out my show, The Press Box, Tuesday at either 6:30, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. on Bright House Network's Catch 47. You don't have to watch three times. Once will do. The scheduled guests are Times hockey writer Damian Cristodero, Sporting News radio's Todd Wright and Catch 47's Tom Buehring.