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A Masters to Remember!

By John M. Ross,
Tiger Woods
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Grand Slam or Tiger Slam - does it really matter? (PGA of America)

The battle had raged on for days in the men's grill, but with the excitement over the Masters waning, Freddie was again telling one and all about his new wedge and how he was getting backspin on the ball for the first time.

"My problem now is to get to a spot where it won't spin off the green and into the light rough," he said with a chuckle.

Into this relatively placid scene stormed Chuck, the self-proclaimed undefeated debater of the grill. He was waving a torn-out page of the sports section and roaring like a bull: "Look at this! Look at this! It's what I've been telling you guys all the time. Now Byron Nelson agrees with me."

The boys gathered around the mahogany took turns scanning the clipping of Nelson's glowing tribute to Tiger Woods' fourth consecutive major championship. He called it the "greatest golf accomplishment of all time, and coming from one who holds the unchallenged mark of 11 tournament victories in a row, that is, indeed, praise from Caesar.

But Nelson wasn't exactly endorsing our Chuck. Days before Tiger added another star to his crown at last week's Augusta thriller, Chuck had put forth a spirited argument that such a feat should be considered the Grand Slam. But he had only lukewarm support. The negative voices insisted that the Slam had to be achieved in one season, not two. Tiger's string would involve hitching up last year's three majors with the 2001 Masters. When most of the media and fellows like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player agreed that it should not qualify as a Slam, Chuck backed off somewhat. But not totally.

Nelson did not call it the Grand Slam, but that didn't bother Chuck.

"If the slam has been called the greatest achievement in golf, and now Nelson comes along and says this is the best ever, why shouldn't it be rated as the Slam? Tiger holds all four titles right now. That's the Slam right there. Period," Chuck pleaded.

Chuck then grasped for support by reaching what he thought might be a persuader from the clipping. In this, Nelson states: "From my standpoint, it is more unbelievable then my winning 11 in a row."

That seems to be rather magnanimous of Lord Byron. To many, his remarkable record is the one that will likely stand forever. Perhaps longer than any Slam, although there are some who take issue with the lofty position it holds. It was achieved in 1945, during World War II, when the U.S. and British Opens and the Masters were not played, and when many of the game's better players were in the service. In my book, 11 tournament wins in a row is astounding even in miniature golf!

Gathering little support from the inhabitants of the grill, Chuck was reduced to simply mumbling a protest or two until Freddie patted his shoulder and said, "It's better this way, Chuck. It gives Tiger more incentive to win the next three Slam events then he'll have the REAL Slam."

Real Slam or "Tiger Slam" as some have tabbed it, the 2001 Masters was one of the best. And it could have been better. If David Duval and Phil Mickelson hadn't messed up easy chances over the last three holes, there could have been a three-way playoff. Just imagine what kind of theater that might have been!

As it was, with Woods' historic two-stroke win, topped off by his dramatic birdie putt on the 18th, the classic attained the highest TV ratings ever for both Saturday and Sunday. A television audience of 40.6 million watched the Sunday action, giving golf another substantial boost in its recent climb as a spectator sport.

The one negative factor in the Sunday coverage by CBS, in this man's book, was its failure to give viewers just one glimpse of Chris DiMarco in the final round. And this was the man who led the whole parade for two rounds in his very first Masters. Indeed, the Long Island native had never even seen the Augusta National until he arrived on Monday and got in only two practice rounds before firing a sizzling 65 for the first-round lead. And this was only one stroke behind the best-ever opening heat record by a rookie.

The cameras watched his every move in that round and again on Friday, when he increased his lead over Woods and Phil Mickelson to two shots with a well-managed 69. Paired with Tiger on Saturday, the 32-year-old DiMarco got the test of his career as the huge Tiger galleries engulfed him. But he did manage a respectable 72 and remained in the hunt, just two strokes back of Woods.

Now, wouldn't you think that would be good enough to merit some attention from the TV cameras on Sunday? Wouldn't there be some curiosity about him? CBS didn't think so. True, he stumbled and put up a string of bogies at one point and finally carded a 74. But didn't the audience deserve just one shot of this "unknown" fellow who led the Masters for two rounds? If only to give it a look at DiMarco's crazy "claw" grip on his putting stroke!

Of course, the cameras rarely left Tiger, and when they did, he'd be there again, hawking Nike's shoes, or Buicks, or something else on a commercial.

Perhaps DiMarco will get more exposure next year if he happens to be up with the leaders again. Reports have been circulating that the Augusta National is giving serious consideration to extending TV coverage an additional 90 minutes on Sunday to cover more play of the leaders. Under the present structure, the cameras don't pick up the leaders until they've been on the course more than an hour and significant "live" action often is missed. Under a new plan, the front-runners would get full 18-hole coverage.

The Augusta National has maintained an iron-clad grip on television rights to its classic over the years, giving up huge potential revenue to preserve this structure it feels works best. For instance, it limits CBS to only four commercials per hour to spare its audience the annoyance of frequent interruptions in the play. And it monitors the telecasts meticulously to make sure the commentators live up to its high standards of Masters coverage. Veteran broadcaster Jack Whitaker was banished from the Augusta TV booth some years ago when he barked into the mike: "And here comes the thundering mob down the 18th fairway."

Cliff Roberts, Augusta National's stern chief honcho at the time, told CBS: "We don't have mobs at the Masters." And Whitaker was gone.

With other top TV events getting more on-air time due to golf's expanding audience, CBS has been pushing hard for the new schedule. The fact that the U.S. Open has 12 hours of weekend coverage, while the Masters now has only 5-1/2 hours, seems to be having a tilting effect on the issue. Of course, with the Masters having the highest ratings of all the TV events and, thanks to Tiger, getting better all the time, CBS can see a substantial improvement to its bottom line. A "go" seems in the cards for 2002.

All in all, the 2001 Masters was a memorable one and it's likely to get even better.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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