Media column: IBF drags down CBS’ effort at Riviera

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 11: CBS Sports Tower during the fourth round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California on February 11, 2007. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images) Getty Images

Media column: IBF drags down CBS’ effort at Riviera

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Media column: IBF drags down CBS’ effort at Riviera

Everyone had a good laugh at Ian Baker-Finch’s expense Saturday when he referred to Shigeki Maruyama as “Shigeki Marijuana” before quickly correcting himself. (Maruyama was at Riviera CC working for Japanese TV.) Truth is, this provided a little levity during what otherwise was a dismal performance by Baker-Finch.

On two occasions Baker-Finch speculated, with no evidence, that Patrick Cantlay’s swing indicated he was experiencing back pain.

“Oh, he’s fallen over again,” Baker-Finch said of Cantlay’s swing on the 17th tee. “He might be a little stiff in that lower back, Peter (Kostis).” Baker-Finch made a similar claim when Cantlay was on the 11th tee.

Ian Baker-Finch will make his European Senior Tour debut in November's Handa Australian Senior Open.

Finch (Getty Images)

It was an exaggeration to say Cantlay had “fallen over.” On 17, Kostis told Baker-Finch that Cantlay’s swing was fine and that he was leaning because his drive was going right.

I realize that Cantlay had a serious back injury at the start of his pro career. But for Baker-Finch to suggest, with no evidence, that an imperfect swing or body English were signs of back pain was irresponsible. Cantlay’s post-swing action reminded me of how Phil Mickelson often leans right when he loses a drive to the right. Would Baker-Finch suggest that Mickelson’s psoriatic arthritis is flaring up if he doesn’t stick his follow-through on every drive? Of course not, unless he had information from Mickelson suggesting the arthritis was hindering his play. By the same token, it was imprudent to suggest Cantlay’s back was troubling him absent any supporting information.

While Baker-Finch didn’t mind engaging in careless speculation regarding Cantlay, he couldn’t bring himself to criticize a blatant violation of etiquette, if not the actual Rules of Golf.

On No. 11, Bubba Watson’s chip missed Sam Saunders’ ball by a few inches as it rolled past the pin. It was the latest, inexcusable example of backstopping on the PGA Tour.

“I find that interesting,” Baker-Finch said. “I thought that ball might have been in play there.”

I find that interesting? That ball might have been in play?

It’s hard to imagine Baker-Finch saying anything more vanilla, more insipid.

Here’s what he should have said: “I find that appalling. I find that disgraceful. That might not be a rules violation, but it is a blatant violation of the spirit of the game. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has a serious problem on his hands. Monahan and others in golf love to talk about the integrity of the game and its players. And yet every day on the PGA Tour, we see the best players in the world attempt to subvert the Rules of Golf through backstopping.”

If Baker-Finch had said something like that, I would have cheered his courage and honesty, and overlooked his other failings. But when presented an opportunity to make a statement in support of integrity, he whiffed.

Baker-Finch seems like a nice man, and I don’t take any pleasure in calling him out. But at some point, he needs to say something interesting. It’s not enough just to float through tournaments as the former major champion with the great hair and the cool accent.

TV technology impresses

All of this spoiled what otherwise was a relatively impressive performance by CBS on the technology front.

CBS continued to make extensive use of Toptracer on drives and approaches. That’s been a big initiative for the network in 2018. While watching, I couldn’t help but think that if Bubba Watson is looking for another endorsement deal (and what player isn’t?), he should have his agent talk with Topgolf, which owns Toptracer. Watching Watson curve the ball left and right is perhaps the best illustration of the value of that technology.

CBS also rolled out a new putting line, courtesy of Hawk-Eye Innovations, on holes 10, 16 and 18. As players were striking their putts, TV viewers could see the firm putting line and the lag line, along with a box showing the distance, slope and break of the putts.

European Tour Productions debuted this technology in November at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. It’s a wonderful tool to help viewers understand the slope of the greens.

It reminded me that CBS was the first network to test a putting line, the original AimPoint, in April 2005 in New Orleans. I thought at the time it was transformative technology, but CBS didn’t bring it back. Golf Channel subsequently adopted AimPoint in 2007 and won its first Emmy for it in 2008. But Golf Channel later dropped it. Hopefully CBS will stick with the putting line this time around and others will follow suit.

CBS used another Hawk-Eye technology on the steeply sloped 10th green to illustrate how balls are funneled into both the left and right bunkers on that narrow green.

“It’s like an upside-down bathtub,” Gary McCord said of the 10th green.

I’ve called for technology like this in past years when the Tour stopped at Riviera. There’s such a fascination with the 10th hole, but if you’ve never seen it in person, you can’t understand why that green creates such havoc for the world’s best players. I thought this technology could have been more intuitive – I had to look at it a couple of times to clearly understand it – but it was another helpful tool for viewers. Gwk

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