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Miller candid as ever at Players Championship

Gleanings from a week of TV viewing, with attention paid to the good, the bad and the ugly:

TPC — Johnny Miller, working the Tournament Players Championship for NBC over the weekend, solidified his position as golf’s best commentator. Most analysts don’t really say what they think but instead what they determine is suitable for the viewer to hear. Miller says what he thinks.

I love Miller’s take-it-or-leave-it candor. He had it Sunday when young Sean O’Hair, a relative unknown, dillydallied while dueling Phil Mickelson for the title. As the super-deliberate O’Hair took eons to scope out a putt on No. 14, Miller said: “I never stayed behind a ball that long in my life!”

O’Hair got up, then went back to study the putt anew.

“Now he’s going to line up that ball again!” Miller cried in disbelief. “He’s got more moves than kung fu before he hits it!”

Way to go, Johnny.

But then Dan Hicks, the shot-caller, came up with this line: “His last name’s O’Hair. Shouldn’t he be quicker than the tortoise?” Making fun of people’s last names is sixth-grade stuff, Dan. I’m sure all the kids fell out of their chairs laughing. Congratulations. You’re now a hero to them.

As for the TPC’s hope of becoming golf’s fifth major, forget it. The relatively sparse galleries Sunday mean there will be a 100-year wait.

NASCAR — Jeff Gordon’s victory at Darlington on Sunday came down to a fateful decision that Fox Sports, which televised the race, was either too slow or too oblivious to analyze fully.

Gordon, whose No. 24 was steaming from the hood like Old Faithful, elected not to pit when a yellow flag came out with 23 laps to go. But the race leader, Jimmie Johnson, did pit to change tires. When the green flag flew again with 13 laps left, Johnson was seventh and couldn’t recover.

Was the move by Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus a monumental blunder? It seems so. “Boy, I think I would have stayed out that time,” Fox commentator Darrell Waltrip said when Johnson pitted. “I know that tires are important, but track position — mmm, mmm, mmm!”

Surprisingly, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds, “D.W.’s” partners in the booth, never debated the move. And Matt Yocum, a pit reporter, actually applauded it. “Even with 23 laps to go, Mike, fresh tires here — especially stickier tires — mean everything,” he said.

Fox blew an engine on this one.

NBA — If only Marv Albert, TNT’s peerless play-by-play man, could announce every game of the playoffs, maybe the league’s ratings would go up.

Unlike the NBA itself, Albert is a headliner. He’s the full package as a game-caller: possessor of a sardonic wit, one who never over-announces, a punctuator instead of a yeller. A few words here, a splash of color there, the inimitable back-of-the-throat call. He pauses in his semi-hoarse banter in spots that others don’t, making him doubly distinctive: “Stoudemire has scored the last 11 points … (Albert skips a beat) for Phoenix.”

If only ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith could get more visibility, at least during basketball season.

ESPN cut him off at the knees for some reason by taking away his highly watchable “Quite Frankly” interview show months ago. And the network now has sent him to the gulag by burying him as a panelist on its NBA studio edition, which snakes in and out of the playoffs.

Ridiculous. There on the tube is Fred Hickman, a journeyman host if there ever was one, and former UNLV guard Greg Anthony, who’s not much as a commentator. And sitting farther down the panel, rarely getting a chance to speak, is Stephen A.

Horrendous move, ESPN! The guy is prime time. He’s provocative, smart and a must-listen because of his high-speed mind and fresh views. Maybe I’ll have to start a Free Stephen A. Defense Fund.

THIS JUST IN — Sports Illustrated’s sixth annual PGA Tour player survey found that CBS’s Nick Faldo was the players’ favorite commentator over NBC’s Miller, 82 percent to 18 percent. That’s news? Of course they like Faldo more. He compliments them and, when deserved, Miller skewers them.

NO JOKE — During the second edition of ESPN’s new “First Take” morning show last week, Skip Bayless and Jemele Hill were talking about the makeup of the program, which also includes Dana Jacobsen. “You know what the ‘E’ stands for in ESPN?” she asked Bayless. “Estrogen.”

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

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