The first two rounds of the Masters were must-see TV. The only problem was that much of it was can’t-see TV, because it wasn’t on.
The other three major championships provide virtually all-day coverage in the early rounds. The Masters limits its cable coverage to the 4 to 7 p.m. (Eastern Time) window.
When Tom Watson shot himself into contention in the first two rounds of the British Open last summer, we were able to see it. When Watson shot a 67 at Augusta on Thursday, all we saw were highlights because he finished before the TV cameras came on.
We couldn’t see all 18 holes of Tiger Woods’ highly anticipated first round back in action after five months. The Masters let ESPN show Tiger Woods’ first tee shot live, but that only made it seem like an over-hyped event. Granted, there was curiosity to see how Woods would be greeted by fans at his 1:42 tee time. But to report breathlessly on an opening tee shot, and then cut away before he played another stroke was like showing the first batter in an Opening Day baseball game and then cutting away until the game reached the fourth inning.
Instead of feeling like we had seen something important, it only reminded us that we were missing the first eight holes of Woods’ round.
The exploits of Woods (who shot a 68) and Watson, along with Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, and others made this probably the best first round ever at a major. But we missed a lot of the excitement.
With so many stars on the leaderboard, and anticipation at its highest after that opening round, it would have been riveting television to sit in front of the screen all day and watch the second round (or, if we had to work, sneak a peek here and there throughout the day) on Friday. But no. Woods was finished before TV came on at 4 o’clock.
Augusta is to be commended for putting some additional action on its website, www.masters.com, but that only helps to a limited extent. Internet viewers can see a “featured pairing,” but that’s only on the back nine. There is another feed from Amen Corner (11, 12, and 13) and a third feed from 15 and 16. Then there’s Masters extra, which essentially extends full coverage back to 3 p.m. None of that did us any good on Friday morning, though we did eventually get to see Woods play the back nine.
Masters officials never really say exactly why they limit coverage. When asked about it at his annual press conference, tournament chairman Billy Payne (and Hootie Johnson before him) typically says something along the lines of, “We like things the way they are.”
The guess is that they are concerned about over-saturation and that a three-hour broadcast makes it seem more “special.” In this day and age, though, when we can watch virtually the entire championship at the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA, it makes Augusta seem less special, not more. What’s special about being able to see, at most, 10 holes of live action out of the first 36 holes for any given player, whether it’s the second-round leader or Woods, Mickelson, or any of the other top players? It only serves to bring attention to what we are missing.
We went through the same thing with weekend coverage. For years, Augusta resisted 18-hole coverage on Saturday and Sunday before finally relenting.
We can only hope that they open the door on Thursday and Friday coverage, whether it’s by expanding their Internet coverage or going to all-day television.