Monday, April 13, 2009

"Not much meat on her, but what's there is cherce." (For you youngsters, that's "choice" in vintage Hollywood New York-ese.) So said Spencer Tracy's character, Mike Conovan, about Katherine Hepburn's Pat Pemberton (a golfer!) in the 1952 film classic Pat and Mike. \n

And that's how we viewers feel about the TV coverage from Augusta. In contrast to the all-day U.S. Open telecast, the Masters is rationed — on the East Coast, we get late-afternoon starts the first three days and a 2 p.m. start on Sunday. This year, that kept us from seeing the first few holes of the marquee Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson pairing.

And yet ... perhaps that's why the Masters on TV seems such a precious commodity, and why we think this year's CBS telecast was, for the most part, cherce. Of course, in its final act it did present a twosome to rival Tracy and Hepburn: Woods and Mickelson. But there were other stellar attributes. Per custom, once the show did begin, it was rarely interrupted. (There were only four minutes of commercials per hour.) The still-life visuals, enhanced in HD and appropriate to the setting, captured the course in the fullness of its springtime bloom. The sound was crisp; you could hear the ball smack off the club, and even Nick Faldo came through loud and clear.

Their game lifted by a thrilling weekend, the broadcast team was in fine form and rhythm, with astute analysis from Faldo, Peter Kostis and anchor Jim Nantz. (Faldo, a three-time Masters winner, continually preached the virtues of being safe and smart.) Best, they conveyed the atmosphere, noting that all the energy surrounded the Woods-Mickelson pairing, leaving little juice for those elsewhere on the course. The eminence gris, Verne Lundquist, noted that the afternoon rivaled Nicklaus's '86 comeback for drama. (Yes, SIR!) And there was even some metaphorical phrasemaking, as when Ian Baker-Finch referred to an assemblage as "a sea of patrons." (A description, rest assured, you will hear nowhere else.)

But still ... there are some things that drive us crazy, and no doubt will continue to do so deep into the century: That tinkling music. The sappy scene-setters at the top of the show that talk about "bathing in sunshine, "the kaleidoscope of color," "Augusta melody" and so on and so on, all while we're chomping at the bit to get out to the course! Sadly and truly, these are traditions unlike any other.

Here's one practice that disturbed several folks in the SI Golf Group: the failure to tell us whether a shot was live. We'd see a player hit, then cut to another hole, then an instant later see the first player putting, after evidently setting a record in the 161-yard dash.

Also, some of the locutions were as flowery as the azaleas. When did players become "strikers of the ball" and "strokers of putts"?

Those are our peccadillos, and you may have others. But in the end, if today's telecast didn't turn you on, then go watch tennis.

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