LITTLE ROCK — The only Tiger Woods fans who reveled in his so-so play during the first 36 holes of the PGA Championship work for Atlanta-based TNT.
Supposed to provide lead-in coverage of golf’s final major of the year, TNT was less than five minutes into the telecast when the announcer proclaimed that Saturday is “moving day” for pro golfers and the network cut to live footage of Woods moving toward the first tee. Even though Woods finished his third-round 73 before tournament leader Jason Dufner hit his first shot, Woods is worth X number of viewers.
In addition to Woods, the network reveled in showing Phil Mickelson, who scored worst than Woods during the first two days, and made certain viewers knew that they would also see plenty of Rory McIlroy during the three-hour telecast.
For emphasis, the network carried the live introduction of Woods on the first tee, including the announcer’s recitation of Woods’ PGA championships in 1999, 2000, 2006, and 2007. It took a while to get around to the fact that Woods was 10 shots off the lead. He retreated quickly, making bogeys on Nos. 1 and 3 because of tee shots that found the rough.
Returning from a trip to the grocery, the first TV image was Woods on the ninth, pointing left to another wayward tee shot. Even when he was plus three for the tournament on the back nine, there was a promo for his upcoming birdie putt after the commercial break.
An accompanying graphic said Woods used two putts or more on each of his first eight holes.
He putted lights out a week earlier during his fifth W of the year — a superb season for a mere mortal — but the theory that he wins where he knows the greens and is comfortable with the layout gains credibility when he wins for the eighth time at Firestone or Bay Hill or Torrey Pines as he has done this year.
Despite his superb 2013 season, Woods is 0-for-18 in majors — the high bar by which only he is judged — and his next opportunity is more than seven months away at The Masters, where he has won four times and missing fairways is not as penal as it was at the PGA.
Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who has won twice on the PGA Tour in less than 12 months and who finished tied for third at the PGA, was talked out of pursuing hockey by his father. He is not the first successful golfer who aspired to compete in another sport.
Two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw was 15 when he saw the light. In an American Legion game against future major league pitcher Bill Greif, Crenshaw fouled off a couple of pitches before Grief threw a slider. “I whiffed,” Crenshaw said. “… I stepped out of the batter’s box, put my bat down. That’s it. It’s over. It was a pretty easy decision.”
That is one of many delightful anecdotes in a coffee table-worthy book called “Two Roads to Augusta,” by Crenshaw and Carl Jackson, his friend and caddie.
Jackson was a pretty good pitcher for the Augusta Hawks, not an overpowering hurler, but effective.
“I couldn’t throw the power,” Jackson said in the book. “I threw junk. I couldn’t throw hard enough to break an egg. That’s why they called me skillet.”
Jackson recounts how he became the caddie for Jack Stephens and how that relationship changed his life. He was present for golf or social times with President Eisenhower, Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, and former cabinet members, plus taking care of Stephens’ friends like Walmart founder Sam Walton, and football coaches Darrell Royal, Paul “Bear” Bryant, and Frank Broyles.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting Jack Stephens changed my life,” said Jackson, who runs the caddie program at The Alotian Club. “I venture to say I got a better education than I would have in the classroom just by the exposure of being around a billionaire like Mr. Jack.”
Jackson caddied at The Masters long before teaming with Crenshaw.
In the 1965 Masters, he was toting for powerful Mike Souchak. On the third day, they faced a front-right hole location at No. 14 and Souchak, thinking 5-iron or 6-iron, asked Jackson what he thought. Seven-iron, Jackson said.
“He went with the 7-iron, but added, ‘If it don’t get up top, you better beat me down through those woods. He hit the 7-iron and, sure enough, it almost went in the hole, but I already knew that if that ball didn’t get up, I was going to throw that bag down at his feet and run.”
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.