Tiger tamers

On a week when Minnesota was the focus of the golf world, it was appropriate that native son Verne Lundquist delivered the signature call of the PGA Championship.

As Y.E. Yang’s eagle chip tracked toward the hole on No. 14, Lundquist’s voice rose: “It’s a good one. It’s a real good one. It’s wonderful!”

“In your life, Verne, you’ve seen another one,” said CBS analyst Nick Faldo, alluding to Lundquist’s famous call of Tiger Woods’ chip-in at No. 16 in the 2005 Masters.

Yang’s eagle and clinching birdie on No. 18 were theatrics worthy of Woods, whose improbable final-round collapse hardly mattered. For CBS, what mattered was that Woods, the only man in golf who moves the ratings needle, was at the top of the leaderboard all week. As long as CBS stayed on the air this past weekend, it was certain to post through-the-roof ratings.

That’s not meant to diminish CBS’ work, which was perfectly serviceable, if unspectacular. Sometimes there’s the sense that CBS is content to play it safe. Consider a moment Saturday afternoon, after Vijay Singh had missed yet another putt. CBS anchor Jim Nantz declared forcefully, “He’s gotta make a change (in putters). . . . It isn’t working.”

The moment stuck in my mind not because it was particularly compelling, but rather because it’s so rare that Nantz says something that registers with viewers.

The same can’t be said of Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. Saturday night on Golf Channel’s “Live From the PGA Championship,” Woods was shown in his post-round press conference saying, “I was pretty consistent today. All day, the only mistake I really made was three-putting there at 4.”

Chamblee wasn’t buying what Woods was selling. Chamblee ticked off a series of loose iron shots by Woods on Nos. 7, 9, 11 and 16 that negated birdie opportunities.

“On a day when there were scoring opportunities out there, the greens were soft, it was get-able, he lost two shots off his lead,” Chamblee said. “If he loses this tournament because someone comes from (out of) the pack, the opportunity he lost was today.”

Twenty-four hours later, Chamblee’s words seemed prescient.

It was suggested Saturday night on “Live From. . .” that Padraig Harrington would be better off playing with Woods rather than in the group ahead of him.

“From a macho standpoint, everybody wants to play with Tiger Woods in the final round of a major championship and win,” Chamblee said. “From a psychological standpoint, it just doesn’t happen. . . . I think (Harrington) is immensely better off in a group (without Tiger).”

When sidekick Frank Nobilo argued that Harrington “didn’t back down” a week earlier at the WGC-Bridgestone, Chamblee countered, “He didn’t back down until (a triple bogey on) 16, and then he fell right over the hurdle.”

Ouch. By golf’s genteel standards, that’s tough stuff. That’s like telling Rocky he didn’t have a chance against Apollo Creed.

Watching Chamblee, I was reminded of top analysts in other sports – say, Ron Jaworski breaking down tape of a crossing pattern on “Monday Night Countdown” or Steve Phillips analyzing general managers’ personnel moves on “Baseball Tonight.” Like Jaws and Phillips, Chamblee displays an unusual level of insight, a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, and a natural gift for conveying his knowledge to viewers. In a perfect world, Faldo would be providing those insights as the action is unfolding; instead, we have to wait for Chamblee to do so in the post-game show.

All of that said, Chamblee excels on a show that is inherently flawed. Like six-hour Super Bowl pre-game shows, “Live From” is way, way too long. It’s a two-hour format that easily could be cut to a half hour. But such is the nature of cable television – whether it be sports or news programming – that the objective often is not to provide news or entertainment, but rather to fill time and create commercial inventory with inexpensive programming. All a viewer can do is keep the remote handy.

That device also got a workout during TNT’s 18 hours of PGA coverage. I have no earthly idea why TNT is broadcasting the PGA Championship other than to promote its obscure prime-time lineup. I won’t belabor the subject here; many of my criticisms of TNT’s work at the PGA would echo my critique of its dismal performance at the British Open a month ago.

To be fair, it’s possible that TNT was hamstrung at times because it relied on CBS to provide all of the action shots for its early coverage. But here’s what’s troubling: On the weekend of a major championship, at a site where much of the talk was about huge, enthusiastic galleries, TNT delivered a positively somnambulant effort.

Consider TNT’s final-round broadcast, much of which focused on Phil Mickelson and Camilo Villegas. When Mickelson tried to reach the par-5 11th with his second shot, cameras cut away before viewers could see where his ball had stopped. Similarly, when Villegas’ approach to the par-5 seventh hit the bank left of the green, the TNT crew couldn’t tell us whether the ball had ended up in the hazard. We only learned that it had when Villegas later was shown taking a drop in the fairway. “Well, we’ve got our answer on Camilo Villegas,” said anchor Ernie Johnson, who seemed in desperate need of a couple of Red Bulls.

Memo to TNT: If you’re going to phone it in, don’t bother showing up.

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