2003: Coach potato takes trip to Pleasantville

After five hours on my couch watching CBS-TV’s Masters show, I’m convinced Martha Burk got her revenge on the country’s middle-class males. On Friday, we were told by the USA Network crew how tough it was for the players to go 36 holes in cold, wet conditions. Heck, that was nothing compared to being chained to the tube all Sunday afternoon, unable to take leave for fear of missing something in the commercial- free telecast.

Like guys hitting themselves in bunkers. Tiger Woods making two 6s within six holes. Or poor Jeff Maggert messing up again, this time with an unholy quintuple bogey 8 on the 12th. Wow, this was great theater – so good that CBS actually stopped following Woods after he birdied the ninth hole and didn’t show him again until he approached the 18th.

There were a few incongruities. CBS started off the telecast by introducing us to its “golf family,” a domestic partnership apparently devoid of women or any reference to them. Strange, given the political circus that took place all week and in the months leading to the tournament. But then what else would one expect from the commercial-free alliance of CBS and Augusta National Golf Club?

With Bobby Clampett leading the league in mindless platitudes, this was very much a visit to Pleasantville, where all of the plants are colorful and everyone is having just a fine ol’ time.

Clampett has an awful sense of drama. Everything is momentous, ponderous and historic. He actually called Maggert’s misadventure in the sand on the third hole “one of the worst breaks in the history of golf,” and later compared it to Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the 1999 British Open.

Let it be noted for the record that for once, Clampett actually uttered criticism – when Woods pulled driver out of the bag on the par-4 third hole and promptly blew it dead right.

After the round, when Bill Macatee asked him about the club selection, Woods tried blaming his caddie, Steve Williams. Having let the cat out of the bag, Woods promptly tried to close it by saying it was “his call.” Gee, Tiger, thanks for your loyalty.

Actually, this was great stuff to watch. The duel between Len Mattiace and Mike Weir was covered dramatically despite considerable separation of time and space in their play. And once Mattiace left center stage to await a playoff, CBS stuck with Weir shot by shot down the final three holes of regulation play.

What with all the rain, delayed starting times, and Woods’ limited appearance near the top of the leaderboard, it’s no surprise TV ratings for Sunday were down slightly – off 6 percent from last year. Saturday’s telecast had a rating of 6.2 and a 14 share and 9.3/19 for Sunday’s. That’s a 34 percent falloff from the all-time high Sunday of 1997, though this year’s was still the sixth-highest-rated Masters ever. For those of us who watched, it was one of the better Masters Sundays in memory, just behind 1986 and 1975 for drama. It was that way in spite of – not because of – all the announcing and analysis.






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