The BBC has covered the Masters for as long as anyone can care to remember, thus granting it the kind of ‘crown jewel’ status that politicians often speak of when discussing TV rights for sport. This puts the Masters up there with the likes of Wimbledon, the FA Cup final and, of course, the Open.
With the defection of one time regular Steve Rider to ITV, the BBC recently awarded the anchor position to Match Of The Day’s Gary Lineker, the former England centre forward. It is fair to say that the decision was not universally embraced by golf fans, and his nervy debut last year did little to discourage the doubters.
The BBC telecast started yesterday with a flashback to 1997 and Tiger’s historic first win. Match Of The Day regulars will not have been surprised at Lineker’s almost customary use of the understatement as he stated that Tiger “..hadn’t done too badly” since that day ten years ago. He then showed a distinct lack of local knowledge as the coverage briefly went live by berating Phil Mickelson’s chip on the 18th, which started off some fifteen feet left of the hole but then ambled down with the borrows to the side of the cup.
Lineker’s inexperience was fortunately offset by those around him – Sam Torrance, Wayne Grady, Peter Alliss and the excellent Ken Brown. Torrance and Grady were first out of the blocks, joining Lineker at the very beginning for the introduction to the tournament.
A few laughs immediately followed – mainly due to Torrance’s shifty looking goatee beard and the fact that he and Grady were squeezed into a very small-looking wicker sofa. Grady in particular looked quite nervous. It looked as if he was trying to slide as far away from Torrance, who had his arm draped over the back of the sofa like a nervous teenager on a date at the cinema, as possible.
More pertinently, however, the two men added some much needed expertise to take the heat off Lineker. Grady’s first telling contribution was to inform us about the new vacuum drainage system for Augusta’s greens. It would, he said, lead to the greens being even quicker and harder than usual and would surprise most of the pros, even those veterans of several tournaments. Yesterday’s first round scores certainly backed up his prediction. Some excellent footage of the rarely seen Par-3 contest (won by Mark O’Meara) followed, as well as Arnold Palmer’s tee shot as the honorary starter.
Live coverage began just after 9.15pm, with the incomparable Alliss and his apprentice-in-chief Brown providing the best moments. After congratulating Woods for making a “rascal” of a putt for par on the 10th, Brown showed us how the pin positions are decided each day and told us not to be fooled by some sluggish starts – the highest opening round by an eventual winner was Craig Stadler’s 75 in 1982, he said.
If you’re big on statistics then that puts the likes of Goosen, Garcia, Montgomerie, Mickelson and Els right out of the equation already. Good for me, I thought, as I glanced hopefuly at my pre-tournament betting slip. I’ve often been told that the Masters is such a glorious spectacle that it shouldn’t be sullied by the vulgarity of a wager. Will a few pounds each way on Justin Rose at 100/1 ease my shame at succumbing to the turf accountant…?
Torrance raised a laugh by describing his good friend Craig ‘The Walrus’ Stadler as a “wee player”, while Ian Poulter’s extraordinary white trilby/diamond crucifix combination had me thinking of an awful Backstreet Boys video from some years ago.
The best moments of day one just about went to Alliss though. Both involved the world number one and his driver.
“That head seems to be swelling by the minute,” he said as Tiger addressed the ball on the 9th tee. It was a reference to his oversized driver, but still drew muffled laughter from, among others, his co-commentator Brown.
Two holes later Tiger sliced his drive into the pine needles to the right of the 11th fairway. The were no spectators in the vicinity, just two caddies in their all-white uniforms who located his ball.
“Well, the painters and decorators don’t think that’s ended up too badly,” said Alliss.
Great stuff – and hopefully much more to come over the next three days.