Media column: Tiger Woods continues to amaze, on course and off

PALM HARBOR, FL - MARCH 10: Fans watch Tiger Woods putt on the 11th green during the third round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) on March 10, 2018 in Palm Harbor, Florida. (Photo by Ryan Young/PGA TOUR) Ryan Young/PGA Tour

Media column: Tiger Woods continues to amaze, on course and off

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Media column: Tiger Woods continues to amaze, on course and off

Two thoughts on coverage of the Valspar Championship:

We’ve all seen and heard a lot of amazing statistics about Tiger Woods over the years. For example, on Saturday he recorded the PGA Tour’s season-best 129.2-mph swing speed on the 14th hole of the Valspar Championship.

“I thought there was a misprint yesterday, to be honest,” Frank Nobilo said Sunday afternoon on Golf Channel. “This, I thought, was astronomical. Once you’re close to that 130-mph mark, that’s ridiculous on the PGA Tour. That’s almost the long-drive category.”

That was impressive, but for my money, even more impressive was NBC’s overnight rating for the third round: 3.26. That was, according to Golf Channel and NBC Sports, the highest third-round rating on any broadcast network since the 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you who won that tournament.)

Round 1 coverage, which focused on Woods’ group, was the most-watched first round on Golf Channel in seven years, excluding coverage of The Players and majors.

To this viewer, particularly during the third round, the ambient noise reminded me more of a Major League Baseball playoff game than a stop on the Florida Swing.

“I cannot remember the last time we saw crowds like this at a golf tournament,” anchor Dan Hicks said. “OK, so the Ryder Cup, but a regular PGA Tour event, it’s just another world.”

Awkward moments from above

I’ve noted in the past that I’m not a fan of the way NBC introduces its tower announcers, with inset boxes of the announcers watching the coverage on monitors. My argument against it is that it sucks some of the magic out of the telecasts. As a viewer, I’d like to sense that the announcers are immersed in the action, but the reality is that they’re pretty far removed from it.

That occasionally leads to awkward moments. For example, we saw Patrick Reed from a distance as he prepared to hit his second shot into No. 9 Sunday.

“We have Patrick Reed, he’s down there in the fairway bunker. It looks like an awkward stance he’s got here,” David Feherty said. Then Feherty realized Reed wasn’t in the bunker. “He’s up on the bank. That probably isn’t worse, but it’s not good.”

That initial misstatement wasn’t Feherty’s fault; he was stationed in a tower rather than near the action. But the moment stuck out because Reed was just one shot off the lead at the time.

In theory, the tower announcers are supposed to monitor action on multiple holes. But even NBC, which does a relatively good job of showing a variety of players, is going to be hyperfocused on the first page of the leaderboard. That’s especially true when Woods is in contention and grabbing an inordinate amount of airtime. For example, Rory Sabbatini, Webb Simpson, Jason Kokrak and Branden Grace all finished in the top 10, yet I don’t recall seeing any of them hit a shot on Sunday.

What I’m suggesting, as I have in the past, is that the networks consider something other than the traditional crew configuration of two tower announcers, two on-course reporters and two people in the 18th tower. We know that the vast majority of the weekend coverage is going to focus on eight to 10 players – maybe fewer – who have a chance to win the tournament.

Rather than putting announcers in the tower, my suggestion is that a better use of that manpower would be to put those crew members on the course, close to the players in contention. Those are the players who matter. If something noteworthy happens elsewhere on the course – say, a hole-out from the fairway by someone on the fourth page of the leaderboard – the anchor could handle that replay. Gwk


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