AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Billy Payne got off to a memorable start in his first Masters as chairman of Augusta National.
He persuaded Arnold Palmer to hit the ceremonial first tee shot, and that might have been the loudest cheer of the tough opening round Thursday. He honored a dozen writers who have covered the Masters at least 40 years. And he restored the popular criteria that winning on the PGA Tour (except for second-tier events) makes a player eligible for the Masters.
Even so, Payne is most concerned with exploring new media coverage for the Masters.
That was a hit, too, so to speak.
Augusta National said there were more than 106 million page views on its Web site (www.masters.org) during the week, up 35 percent from the previous year.
The Web site again provided extra video coverage called “Amen Corner Live,” and this year added a bonus hour of coverage on the Internet of the tournament. That allowed viewers to see Phil Mickelson open his final round with a triple bogey, and Zach Johnson respond from an opening bogey with birdies on his next two holes.
Payne said the Internet numbers were proof the Masters provided fans coverage they wanted, which was the goal. And he indicated there could be additional features next year.
“I want to emphasize that ‘Masters Extra’ and ‘Amen Corner Live’ were initial steps, and we look to provide more extensive and dynamic applications in the future,” Payne said in a statement.
The Masters already has more TV viewers than any other major. CBS Sports said an estimated 41.4 million viewers watched the Masters over the weekend, an 11 percent increase from last year, and up 6 percent from 2004 when the final round also was on Easter. CBS said it was the highest number since 47.9 million viewers when Tiger Woods won in 2001 for his fourth straight major.
The preliminary national rating was 9.1, up from 8.4 in 2006 and up from 7.3 in 2004.
Augusta National also said it served 4 million video streams of live golf and approximately 45 hours of live video over the four days. The club said viewers spent an average of three hours per visit on either masters.org or CBS Sportsline.com.
ZACH ATTACK: Tiger Woods has never lost a major when leading going into the final round of a major (12-for-12), and Sunday at the Masters won’t affect that mark because he started Sunday one shot out of the lead.
It is an impressive record, although it is not that unusual in this decade.
Zach Johnson became the first Masters champion not to come out of the final group since Nick Faldo in 1990.
Ben Curtis is the only player this decade to win the British Open without being in the last group to tee off Sunday. The last PGA champion not to play in the final group was Steve Elkington. The last two U.S. Open champions, Geoff Ogilvy and Michael Campbell, came from behind, but before that you had to go back to 1998 to find a rally from Lee Janzen.
The lesson in all this? It’s not easy coming from behind in major championships, no matter who is leading.
There have been 29 majors held this decade, and 23 of them have been won by players who had at least a share of the 54-hole lead. The only players this decade to win majors without starting the final round in the last group were Johnson, Ogilvy, Campbell and Curtis.
NEXT YEAR: Tom Pernice Jr. made a bogey on the final hole of the Masters, and it could prove costly.
It dropped him into a tie for 17th, which is significant only because the top 16 from the Masters are eligible for next year. It was only the third time Pernice, 47, had played in the Masters. He got in this year by finishing 25th in the money list. Also finishing out of the top 16 was Mark Calcavecchia, who took triple bogey on the 13th hole Sunday to ruin an otherwise great round. He shot 73 and tied for 20th.
Among those assured of returning were Jerry Kelly (tied for fifth) and Ian Poulter (tied for 13th). Everyone else in the top 16 likely would have made it back through the world ranking or having won majors.
CADDY FOR A CURE: For the second straight year, Russ Holden has organized “Caddy for a Cure,” which allows people to bid on eBay for a chance to caddie for a PGA Tour player during a practice round. All the money goes to leukemia research and charities designated by the tour and the player.
It starts at the Verizon Heritage, and his timing could have been better.
Holden, who formerly caddied for Bernhard Langer, arranged for three players to participate at Hilton Head. The auction began March 23 and ended on March 30. The three players were Stewart Cink, Tom Pernice Jr., and Zach Johnson.Who knew Johnson would win the Masters a week later?
Other players who have agreed to take part include Mike Weir (Byron Nelson Championship), Ernie Els (Wachovia Championship), Stephen Ames (Colonial) and Retief Goosen (Memphis).
DIVOTS: The World Golf Hall of Fame will have a featured exhibition that starts Friday called “Gary Player: A Global Journey,” to commemorate the South African playing in his 50th Masters. Among items in the display will be his all-black outfit worn in Thursday’s opening round. … The Evian Masters is increasing to 90 players, an increase of 12 spots. The additional players will be selected from the world rankings on July 16, a week before the $3 million tournament begins in France. … The last player to win a PGA Tour event the next week after capturing the Masters was Bernhard Langer in 1985. … Zach Johnson is the first Nationwide Tour alum to win the Masters.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Zach Johnson and Ben Curtis are the only players born after Tiger Woods to have won a major.
FINAL WORD: “No one here has worn a jumpsuit more than me – just not this color.” – Eric Larson, who caddied for Mark Calcavecchia at the Masters after spending 11 years in prison.