Golf on TV: Tiger Woods gets a mighty ‘Hallelujah!’ from fans, NBC

Sep 23, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; The crowd follows Tiger Woods down the 18th green during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

Golf on TV: Tiger Woods gets a mighty ‘Hallelujah!’ from fans, NBC

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Golf on TV: Tiger Woods gets a mighty ‘Hallelujah!’ from fans, NBC

Forty-two minutes into Sunday’s coverage of the Tour Championship, NBC anchor Dan Hicks alerted viewers that the network would take more commercial breaks early in the show so it could go commercial-free “down the stretch of this thing for the last few hours, which we plan to do with Tiger (Woods) in the hunt for his first win in five years.”

You know when networks alter their commercials breaks so they can finish with extended, commercial-free coverage? They do it during major championships. The last time I checked, the Tour Championship hadn’t been designated as golf’s fifth major.

Networks don’t do that for Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas or Rickie Fowler or Justin Rose or Dustin Johnson or even Phil Mickelson.

They do it for Tiger Woods.

And you know what? I’d do exactly the same thing if I were NBC. In fact, I’d put a bug on the screen that said, “Commercial-free coverage of Tiger Woods begins in one hour.” And I’d post a countdown clock that would remain on the screen until the end of the final commercial and the start of all Tiger, all the time.

It would be a call to worship to all of those dispirited NFL fans suffering through yet another dismal Sunday slate of games. Give us your Texans fans, give us your Bears fans, give us your Raiders fans who yearn for something more fulfilling than another miserable 12-9 defensive slog featuring a bunch of anonymous, unlikable players. Come join us as Brother Tiger, the “walking miracle,” marches the heavenly fairways of East Lake in search his first victory in five years. Oh, and $10 million.

The NFL has the Red Zone channel for fans who want to watch the day’s most-important plays. I sometimes wonder if the networks should develop a Tiger Zone channel. Fans could either watch the entire tournament or they could watch Woods’ every move from the time he walks onto the practice range to the time he walks off 18. Which do you think would get more viewers?

I’m being facetious – but just a bit. Consider what we witnessed this past weekend.

In the TV-ratings world, a mediocre football game typically drubs even some of the PGA Tour’s biggest events. Yet during Saturday’s third round, with Woods in the final group, NBC’s coverage of The Tour Championship drew more viewers than every college football game except the Alabama-Texas A&M game. Because, as we all know, nobody beats Alabama – not even Tiger Woods.

The scene of Woods walking down the 18th fairway Sunday, trailed by thousands of fans, was reminiscent of the scene when he walked off the final hole at the PGA Championship.

“There’s nothing like him in sports,” Johnny Miller said.

“Have we ever seen anything like this in golf?” Hicks wondered.

Sep 23, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Justin Rose celebrates with his family after he won the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Rose has some company from NBC’s crew while celebrating with his family Sunday. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

We sometimes see similar scenes at the British Open and the Ryder Cup. But I don’t recall anything like that at the Tour Championship. When it was all over, even Woods, who’s never one to let down his guard, told NBC’s Steve Sands, “I was having a hard time not crying coming up that last hole.”

At that point, the only thing left to be decided was the FedEx Cup champion.

Bryson DeChambeau won half of the playoff tournaments, but so what? Wins don’t mean much in these playoffs. DeChambeau could have packed his bags and headed for France on Friday.

Dustin Johnson made a backdoor bid for the Cup late Sunday. When DJ’s bunker shot on 18 stopped 6 feet under the pin, Hicks wondered, “Could that end up being a $10 million putt?”

“I don’t think he knows that, though, right?” Johnny Miller said.

“I wouldn’t want to know,” Hicks said.

Doesn’t that exchange point up one of the fallacies that still underlies the FedEx Cup? Johnson should know that he has a putt to win the Cup. That’s what sports, at the highest level, is supposed to be about. Can the athlete drain the big jumper, get the big hit, hole the big putt when everything is on the line? (Johnson didn’t, by the way; he missed the putt.)

Instead, we have Sands, the only man who truly understands the FedEx Cup, laying out scenarios by which various players could win the Cup.

Twelve years after the FedEx Cup was introduced, it still often feels less like a sporting competition than a game show. At the end of Sunday’s competition, I sit at home on my couch, expecting to see an accountant hand an envelope to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who opens it and yells, “Justin Rose, come on down! You’ve won $10 million!” Gwk

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