One of the differences between the Masters and golf’s other major championships has been that tournament organizers place restrictions on the number of hours of live action that can be televised on the weekend. CBS this week will have its usual coverage from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
For TV and Internet viewers, however, there is so much more to watch. Between ESPN, CBS Sports Network, the Golf Channel and various online platforms, the Masters will be showing up on more screens than the Kardashians this week.
Keeping up with Tiger Woods is what golfers and broadcasters are usually preoccupied with heading into a major, but Woods is not playing due to recent back surgery.
Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, put on a brave face when asked about the effect on ratings for a Tiger-less Masters.
“When Tiger is in the Masters, there is going to be a spike in the ratings,” McManus said in a recent conference call with reporters. “But I’ve said this many times, the Masters has always been the highest-rated and most anticipated golf tournament of the year. …
“We’ve had Masters in the past when Tiger has not been in contention on Saturday and Sunday, and we’ve had pretty darn good ratings in those years. It’s easy to get used to having Tiger on the leader board and getting used to the spike, but if we get the kind of drama that we did last year or some previous years, I think we’ll do an outstanding rating.”
Last year, of course, Adam Scott outdueled Angel Cabrera in a playoff to win the green jacket.
Jim Nantz, CBS’ lead announcer for the tournament, said he feels “very badly for Tiger” that he won’t have the chance to compete.
“We all know he’s prepared his whole life for these four events a year,” Nantz said, “and this one is his favorite event of all, and on the eve of the tournament he’s not able to compete – it’s still kind of impossible to get your mind around that.”
Paul Azinger, an analyst for ESPN, admitted it’s “a huge disappointment” for Woods to not play this week.
“It’s arguable, but there’s probably not another player in the history of sports, I say arguable, but has had as big an impact on his sport as Tiger as far as viewership and ratings and money, maybe Muhammad Ali in boxing,” Azinger said. “I just can’t think of anybody that when he’s not here, the void is any greater in any sport.”
Still, the Masters will find a big audience, he added. “It’s the great Masters Tournament with the great — all the history and the familiarity and all that. … Once that tournament gets going, the Masters carries its own weight and everybody will be fine.”
Curtis Strange, also part of the ESPN team, called Woods’ absence “disappointing for us because it’s certainly not going to be as big of an audience. It’s disappointing for the fans because certainly he’s the No. 1 draw. But we still do our same job. We prepare the same. We talk the same. And quite frankly, I didn’t think he was going to be a big part of the picture anyway come the weekend, so I was already preparing for that.”
ESPN’s Andy North said Woods is “the one player that does move the needle, so we will all miss him.”
On the other hand, said North, a Wisconsin native, “the Midwest is coming out of the worst winters in the world and they are just looking for something pretty and warm on television. The Masters is the first – we all in the Midwest, when we finally get to Masters week, it’s like, OK, spring is officially here. We can start living again.”
As for the players who will be in Augusta, a lot of eyes are on the youngest stars, the rookies. Only three golfers in Masters history have won the tournament their first time playing it — Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen in the 1930s, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
“I think we’re going to see something special happen from this rookie class,” Nantz said. “Once the tournament gets started, we’re going to have a pretty quick transition from the headlines about Tiger not being there, to the young players like Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are making an impact on this golf tournament. I’m very excited to see what those two in particular are going to do at Augusta this year.”
North said Harris English is another rookie to watch. “I think he is a true star in the making. Hits it really long. He’s made himself into a good putter. Patrick Reed has had an unbelievable start and is a very, very confident player. He actually bombs it, and he’s got a terrific putting stroke. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if either one of those guys are in the hunt come Sunday afternoon.”
Strange also singled out Reed. “You know, I like his attitude,” Strange said. “Not so sure you say all those things sometimes because it backs you into a corner, but I like the attitude and I like the way he believes in himself and that’s a huge part of playing the PGA Tour in big events.
Azinger called Spieth “my favorite guy to watch. I love his golf swing. I love the way – the look in his eyes, and I think he’s going to be a real breakthrough player.”
For golf fans going online in search of a second-screen experience, check out Masters Live, five channels of live action airing all this week at CBSSports.com and Masters.com, 125 hours of live action altogether.
The five channels are: Masters on the Range (from the practice area); Amen Corner (action from the 11th, 12th and 13th holes); Holes 15 & 16 (live video from those holes at Augusta National), and Featured Groups 1 & 2 (two separate channels featuring live streaming coverage of three selected groupings each day).
Masters on the Range will also air on CBS Sports Network each day, so you can use your TV set, too.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s and Sunday’s broadcasts, around 7 p.m., the day’s coverage will be rebroadcast on CBS Sports Network.
Some other Masters nuggets:
• ESPN will carry today’s Par 3 tournament at Augusta from 3 to 5 p.m.
• ESPN’s networks and websites will have a variety of Masters programs throughout the week, including “Digital Drive,” hosted by Scott Van Pelt each evening.
• ESPN Classic is all Masters, all the time, up through Thursday’s tee-off of live coverage at 3 p.m.
• Jim Nantz is broadcasting the Masters for his 29th consecutive year. Verne Lundquist, David Feherty and Peter Kostis are among those who are part of the CBS team.
• The Golf Channel will have daily Morning Drive and Live from the Masters programs from Augusta.
• On radio, John Feinstein of CBS Sports Radio is broadcasting from Augusta this week. His show airs 9 a.m. to noon on Sports Radio 1270 AM.
• ESPN Radio also has programming all week from the Masters. It’s carried here on ESPN 1520 AM.