Final couch report: Great lines, rules fumbles and other random thoughts

Ernie Els
Simon Bruty / SI
Ernie Els was hardly mentioned on-air as a contender to win until he played his final hole.

Alliss from the looking glass: When a fan yelled after Luke Donald hit his tee shot on the first hole in Sunday’s final round, Alliss said, “Oh, shut up!” You da man! Mashed potatoes! Yes, shut up, please. How’d those stupid Americans sneak into England?

Best question that could’ve been asked sooner: Bonus points for Curtis Strange for his comment, as Adam Scott warmed up on the putting green before the final round: “If this wind starts blowing as strong as it’s supposed to, how’s that long putter going to be handled?”

Maybe it was nothing but…: After Tiger Woods hit his approach shot at the fourth hole in the final round, he appeared to wince several times. He also appeared to have a brief limp. Nobody noticed or, possibly, I just imagined it.

Exasperated quote of the week: Azinger, on those piling on him on Twitter, apparently because of the bunker rules flap: “There’s a ton of experts on Twitter, I’ll tell you that. Sheesh. What a bunch of clowns.” Seconded.

Thank-you of the week: This goes to Ernie Els. If he hadn’t suddenly gotten into contention, we might never have known Judy Rankin was working for ESPN. She was following Ernie’s group, apparently, and Els was largely absent from the broadcast after the first two holes until he birdied the 10th and snuck into contention.

Most under-used asset: Rankin, again. She’s smart, glib and no-nonsense and she barely got to say more than two words until the last hour of the telecast. It's a shame that Terry Gannon does hole coverage and fills in as host in the early broadcast, while Judy is limited to foot-soldier duty with contributions like, “this is a 6-iron”  and “he might be able to get a lot of club on this, his lie isn’t the worst I’ve seen all week.” What’s wrong with this picture? More Judy, please.

Another zinger: Azinger on the duck-hook Graeme McDowell hit from the 11th fairway:  “He hit that right on the neck. That was almost a top. That probably makes everyone at home feel better.”

Notable quotables:
Scott Van Pelt was on his best behavior, but I’d love to see him turn loose his wacky sense of humor (or maybe his Seve impression) in the oh-so-serious golf booth, which could use some lightness. Anyway, Van Pelt said this about McDowell when he got a lift from a rules official to go back and replay that lost-ball shot at the 11th: “There can’t be a worse feeling in the game. You’re trailing by five. You’re in a cart. You’re going backwards.”

Azinger: “A lot of guys can make a fine living hitting one type of shot. Guys who can separate themselves -- like Tiger or Zach Johnson or Rory McIlroy or Luke Donald -- can flight the ball.”

Curtis Strange on Tiger: “He’s just not the same player we knew years ago, clearly… He’s won three times and also missed two cuts. Watching this week, Adam Scott has been the best player here, without a doubt.”

Strange after Tiger hit into a pot bunker at the 13th: “To quote our old colleague, Bob Rosburg, 'That is dead.'”

Mike and mike: One of the best aspects of ESPN’s coverage was its use of eavesdropping microphones. It might have been one of the best weeks for sound men in golf history.

When Woods was about to try that ill-fated bunker shot that led to his triple on the sixth Sunday, we heard caddie Joe LaCava telling him he could get it out because Thorbjorn Olesen, the Dane they played with on Saturday, played a similar shot.

On another tee after an errant shot, Woods chided himself: “Oh, Tiger, for god’s sake!” Luckily he went with a clean version that time.

With Ernie Els angling for a line-of-sight drop in the fescue because a temporary tower was sort of in the way, a rules official talked to another official over the radio on Sunday. They were trying to determine exactly where Ernie’s line would be. “Hang on a second, this has got to be accurate,” the official said into the radio with Els standing next to him. “It’s quite important.” That drew a laugh from the nearby gallery and Els. It was amazing that it was picked up on the mikes.

Countdown to Adam Scott: The ESPN crew seemed pretty confident that Scott was going to hang on. Some quotes that were timely and on the mark at the time proved not to pan out, though.

Van Pelt: “Seems like only a matter of time now for Adam Scott.”

Azinger, after Els chipped to 10 feet at the 16th hole: “Adam has one hand on the trophy now.”

Van Pelt (after Scott’s perfect tee ball at 17): “If he was nervy, you might have seen it there. No indication at all.”

Azinger, after Scott bogeyed the 17th to fall into a tie with Els: “Ernie Els has one hand on the trophy now.”

Sunday’s telecast was largely a four-man show. ESPN focused on Woods, Snedeker, McDowell and Scott. The first comment from anyone to suggest that Scott might not win was made when Els was about to hit his second shot at the 18th. “This tournament is still very much up for grabs,” Azinger said.

Unforgettable, almost: As host, Mike Tirico does it all and often has to keep talking while producers are giving him info through his earpiece. On live TV, you can’t think of everything, but as he filled  time before the awards ceremony, Tirico talked about the strange finish: “It’s uncomfortable to see the runner-up, the man who came so close, standing out there. It’s hard to remember a time in the last decade when it was this uncomfortable.”

How about when Stewart Cink won in a playoff over crowd favorite Tom Watson? That award ceremony was downright funereal. That  was way, way back in  2009.

Best shot that you won’t remember: The putt by Ernie Els on the final green will be the stroke du jour of this Open. But a crucial shot came on the 16th hole when Els ran a chip between two treacherous greenside bunkers onto the green and saved par. You didn’t realize how impressive the shot was until ESPN replayed it from its blimp camera. Then it looked super cool.

Up close and personal: The camera shots were terrific all week. There was a great moment when McDowell, his caddie and a bunch of fans and officials were picking through the gorse looking for his lost ball at the 11th hole. The cameraman was right in there with them and caught MacDowell reaching in, then pulling his arm back and yanking a gorse pricker out of his finger.

Roving reporter Andy North offered the punch line on the search area: “Nothing’s been in there but rabbits.”

Overall, it was a great-but-rather too-long week of televised golf. My couch has stretch marks. But I can honestly say that after watching ESPN’s coverage, I don’t feel like I missed a thing by not being there, except for the bacon bap sandwiches and bottles of Lilt, my favorite non-American soft drink.

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