- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 10, 2010

NEW YORK | The first day of Masters coverage on CBS Saturday felt like the Tiger Woods Invitational.

The network made certain Woods’ every step was covered, to the point that the other golfers seemed to revolve around him. The network called Woods out, then excused him, for the type of outburst he had promised to avoid after returning to golf following his humiliating sex scandal. But for much of the afternoon, Woods’ sullen demeanor hung like a cloud over the broadcast.

Only Phil Mickelson’s rush to the top, and his evident joy, provided relief.

Ratings for the first two rounds of Masters coverage on ESPN showed how many people wanted to see Woods navigate the first tournament back. ESPN had just less than 5 million viewers for Thursday’s first round, when Woods was on the course for much of the live telecast. On Friday, Woods was about done with his round when ESPN’s coverage came on the air and an estimated 3.9 people watched, according to the Nielsen Co.

An indication of how Woods’ day was going on Saturday came on the sixth hole when he reacted to one of his shots.

“Tiger, you suck,” he said to himself, followed by a curse, his remarks clearly audible.

“I don’t think he’s pleased,” CBS announcer Verne Lundquist said.

The mini-tantrum was raised shortly after by lead anchor Jim Nantz in a discussion with analyst Nick Faldo. When Woods made his initial televised mea culpa, he said fans wouldn’t be seeing much of this anymore, Nantz said.

Faldo mentioned the “increased scrutiny” Woods has been facing this week.

“I’m sure he’s going to fail at times,” Faldo said.

At least twice later, CBS ran slow motion replays of times when Woods clearly expressed his disgust at his game. Once, he rolled his head back with his eyes closed, then flipped his club aside. Although they appeared on the screen, announcers didn’t mention them.

Bill McAtee, who interviewed Woods after his round was finished, did not question Woods about it.

By then, Woods had birdied the 18th hole, and he greeted loud cheers from the gallery with a wide smile and tip of the cap.

For CBS, that ending must have proven a relief: Woods was still in it for Sunday’s final round.

CBS had promised not to pull punches in its coverage, but the words “sex” or “mistress” didn’t come up. Neither did the infamous Thanksgiving Night car wreck or any drug use.

Instead, Faldo talked about how Woods’ energy to prepare for the Masters was sapped up by “so much going on in his life.”

Nantz worked under the assumption that most of CBS’ viewers were familiar with the story. He said Woods had not played golf competitively since last fall, “as you know.”

The big viewership on ESPN bodes well for CBS in its bid to have the 2010 Masters eclipse the previous record for the tournament. That was the 14.9 million in 2001, Nielsen said.

Big numbers may not have any immediate financial impact on CBS. The Masters carries a limited number of commercials per hour, so advertising time was sold in advance of the Woods’ escapades. For CBS, there are other benefits: like being able to bring clients down to the Masters to see a buzz-worthy event.

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