'I'm rooting like the devil for the old guy," Jack Nicklaus told ABC Sunday morning. "Win one for the old guys.
Nicklaus wasn't the only one rooting for the "old guy." Fifty-nine-year old Tom Watson was the last lifeline for ABC, which had seen Tiger Woods, the ratings champion, disappear at the cut on Friday - only the second cut missed in a major for Woods. With all respect to Matthew Goggin, Chris Wood, Ross Fisher and Soren Hansen, no one gets up early on a Sunday morning in North America to watch them struggle for the claret jug.
And ABC embraced Watson, spending countless minutes discussing his warm-up routine (he starts with two irons, we were told) while the rest of the field was already on the course. His pal Nicklaus was enlisted, via phone from Florida, to flesh out the unlikely story. Where last year the media went gaga for 53-year-old Greg Norman as the miracle man defying age, an adoring press made Norman seem like a cheeky school boy next to the almost sexagenarian Watson.
In the booth, ABC corralled two of the least congenial figures in the sport - Curtis Strange and Tom Weiskopf - to comment upon their old sparring partner Watson as the five-time British Open winner drilled shot after shot through the snapping breeze of Turnberry. ABC's Mike Tirico pointedly ignored the obvious question, declining to ask the two former major champions why the heck they had parked their fannies in the booth with him instead of getting down on the course with their peer.
The plain-spoken Strange we know well because of his frequent and acerbic appearances on the PGA Tour broadcasts. His best moment may have been urging Watson's caddy to hug his man on the 18th and say, "You've done this a thousand times, just give me one more."
The gruff Weiskopf was more unexpected. When Ross Fisher walked off No.4 after a snowman eight, Weiskopf grunted: "Good chance to get out of here and move on with life."
But the broadcast would not have missed much otherwise from his terse comments. Tirico was spot-on once more, calling Watson's missed putt on 18 "a zero-confidence putt."
As usual when ABC locks on a single figure - Watson supplanting Woods this year - other players and storylines were lost. But as the young bucks fell away, leaving Watson with the tournament in his hands on No.18, that became a minor quibble. ("It would have been a hell of a story," Watson lamented after.) Even though Stewart Cink was a great story in finally winning a major, this will be the title Watson lost, not the tournament Cink won. And the network milked it for all it was worth.
Now that Cink is a major champion, people are wondering about the man. For one thing he's a Twitter freak. Hours before his date with destiny, he had something other than golf on his mind: "This vending machine at T'berry locker room can meet ANY need that arises. 2nd to last one is condoms." As the week opened, he thought he might not be healthy enough for his date with destiny: "Pretty sure I have swine flu. I thought if you like BBQ as much as I do, that your antibodies would be built up against it."
As always, viewers were left wanting more of Peter Alliss, the BBC's trenchant wit who pops over to ABC for a few minutes each day. When the cameras caught a dishevelled young Scot in a tam sporting DayGlo hair, Alliss dryly noted, "They're not all locked up yet. Hope your daughter doesn't find one."
Speaking of generation gaps, Ian Poulter raised hackles amongst the conservative cognoscenti of the sport when he sported a Union Jack sweater vest for Round One of the British Open on Thursday. Sniffed Paul Azinger, 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain and now TV analyst: "I wonder if he's a little self-conscious wearing that sweater? I mean, it's really stepping out, he stands out. He's such a good player. I wonder if sometimes when he gets to this tournament that he tries too hard to stand out it affects his play."
Added Ian Baker-Finch, another 40-something type: "A good point." Maybe so. Poulter shot a revolting 78 in the second round to miss the cut. Then Baker Finch set his sights on the golf ball of Ryo Ishikawa, which features the golfer's likeness. Anthony Kim has his likeness on his belt buckle, noted the Aussie analyst. "We thought that was bad enough..." C'mon Dad, loosen up.
Has Lance Armstrong become the Tiger Woods of cycling? The controversial American has been away from the Tour de France since 2005, but is making a comeback this year. For the first 10 stages of the 2009 Tour de France, ratings for Versus' coverage are up 77 per cent through the comparable point last year. That includes an 85-per-cent rise among men 18 to 34 and 132 per cent for men 18 to 49. The 479,800 viewers for the Tour de France tops the 442,300 viewers Versus averaged for the first round of the '09 Stanley Cup playoffs.