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CBS captures elegance of Masters in full bloom

This was the weekend when all was right with the world. The Masters had returned to CBS for the 52nd consecutive year, the azaleas were blooming, the loblolly pines were standing sentinel. Except for a perpetually discontented Tiger Woods, nothing except par went wrong.

What I love about this majestic TV event is there is no excess. It’s the antithesis of the insane age in which we live. No rush, no hype, no self-centered fans mugging for the TV cameras. No Britney Spears showing up to be seen and stealing the spotlight from Iowa’s Masters hero, Zach Johnson.

It’s a throwback to a wonderfully more-civilized era.

Think about it. The Masters would never permit a Chris Berman to call the action from the 18th green, much less the caddie shack. Seriously now. Could you imagine the "Boomer" coming up with his patented sophomoric nicknames for the golfers? Retief Gander Goosen … David Toms, Dick and Harry?

Augusta National Golf Club rules TV with an iron fist. No bumpers or on-screen promos for upcoming shows. Only four commercial minutes per hour. No calling a bunker a sand trap. "Patrons" (not fans) being admonished for screaming "Get in the hole!" after a player’s tee shot. Even the muddy pond off No. 16 is known to have been dyed green.

The blogosphere has been going nuts about why the moss-backed Masters poohbahs don’t allow coverage of every hole for all four rounds. I say leave it be.

After all, the restraint in coverage left time Sunday for a wonderful hour-long retrospective of Arnold Palmer’s 1960 victory at Augusta. Jim Nantz, CBS’s lead announcer, went back with colorized TV footage of that event. Watching it together with Nantz, who has become the current day’s Jim McKay, Palmer winced when he saw clouds of smoke from his ever-present cigarettes.

In keeping with golf’s roots, four of CBS’s eight Masters announcers are from across the pond or Australia. Most of them handle the language very well indeed, though judgment is occasionally another question.

The Irishman, David Feherty, on Saturday all but crowned the advancing Woods. "I don’t know," he said to Nick Faldo. "This has the feeling — it’s sort of eerie — there’s a relentless march going on here toward what might seem inevitable. … He is well on his way again."

This time, of course, Tiger self-destructed. Maybe somebody from Nike should whisper in his ear because in this tournament, as never before, he often seemed snarky.

The best line of the tournament, in fact, was a tossup between two comments that involved Woods.

The first came directly from Woods when he shot himself out of contention by finding a bunker on No. 17 in the final round. "Honestly, what the hell just happened?" he yelled to (or was it at?) his caddie.

The other and perhaps more telling line came from Stuart Appleby, Tiger’s partner in the final round. Asked before the round what it would be like playing with Woods, Appleby cracked: "He won’t even know I’m there."

VEGAS GRAND PRIX — I found the city’s first Champ Car World Series race captivating, although I wonder if nonracing fans stayed with the telecast for more than 45 seconds. The race pulled a 0.9 rating in the overnights, compared with a sound 9.1 for the Masters. The race’s overnight rating in Las Vegas alone was 7.9.

Here’s the deal — and it’s NBC’s problem, not that of the race owners: You’ve got to Vegas-ize the telecast. Make it distinctive. For all viewers knew, this race could have been in Akron. OK, so it’s downtown and not so glitzy. Get some cameras inside Binion’s. Show what the Golden Nugget and the Fremont Street Experience looked like before the barriers went up.

I saw that Mayor Oscar Goodman got some NBC face time. Is this guy in love with his mug, or what? Here’s hoping the race survives, but the paucity of ads NBC was able to sell is not an encouraging sign.

DRAFT JUNKIES — A recommendation for NFL Draft zealots out there — and I know you are legion. Ditch the five-minute "On the Clock" segments on ESPN’s late-afternoon "SportsCenter" and, if you have the Cox digital tier, tune to the NFL Network’s 30-minute "Path to the Draft" (Channel 317) weekdays at 3:30 and 7 p.m.

The more elaborate shows with fewer commercials on the NFL Network, and NBA TV as well, soon will beat ESPN at its own wall-to-wall sports game.

Bill Taaffe is a former award-winning TV-radio sports columnist for Sports Illustrated. His column is published Tuesdays. He can be reached at taaffe-reviewjournal@earthlink.net.

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