2005: Newsmakers - For Masters, less is more, and that includes Wadkins

Another April, another round of griping about the Masters’ limited TV exposure.

Viewers missed out on the second round because of rain, then didn’t see live coverage of Tiger Woods lapping Chris DiMarco on the back nine of the third round Sunday morning, giving wind to critics.

They included Mike Lupica, who took aim at Augusta’s resistance to expanded TV coverage on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” Sunday morning. “The Masters,” Lupica chirped, “is a tradition unlike any other . . . a tradition of stubbornness, silliness and self-importance.”

Stubborn? Absolutely. Self-important? Quite possibly. But the captains of industry who rule over Augusta are by no means silly. Their insistence on limited coverage of the tournament is basic brand management, a skill they no doubt used while earning their fortunes in the real world. There’s a reason why you wait six months to get a Harley Davidson, and there’s a reason why golf fans treasure Masters memories. Augusta chooses to limit the commercials, limit the air time, leave a little money on the table – and leave us all begging for more. There’s probably a lesson there for the PGA Tour and other sports properties, but let’s leave that for another day.

Still, the limited broadcast schedule compounded a difficult weekend for CBS, and by airtime Sunday, it essentially was broadcasting a two-man tournament between Woods and DiMarco. Woods added drama with his brilliance – the chip-in on No. 16 – and his closing bogeys that forced the playoff.

But that one extra hole aside, for TV viewers, this Masters lacked the tournament’s usual drama. And there was the sense that the CBS crew was trying to instill drama where little existed.

With Jack Nicklaus out of the tournament, Woods spent the front nine of the final round channeling his hero, grinding over every putt until action ground to a halt. Tiger is “very determined, very deliberate,” CBS’ Peter Kostis intoned. I think the word you’re searching for, Peter, is “sloooow.”

Shortly after the final pairing teed off, Dick Enberg talked about the “extreme slopes and elevations” of Augusta’s greens – a fact often noted by first-time visitors. But rather than showing us graphics or animation to illustrate these slopes, CBS gave us only tired footage of missed putts.

On the par-3 sixth, normally steady Verne Lundquist insisted that “the vibration from the impact” of Woods’ tee shot caused DiMarco’s ball to roll back off the green. Lanny Wadkins reeled Lundquist back in, pointing out that DiMarco’s ball started moving while Woods’ shot was in the air.

The CBS announcing team spent the entire eighth hole speculating as to why DiMarco had talked to a rules official. Was he upset that Tiger had slammed his driver on the tee? Was there some tension between Woods and DiMarco? Or was DiMarco exasperated to find mud on his ball again? What’s eating Chris? Everyone wanted to know. All of the speculation seemed a bit silly when it became clear on No. 9 that DiMarco simply needed to replace his driver.

Then there’s Wadkins. When CBS hired him to replace Ken Venturi, it seemed an inspired choice. Known during his playing career for being blunt-spoken, Wadkins likely was seen by CBS as a worthy counterpart to NBC’s Johnny Miller.

Would that it were so. Wadkins rarely offers us anything more than the obvious, such as yardages, and his signature “What a play!” call isn’t likely to win him entrance to the broadcasters’ wing of the World Golf Hall of Fame. He also has a grating habit of using the qualifying phrase “at this point in time” (Mickelson “needs this to go in at this point in time”) and lapsing into jock-speak by confusing adjectives with adverbs (“That had to be played perfect” or “Tiger always plays aggressive”). What’s worse, Wadkins pulls his punches, seemingly concerned about offending a member of the Tour fraternity. He hinted Saturday that Vijay Singh’s putting is iffy, but when Singh subsequently bogeyed No. 9, Wadkins said, “No one’s better around the greens, so you can’t really dispute the decisions he makes” – ignoring the fact that he’s paid to do precisely that.

Every now and then, Wadkins shows glimpses of true analysis. He described DiMarco as “an accident waiting to happen” after a shaky start to his third round Saturday, and he correctly forecast that No. 10 did not set up well for DiMarco, who double bogeyed the hole Sunday during the completion of Round 3.

But Wadkins’ high points – or at least, his less-than-low points – are few and far between. At this point in time, it might be appropriate for CBS to consider alternatives to Wadkins.

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