Masters Policy Mars Final-Round Telecast
Another year, another phenomenal Masters Sunday.
From the thunderclap of Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle on the second hole to the sweeping wedge recovery shot that won the day for Bubba Watson, the Masters delivered its traditional measure of thrills in the final round. It is a tournament won by making great things happen, not merely by avoiding mistakes.
The course was built for drama, and the golfers obliged. The top six finishers were 1 over par on the first nine holes Sunday, then 14 under on the back nine - 12 under on its two par-5s. All those birdies and eagles - and our anticipation of them - keep the telecast lively.
The relationship between Augusta National and CBS has been long and generally beneficial for them and for us. It's the most unusual arrangement in television, because the network doesn't call the shots. Maintaining control is more important to the club than maximizing profits.
Augusta National, not CBS, wants a limit of four minutes of commercials per hour. Augusta National, not CBS, wants the telecast to begin at 3 p.m. EDT (2 p.m. on Sunday) to prevent overexposure and to leave the viewer wanting more.
Augusta National was the first golf course to be completely wired for television, burying the necessary cables beneath its perfect grass surface. Ages ago, it pressed the network to televise in color, recognizing that the parklike beauty of the course would create new fans for the sport and the tournament.
Its influence can also be heavy-handed. Jack Whitaker, the marvelous essayist and storyteller on a generation of golf telecasts, was unwelcome for years after using the word "mob" to describe the playoff crowd in 1966 and failing to mention the green-jacket ceremony that would follow the coverage. Gary McCord will never take part in the telecasts again, and even David Feherty forgoes the fart jokes and wisecracks when he's talking from the grounds.
More critically, the club won't stand for some types of equipment that have brought vital innovation to other golf telecasts.
At several crucial points in the telecast Sunday, it was impossible to understand exactly what was happening because of the limitations placed on CBS.
Time after time, a close view of a golfer hitting a drive was followed by a side shot of the fairway, often showing the ball bouncing, occasionally not. To take just one example, on the 17th hole, both Watson and Oosthuizen drove wildly, Watson's ball going left, Oosthuizen's right. We knew Oosthuizen was unhappy with his drive, but when we saw it next it was clear of the tree line in the second cut. We and the commentators could only speculate that the drive had hit a tree and bounced back into the clear. There was no camera shot that tracked the wayward drives, no view or graphic that gave an idea of what the players faced.
The same was true on the final playoff hole. Watson's ball went deep into the trees to the right of the fairway. A camera operator was able to get behind the ball, but no perspective was offered to help us understand what Watson was going to try to do. We could see a sliver of a bunker, but neither Jim Nantz nor Nick Faldo could tell us if it was the amoeba-like bunker in the middle of the fairway or the one beside the green on the right. No overhead look was available, no camera delivered a view that could track the 40-yard hook Watson eventually played - the defining shot of this Masters and his career, one that is sure to join the list of the most memorable in any of golf's majors.
We never actually saw the whole of the shot. We saw the swing, and we saw the last part of its flight and result.
There are no high overhead shots at the Masters because there are no camera cranes, nor blimps flying overhead. I understand the judgment of the club that the cranes would be unsightly, poking their mechanical contrivances up above the pines, intruding on the serenity of the view. I'm not certain what the objection would be to blimps. I can imagine Bobby Jones objecting to the word itself, and certainly the club would not allow one to carry an advertising message visible to the patrons. (The latter is another admirable policy, unthinkable at any other major sports venue.)
With advances in camera technology, size and weight, there has to be some way for the network to put unobtrusive cameras in places that would provide the bird's-eye view that is so enlightening on other broadcasts. Without it, we and the commentators are too often left guessing how a golfer got into a predicament and what he has to do to get out of it.
In the 2011 Masters, it was Rory McIlroy's drive on No. 10 - the one that wound up beside a cabin - that remains something of a mystery. He hit, he reacted with shock and we eventually got some idea of where it wound up when we saw him preparing to play his next shot.
In 2012, the shots that decided the tournament kept us speculating and guessing for far too long. The time has come for CBS and Augusta National to return to a leadership role with some innovation to solve this significant problem.