Bubba to ‘Feherty’: Augusta suits my game

It’s time to clean out the notepad with some odds and ends about television coverage of the Masters.

Golf Channel’s recent episode of “Feherty” with Bubba Watson proved timely. The episode has been updated with new Masters-related segments, and will be replayed April 9 at 8 p.m. 

In an interview cut from the original episode, Watson sounds prophetic talking about Augusta National and his chances at the Masters: “I really do think that the Masters would set up good for me – the par 5s, shaping the shots. It just comes down to that. It’s just all short game, putting, knowing the greens, knowing the green speeds.”

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As this is being written, CBS’ ratings are not yet available. ESPN, however, posted strong early-round numbers. Ratings for the Thursday-Friday rounds increased 12 percent over 2011. Friday’s viewership, which averaged 4.1 million, was the third-highest ever for a golf telecast.

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Callers to Dan Patrick’s radio show had great fun last week imitating the syrupy delivery of CBS anchor Jim Nantz. I’m starting to think that that speaking style is a precondition of anchoring the Masters.

Consider Mike Tirico’s opening to Friday’s telecast: “ESPN proudly presents . . . (pause) the Masters. It feels like a touch of fall in the air today at this magical place that sounds the siren of spring’s arrival. No matter what corner of the country, or for that matter, the world that we call home, when you see the framing Georgia pines or the spectacular, yet familiar, vistas, it serves as an annual reminder of the essence of this sport, where nature’s beauty meets a competitor’s fierce determination to persevere against your peers. Everything a fan could ever want, every April right here at the Masters.”

The only thing missing was Nantz’s “Hello, friends.” By the way, I wonder if any of the Masters members noticed that Tirico said “fan” rather than “patron.”

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I have a sort of grudging respect for the demands that Augusta National places on CBS’ announcers. It might at times seem silly that the CBS crew has to say “patron” instead of “fan” or “second cut” rather than “rough,” but I appreciate how fastidiously Augusta National protects the Masters brand. This year a new term was added to the Masters lexicon: “patron observation platform.” That’s “grandstand” to you and me.

When Bill Macatee used that term for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Green Jackets introduced it simply to jerk CBS’ chain.

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One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Phil Mickelson is that when he’s asked a question, he gives a thoughtful answer rather than defaulting to cliches.

An example was Mickelson’s response Friday to Tom Rinaldi’s question about the outlook for the weekend: “I still think that the greens are very soft, receptive, and I don’t want to say slow, because that’s not how I would describe them, but they’re not Augusta-esque. If they become Augusta-esque on the weekend, I think it’s going to be very exciting to watch. But if it stays like this, we’re going to see a huge congregation of 20 or so guys on the leader board. It’s going to have to take the conditions to start separating some players. It’s going to have to get firmer.”

Two thoughts: 1) His critique reminded me of what NASCAR announcers sometimes say about restrictor-plate racing, which tends to prevent drivers from getting separation from the field. 2) Mickelson shared genuine insight on the golf course and the field. That doesn’t often happen in player interviews.

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Finally, what’s up with those highlights packages that begin with the player walking toward the camera, then crossing his arms as if to say, “You want a piece of me?”

(For more commentary on television coverage of the Masters, check out the “Wired” column in the April 13 issue of Golfweek.)

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