Sports Waves: CBS mostly stuck to game plan for Masters coverage

Only on the Web: CBS News' Armen Keteyian speaks with 2010 Masters winner Phil Mickelson about his emotional third victory so far at the tournament.
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

AUGUSTA, GA. -- A few days before the start of the 74th Masters golf tournament, CBS Sports and News President Sean McManus said that his network was "not going to pull any punches" in its coverage of Tiger Woods, who was making his return to golf after a five-month absence in the wake of his now well-documented off-the-course transgressions and precipitous fall from grace.

On the same conference call, Lance Barrow, the executive producer for CBS golf telecasts, also insisted the coverage will be "just like normal on Saturday and Sunday. We will cover a golf tournament. It will only be what the story lines are. I don't anticipate doing anything different than what we normally do."

After floating in and out of the television coverage myself in between reporting walks on the Augusta National course over the four days of the tournament -- the first two days on ESPN using the same weekend CBS announcing crew -- I'd have to say both McManus and Barrow mostly stayed with their pre-tournament game plan in what became one of the most riveting golf events in recent memory.

The network did not go out of its way to focus on Woods's tumultuous absence from the game. There was no special feature detailing what had happened in his private life since that Nov. 27 car accident in front of his Orlando home that set off a chain reaction of revelations about his serial infidelities, his tenuous marital status and his 45-day stay in a rehabilitation facility, reportedly for treatment of "sexual addiction." Then again, the network didn't duck it either, with play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz often referring to the "scandal" during the coverage.

During the tournament telecasts, there also was little, if any mention of three of the bigger Woods stories before play even began -- his news-free press conference on Monday, the release of his exploitive and oh-so-creepy new Nike commercial featuring the voice of his late father, and the strong rebuke of Woods's behavior on Wednesday by Masters Chairman Billy Payne during his own annual state-of-the-Masters session with the media.

Payne took Woods to task for not living up "to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children." And good for CNN's Campbell Brown, among others, to point out the hypocritical nature of Payne lecturing anyone on social responsibility considering that he oversees an organization that has never allowed women to join this exclusive good-old-boy club and didn't admit its first black member until 1990.

And yet, in many ways, by the time play began for real, it was actually something of a relief to focus on golf over gossipy tabloid fodder on the Woods front once Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the honorary starters, struck the ceremonial first ball on Thursday morning.

That is not to say the CBS crew ignored the elephant-sized Tiger in the room. When Woods was finishing up his round of 68 Thursday, his lowest first-round score ever in the tournament, Nick Faldo described it as "quite amazing. Five months away and then this first round. I don't think anyone expected this."

Said Nantz, "His psyche being dented, the humiliation he might feel on the first tee and he's overcome all of that that."

Earlier in the same opening broadcast, on-course reporter David Feherty may have gone a tad overboard when he gushed, after a Woods eagle at the 15th hole Thursday, that "One thing is certain, he loves the game of golf and the game loves him right back. He's a creature in his natural habitat." Feherty, usually a very funny man, also made reference to Woods's new "centered Buddhist attitude" in the Sunday telecast. That too, was laughable considering what had happened the day before.

On Saturday, after a poor tee shot left him a long putt at the sixth hole, Woods uttered a loud profanity. The CBS microphones picked up the angry outburst, with hole reporter Verne Lundquist commenting that "I don't think he's pleased," without any further elaboration. So much for that new centered attitude.

Nantz, in a studio chat with Faldo not long after the sixth hole outburst, properly pointed out that "in his mea culpa" first televised apology from Jacksonville in February that Woods "vowed he would show more respect for the game." The potty mouth reaction to a bad shot viewers had heard earlier at the sixth hole were "what he said we wouldn't be seeing a whole lot more of" and was disappointing considering he had "promised he'd change."

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