MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Expect to see Tiger Woods as part of NBC Sports’ coverage this weekend, even if he’s not playing.
In the most anticipated return to golf since Ben Hogan recovered from a car accident, Woods ends his eight-month hiatus from knee surgery at the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday. The first three rounds will be televised on The Golf Channel.
NBC Sports does not start its coverage until Saturday, and given the unpredictable nature of this event, Woods might be eliminated by then. In his nine times playing, he has reached the weekend only four times.
“We will have to deal with showing what happened to Tiger because this has gone from being a golf tournament to a news event,” said Tommy Roy, the golf producer at NBC. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t going to be able to watch his play on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, if he makes it that far.
“People tuning in on the weekend, we’ll document whether he’s out or he’s still alive,” Roy said. “We’ll make sure they have a chance to see that. There’s a definite buzz about golf and about this event that we know will carry over to the weekend.”
Whatever happens, Woods’ return has worked out well for NBC.
Depending on how his knee reacts this week, Woods likely will next play the CA Championship at Doral or the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – maybe both – which are broadcast by NBC Sports.
CBS Sports, the tour’s other network, will get its first crack at Woods at the Masters, which gets the highest ratings of any golf tournament.
MARQUEE MATCH It might not look like much on paper, much less television, but one of the most interesting matches in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship is Kevin Sutherland against Geoff Ogilvy.
Those are two of only four players in the 64-man field that have won at least 80 percent of their matches.
Ogilvy is No. 8 in the world, a former U.S. Open champion. Sutherland is No. 56 in the world and has only one PGA Tour victory. Sutherland, however, finds himself in elite company at Dove Mountain. The only other two players with an 80 percent rate of winning are Henrik Stenson and Tiger Woods.
Sutherland is playing at Match Play for the first time since 2003, when he lost in the third round. He won the Match Play in 2002, and lost in the first round in 2001 in Australia, giving him an 8-2 record.
No wonder he remembers the last match he played – a loss to Adam Scott.
“I remember all my matches,” he said. “I’ve only played 10 of them.”
But he has rarely played any lightweights. His previous opening matches have come against the current Masters champion (Vijay Singh), the current British Open champion (David Duval) and Sergio Garcia. When he won in 2002, Sutherland beat five former Ryder Cup players until meeting Scott McCarron in the final.
Why such an affinity with match play?
“I guess it’s the finality of it. That’s what makes it a lot of fun,” Sutherland said. “It’s one of the few tournaments I watch on TV, besides the majors. You’ve got to play good no matter who you’re playing.”
ROSE PEDALS Justin Rose became a father on Saturday night when his wife, Kate, delivered a boy they named Leo Kenny.
That allowed Rose to fly to Arizona for the Match Play Championship, and that added one noteworthy development. This will be the first time since the tournament began in 1999 that all 64 players who were eligible showed up.
Jumbo Ozaki of Japan – remember him? – skipped the first two years. Hardly anyone went to Australia in 2001. Jose Coceres broke his arm in 2002, Vijay Singh hurt his ribs in 2003, and the list goes on.
CELEBRITY SIGHTING Padraig Harrington might be the most accomplished athlete in Ireland, having won the British Open and PGA Championship to become the first European to win consecutive majors in the same year.
But he learned early not to get a big head.
After winning his first British Open in 2007, he pulled up at a local hotel around Christmas only to learn the parking lot was full, and the attendant was waving him away. But when the driver rolled down the window, the attendant looked at Harrington and made room.
“He brought me in and parked me over in a nice spot, and it was great,” Harrington said. “He came on over to say hello and have a chat, and I’m feeling quite up there – chest out, ‘Oh, this is great’ – and after a couple of seconds of conversation, I realize he thinks I’m off the ‘X-Factor.”’
That would be the Irish version of “American Idol.”
“I still got the car park space, though,” Harrington said. “You can always be brought down to earth.”
PERSPECTIVE IN ORDER U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee became the youngest winner of a European Tour event last week when he captured the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia against a field that included Anthony Kim and Lee Westwood.
Players gush over his ability, but this isn’t the first time a teenager has won a big event.
Ten years ago, Aaron Baddeley was an 18-year-old amateur when he won the Australian Open. He was paired in the final round with Colin Montgomerie, who had just won his seventh Order of Merit in Europe. In the group ahead was Greg Norman, the year before the Shark nearly won the Masters.
Ten years later, Baddeley has two PGA Tour victories and has never been ranked higher than No. 16 in the world.
Lee may turn out to be among the best in the world, but it takes time to reach those conclusions.
DIVOTS While the top 64 in the world ranking are in Arizona, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico managed to pick off 16 of the next 125 for the opposite-field event. … The USGA has selected “Tom Morris of St. Andrews: The Colossus of Golf, 1821-1908” as the recipient of the Herbert Warren Book Award for 2008. Written by David Malcolm and Peter E. Crabtree, it studies the life of Old Tom Morris and his influence on St. Andrews.” … Tiger Woods is 6-3 against Australians in match play as a pro.
STAT OF THE WEEK Stuart Appleby is the only player to have competed in every World Golf Championship.
FINAL WORD “This Wednesday is different. We only have one partner, not four.” – Stephen Ames at the Accenture Match Play Championship, which begins on the day usually set aside for pro-ams.