News & Opinion

Garcia’s 90-minute mystery leaves viewers in the dark

They hawk T-shirts bearing the famed Masters slogan in the bustling Augusta National Golf Club merchandise area, but of course, that’s yet another of the experiences that those watching from afar can’t begin to enjoy. It’s patrons-only territory.

Augusta doesn’t sell its wares online and barely broadcasts the event over the first two days of live play. For those trying to monitor the first two rounds from home, the ESPN broadcast on Thursday and Friday didn’t begin until 3 p.m. EDT. So, that said, after what transpired Friday afternoon, perhaps an updated T-shirt motto might be more fitting.

“The Masters: A perdition unlike any other.”

No doubt, it’s specially tailored to describe the club’s antiquated broadcast policy. In an era when every major sporting event on the planet is delivering dawn-to-dusk product to viewers with the subtlety of a firehose, the Masters doles it out in drips and dollops.

In the meantime, when what passes for content on the club’s website proves either wrong or unreliable – in this case, it was both – the notion that less is more is quickly proven laughable.

Given the club-mandated paucity of information, star-crossed Spaniard Sergio Garcia was leading the tournament as he played the 10thhole on Friday, attracting eyeballs from all over, especially Europe, to the tournament website. Then the media portals at Augusta went as sideways as Rory McIlroy’s tee shot on the same tee in 2011.

More than 90 minutes later, as Garcia stood over a putt for eagle on the 15th green, it was announced on the tournament’s live video feed from Amen Corner that Garcia’s “bogey on the 10th has been confirmed by the Masters Tournament.”

For that entire span, Garcia was listed on various Masters portals as being anywhere from 3 under to level par, and his shot-by-shot schematic on the 10th suddenly went missing. Specifically, his online card listed his score on the hole as a triple bogey.

That’s right. For five holes, nobody knew whether Garcia was leading, chasing or facing a Lexi Thompson-style penalty. In the absence of credible information, a bonfire of social-media speculation erupted. Garcia was facing a potential penalty. Garcia had played a provisional ball. Garcia took a penalty drop from the bushes.

It took an hour before the conflicting information was even addressed in one of the video-streaming channels, and nearly another hour before the website was corrected. It was as though the folks at Augusta were again reminding the USGA that they aren’t the only amateurs running one of the biggest events in golf.

Cranking down the television spigot is one thing. It’s the club’s prerogative, in fact, and Augusta surely doesn’t need any more rights fees, having already hawked broadcast rights to dozens of countries internationally. Somebody at ANGC doubtlessly believes that if they throw a starving fan a saltine, it’ll be the best cracker he’s ever eaten. But after Friday’s setback, it’s all become tooth-chipping stale.

Reminder: Garcia was leading the tournament at the time. If it had been a lesser player, the grumbling would have been minimal, but considering Garcia’s prickly record at Augusta, even passive fans knew a potential story was brewing.

Worse, one of Garcia’s playing partners, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood, stormed into the top 10 at the turn, too. He was credited with a double bogey on the 10th, an error that also took far too long to correct.

Those gaffes, created in part by the television void, were hardly the lone points of complaint.

Earlier, faced with the lean options offered to online viewers before the ESPN broadcast began, one scribe characterized ANGC’s coverage a “dereliction” of responsibility. Specifically, he was describing the two threesomes selected by the club as “feature groups” from the morning wave.

Those groups were followed all morning, for all 18 holes. Those six players finished 36 holes in a combined 46 over par, and only Matt Kuchar (1 over) finished the two rounds within shouting distance of the leaders. Of the six, Henrik Stenson double bogeyed the first hole, Angel Cabrera made a 7 and Danny Willett made an 8. Yeah, riveting stuff.

It was so ugly, only a wife, friend or relative would have bothered to watch. But of course, many fitting that description already were at the course, watching from along the gallery ropes, and they could have bailed out to watch whatever threesome they wanted.

Those at home, yet again, had no such luxury.

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling