The CBS announcers at The Masters knew Tiger Woods was going to have a rough Sunday from the start. The net began its final round coverage with Woods on the first hole, where he missed a makeable birdie putt. Woods followed with a par on the par-5 second hole, and the CBS crew sensed that the drama of a final day charge by golf's biggest draw would not happen. Analyst David Feherty told viewers, "That's not the start he wanted." For me, that was an invitation to sit back, relax and enjoy the pictures coming out of Augusta. I asked NFL Network Exec Producer Eric Weinberger to watch the final round telecast with me. Weinberger is based in L.A., while I'm in DC, so we corresponded through e-mails and texts and then discussed the telecast on Monday morning. We were sure it would be top notch. CBS has carried the event since '56. The Masters is one of the net's crown jewels. It devotes the resources and talent to make sure its coverage is high quality.
GETTING DOWN UNDER: CBS talent -- both in front of and behind the camera -- has enough experience to not feel the need to manufacture drama. Weinberger highlighted that producers that were comfortable enough to step back and let the event breathe until the competition became tense on the course. Weinberger said, "It was a steady telecast to start the day, even with all the Tiger intrigue." CBS was good at identifying the storylines that would come into play later in the telecast. When Australian Jason Day carded an eagle on the second hole to take the lead, fellow Aussie and CBS analyst Ian Baker-Finch said of a potential win for the country: "We're a very proud sporting nation and it would mean more than I could say." Some have criticized CBS for spending too much time on the Aussie storyline, but I feel it was a legitimate topic that was properly handled by the net. Baker-Finch added a unique perspective.
TREADING LIGHTLY: Early last week, NBC's Bob Costas criticized CBS producers for ignoring the racism and sexism that historically have existed at Augusta. It was no surprise that CBS continued to stay away from those topics Sunday, as its telecast was filled with the reverence associated with all Masters productions, where fans are described as "patrons" and the short rough is called the "first cut."
KEEP IT SIMPLE: When CBS analysts gave opinions, it was about the play on the course. I did like the fact that they were not shy about making predictions. With about an hour left in the telecast, Feherty asked analyst Nick Faldo who he thought would win. Faldo correctly predicted Adam Scott, saying the eventual winner "has really stepped it up." Faldo: "The focus on his face, the determination, has really, really risen." CBS' slow pacing was helped by the fact that The Masters is so old school. It was almost jarring to watch an event on a "clear" screen. There was no scroll, no leaderboard, no CBS bug. With graphics kept at a minimum, the telecast seemed quaint. The problem is that I'm conditioned to busier screens and wanted more information. Still, I grew to appreciate the clear screen, especially during the tournament's most dramatic moments. I'd like to see other events de-clutter, at least during pivotal moments.
PICKING THE RIGHT MOMENTS: As the final round drama increased on the back nine, so did the intensity of CBS' telecast. Weinberger: "It built up to the drama of the tournament, which CBS captured. Production of the late holes was edge-of-your-seat television." CBS captured that tension through its replays, such as the slo-motion replay that caught Angel Cabrera's reaction after he mis-hit a shot on the 13th hole. The tension built with the course getting darker and rain falling harder. Camera lenses on the 15th and 16th holes had raindrops on them. It is no surprise that the drama carried over into the two-hole playoff. CBS replays captured Cabrera giving Scott a thumbs-up sign on the final playoff hole, which became the defining image of the final round and helped show the event's drama for viewers.
FINISH STRONG: After building the drama throughout the final round, CBS should have done more at the tournament's end. After Scott made the tournament-winning putt, CBS stayed with the celebration for about 90 seconds and showed three highlights. The production then left the celebration at the final hole for a generic shot of Amen Corner. It proceeded to show the final tournament results, taking a lot of the emotion out of the telecast. After such a thrilling ending to a major championship, viewers were left wanting more. CBS returned and conducted a 90-second interview with Cabrera, who needed a translator. I cannot think of another major championship where the loser is interviewed before the winner. Again, an interview with the runner-up -- even one as gracious as Cabrera -- sapped a lot of the excitement from the telecast. The only time viewers heard from Scott after his win was during the stilted interview in Butler Cabin. I would have preferred to hear him speak soon after his emotional win. This tends to occur more frequently CBS, which rushes to get to "60 Minutes" on Sundays. After two playoffs holes at The Masters eating well into the popular newsmagazine's scheduled start time, this transition felt particularly rushed.
JIM DANDY: The star of The Masters' telecast was host Jim Nantz, who demonstrated why he is the net's top announcer. Weinberger said, "I think Jim stands out. He's been the voice of big sports events for the past three months, and he finishes with his best event. What sets Jim apart is his ability to do three totally different events with seeming ease." Nantz called the Super Bowl in February and the NCAA Championship early last week. However, he's at his best on the golf course and his preparation and knowledge of Augusta and the golf pros is impressive. Before the playoff started, CBS cameras caught Cabrera speaking to his coach, Charlie Epps. Nantz immediately identified Epps, spoke about his relationship with Cabrera and even recounted how the two met. That kind of knowledge combined with Nantz' effortless delivery is what sets him apart on golf telecasts.