Green with envy
Smugness is not something we do at BBC Sport but recently we’ve allowed ourselves just a little smile as news broke that we had secured new contracts for Formula One and Wimbledon. More immediately, however, our audiences will be able to enjoy the first of a three-year contract that we have won for exclusive coverage of golf’s US Masters.
Unlike the other major championships, the Masters is held every year at the same location, Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. The BBC has broadcast the Masters since 1986 and, as with many of our other major events, our current offering doesn’t just stop at our network coverage. We regularly receive queries about why we don’t show more from the four tournament days. The simple answer is that we transmit every single second that is permitted by Augusta National and the host broadcasters CBS, who only in recent years have been allowed to show all 18 holes of the final round.
So, what more do we have for you in 2008? Well, everything tees off with something you won’t have seen before, unless you’ve been to Augusta, and that’s the Par 3 Contest. In a bid to widen its appeal, Augusta have allowed unprecedented coverage of this pre-tournament competition where players, past champions and honorary invitees are invited to play on the beautiful par-27 course, hitting over DeSoto Springs and Ike’s Pond. It’s a lot of fun - where player’s families often caddie, and sometimes play the odd shot. And watch out for who’s on Justin Rose’s bag - our very own Matt Dawson, experiencing the Augusta delights for the very first time.
How to watch? On this website or just press your red button and go interactive on Wednesday evening at 2000 BST and enjoy two hours that will really get you in the mood. There’s bound to be some holes in one but don’t hope for a British victor as no winner of the Par 3 contest has gone on to win the Masters in the same year!
Just an hour or so later, at 2320 BST on BBC Two, Gary Lineker will be reliving last year’s win by Zach Johnson as well as previewing this year's championship. Gary will be joined over the following four days by our regular commentary team of Peter Alliss, Ken Brown, Sam Torrance and Wayne Grady with Hazel Irvine grabbing interviews under the famous old oak tree.
So let the network action begin… Well, not quite, we’ve got a little extra treat for you! For those with broadband just go to bbc.co.uk/golf or, if you have digital television, just press the red button, and from around 1530 BST on Thursday and Friday (bit later at the weekend) you can enjoy live action from Amen Corner, continuous coverage of all players passing through holes 11, 12 and 13. Almost every Masters participant has been touched by this trio of challenging, picturesque, beautiful holes and it’s fitting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the naming of this infamous stretch of the course.
Viewers always comment on the familiarity of the course and you will be hard pushed to identify the changes to holes 1, 7, 9 and 11. There are minor refinements every year at Augusta but I’m told that the extension of azalea beds and some fine spring weather will mean that the course will be looking at its best. The one thing that always strikes me when we are out and about filming Ken’s ‘on the course’ pieces is the almost blinding white feldspar sand that fills the expansive bunkers. You can be sure Browny will be conjuring up some inspirational insights for our coverage. And, by the way, do remember that all four days' coverage will be simulcast on our HD channel. If you missed it last year it is simply stunning! And, if that’s not enough, you can catch up with all the action on our BBC iPlayer.
And finally, the players; The Masters has the smallest field of the major championships at around ninety. It is an invitational event, but nowadays invitations are largely issued on an automatic basis to players who meet published criteria and as the top 50 in the official world rankings qualify, none of the leading players should miss out. Unfortunately that doesn’t include Colin Montgomerie who, at 75 in the world, will miss out playing at Augusta for only the second time in 17 years. Masters rookie, Nick Dougherty, will be in the hunt for the Green Jacket with home support also for Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, and Lee Westwood. Former winners Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle (20 years ago) will boost the British contingent. And who would rule out Ireland’s recent Open champion Padraig Harrington?
Whilst we would all like to see a repeat of the 80s and 90s with European winners galore, recent results have seen American players dominate at Augusta. Tiger is clearly in rampant form but my money will be on South African Retief Goosen who often performs well at the Masters and, like Tiger, is in fine form.
For all the latest news, views and gossip keep an eye on our website - we’ll be firing back interviews and previews that will be running across all of our platforms. And if you are out and about remember there is comprehensive live coverage of the Masters on Radio 5 Live. However you receive it, I hope you enjoy every minute right up to the champion slipping on the Green Jacket.