Monday, July 20, 2009

If you had told the folks at ABC Sports last week that Tiger Woods would miss the cut at Turnberry and that the champion golfer of the year would be the twitterific Stewart Cink, they almost certainly would have arranged to fill Saturday and Sunday mornings with reruns of "According to Jim." But a savior emerged in the form of 59-year-old Tom Watson. If he had missed the cut as expected, he would have been in the ABC booth. Instead, his quest for his sixth Open championship supplied brilliant theatre. \n

\nHowever, the TV production didn't always match the high drama. ABC is largely out of the TV golf business, so its team had an ad hoc feel, even with the presence of regulars such as anchor Mike Tirico and course reporters Andy North and Judy Rankin. It wasn't up to the championship form of either NBC's U.S. Open or CBS's Masters coverage. For visuals, ABC and TNT were limited to the BBC feed, which was not in high-definition; however, thanks to the splendor of the Ailsa course, this proved not to be a handicap.\n

\nLike the Ailsa course itself, ABC's (and TNT's Thursday and Friday) telecasts had their bumps and humps. Herewith our selective scorecard for the week.\n

\nDOUBLE BOGEY: To ABC, for ignoring anyone not in the top five on the leaderboard. Sure, Watson was the main story, but often times we lost sight of who was coming up behind him. For instance, on Sunday a player named Thomas Aiken had just birdied 16 to get to even par and was only one shot behind the leader in the clubhouse, Chris Wood. In other words, Aiken was hardly out of it. But where was Thomas Aiken on TV? For that matter, who is Thomas Aiken? (A European tour player from South Africa who turned 26 last Thursday and entered the Open ranked No. 155 in the world.) Had Aiken birdied the last two holes, he would have joined the Watson-Cink playoff — and ABC would have been scrambling in the fescue. (OK — Aiken bogeyed on 17, and ABC was off the hook.)\n

\nBOGEYS: To ABC'S Tom Weiskopf and Curtis Strange, who talked too much but to too little effect. (Weiskopf: "When you can't drive the ball in play, these courses take no prisoners.")\n

\nPARS: To Tirico, unflappable as ever; and analyst Paul Azinger ("The only thing that's been consistent about Tiger is his inconsistency"). The brief 'Zinger sighting made us long for the days when he and then ABC booth partner, Nick Faldo, made the best odd couple since Klugman and Randall.\n

\nBIRDIES: To the estimable North and Rankin, who in their understated ways never failed to give us the lay of the land. Said North about the tee shot at the ninth fairway: "It's like trying to pitch pennies on top of a football helmet." Also: To TNT, for its cool statistic showing how players were faring on, respectively, holes downwind, into the wind and crosswind.\n

\nEAGLE: To the BBC's peerless Peter Alliss, who showed up for an hour or so each day and used his mellifluous bass to elevate the erudition quotient. On Saturday he set the scene thusly: "This is a day for remembering the ball is round and the ground is hard. If you can hit is straight, you'll be the winner." On Sunday, he laid out the uncertain fate of a player who lands the ball in front of the green on No. 9. Intoned Alliss: "You're in the lap of the gods there." \n

\nDOUBLE EAGLE: To Alliss, for Saturday's best line, uttered off-camera but recounted by boothmate Terry Gannon. Upon seeing ESPN's Rick Reilly enter wearing a white suit and a purple tie, Alliss quipped, "When did Neil Sedaka come in here?" For that bon mot alone, the 78-year-old Alliss once again is our Champion Broadcaster of the Year.\n

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