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CBS' 18-HOLE, SUNDAY DRIVE ALIVE.

Byline: TOM HOFFARTH Media

It's the next step in the evolutionary process - maybe the first thing ever having to do with the theory of evolution that's been seriously considered by the cave dwellers of the Augusta National Golf Club.

Full 18-hole coverage for the final round of the Masters has finally been granted to CBS, which begins its 47th year of curtsying to golf's most prestigious and curiously overprotected event of the year.

We can't be sure, though, if the network is teed-off or not by this.

Year after year, the CBS golf folk have defended the honor of Augusta, so that we actually started to believe annual complaints about noncoverage of the front nine were just a media-generated controversy. It is, as CBS' marketing slogan goes, ``a tradition like no other.''

But now that its wish presumably has been granted, CBS acts as if there's even more reasons to sweat.

With 90 more minutes Sunday - coverage starts at 11:30 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. - the viewer window is stretched. And diluted overall ratings are TV's version of stretch marks.

``We should be forewarned for those who crunch numbers on Monday that with the increased hours and given we don't have Tiger Woods going for his fourth consecutive major, the large interest last year won't be the same as far as ratings,'' golf host Jim Nantz said.

Let's forget ratings, if that's possible.

Adding the extra time is long overdue in this media age, and whether or not CBS ever fought for this extension isn't clear. The feeling is that the CBS execs might have quietly asked, but they were told to take it or leave it, so they accepted without publicly criticizing the real masters of the product.

Asked why CBS, nominated for an Emmy because of its coverage at the Masters a year ago, is all of the sudden embracing the full-18 coverage, CBS Sports chief Sean McManus diplomatically explained: ``They've always felt that the way the Masters had been presented, it was always the highest-rated and most-anticipated and most-appreciated event for people who tuned in for the final round for the last 20 years and there wasn't an impetus to change something.

``Two years ago, because of a rain delay, we were able to show the leaders play all 18 holes on a Saturday, and the reaction was so positive that it's part of the reason they're comfortable with it now.''

Maybe, but no one will really know.

For years, Nantz and his fellow CBS blazer bearers wiggled around questions about why the network was willing to be handcuffed and gagged by Augusta's telecast rules. Anyone seen Gary McCord in Georgia lately? < Nantz would get particularly perturbed when reporters shot the ``Why no full 18-hole coverage?'' inquiry each year at this time.

``If I wasn't broadcasting this and was at home, I'd want a full 18, too,'' Nantz said. ``For any hard-core fan, this is the ultimate tournament to see the leaders for every step.

``The point I was trying to drive in is that we made more of it trying to find an angle than needed to be made. It was more an issue the way it was represented in the media.''

Isn't that special? So when is CBS' third-round coverage expanding to 18 holes?

Put it this way: Could you imagine CBS showing only the second half of the NCAA men's basketball championship?

``Right now there are no plans for 18 holes on Saturday,'' McManus said politely.

Thank goodness for the Internet and USA Network. At least the Masters' official site (themasters.com) does relent to a real-time leaderboard refreshed every two minutes. Those logged on early Thursday knew Woods started even for the first two holes but leaped into a second-place tie two holes later at 2-under. On cable, there's 1 1/2 hours of live coverage for the first two rounds (including today 1:30-to-3 p.m.)

``The savvy of the golf fan will get them to the Web sites,'' Nantz said. ``People have told me they couldn't wait for us to come on Sundays because they saw on the Web that Tiger had birdies on the second and fourth holes and they wanted to see how he did it.''

With the expanded hours Saturday (30 minutes more starting at 12:30 p.m.) and Sunday, producer Lance Barrow has been allowed to add tower positions on the front nine and bring in about five more cameras to bring the total to about 40.

One glorious holdover: The Masters will continue to have only four minutes of commercials each hour. And Ken Venturi will be the 18th-hole analyst - for the last time.

``We want to make it as seamless and as perfect as we do the same coverage year after year,'' executive producer Terry Ewert said.

Seems only fair.

--The last word: ``I think next year will be his last year,'' Marge Hearn was quoted as saying before Tuesday's Lakers game when asked about her husband Chick's future. ``I mean you can't go on forever.''

Asked about the quote Thursday, Chick replied: ``I didn't say it, Marge did. I wouldn't say that. For the last couple of months now all I've been thinking about is the present, not the future. Maybe if you ask in a week or two, I'll have an answer.''

I knew it. He is considering cloning.

SOUND BYTES

WHAT SMOKES

--``This is Inga Hammond at the Fox Network Center ...''

--Took only a little undercover work to discover that fitness femme Kiana Tom (no relation) is done with her ESPN2 show ``Kiana's Flex Appeal,'' but she's developing a new celebrity-workout series for Fox Sports Net. That, and other important details about her existence, can be found in the bonus text included in her 10-page pictorial, compliments of the current issue of Playboy.

--Former UCLA player Sean Farnham has taken over the basketball insider column for Steve Carbone on Dave Smith's TheSportsGod.com Web site. Both Carbone and Smith await union intercession to see if they'll be reinstated at KXTA-AM 1150.

WHAT CHOKES

--Samuel L. Jackson, whom ESPN picked to be host for its upcoming 10th annual ESPY Awards self- aggrandizing extravaganza, is the same gentleman who played host at the ninth annual ESPY Awards self-aggrandizing extravaganza. How fortunate that the pool of Hollywood talent making itself available for this seems to be drying up. Anyone seen Brian Dennehy?

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

no caption (Samuel L. Jackson)

Box:

SOUND BYTES (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 12, 2002
Words:1086
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