News & Opinion

‘Live From The Masters’ clicks at Augusta

Anybody who has worked in media, particularly the press corps at Augusta National, knows all too well how difficult it can be to produce consistently entertaining content before the Masters begins.

There are acres of newshole to be filled, eight months between major championships, and the run-up to the first round seemingly lasts forever once tournament week arrives. The content often becomes a predictable mix of speculative, predictive or retrospective fare.

Imagine facing a variation of that task on a daily basis.

Somehow, the cast and crew of “Live From The Masters,” which has become Golf Channel’s showcase live show for flexing its editorial muscles and tactical chops, pulls it off with flash and panache.

With something close to a near-blackout policy regarding early Masters broadcasts – live coverage on ESPN and CBS didn’t begin until 3 p.m. over the first three rounds and 2 p.m. today – Golf Channel has helped fill the void with color and comprehensive, contextual gold.

The principle players on the set have evolved over the years, but this week’s crew of David Duval, Brandel Chamblee and Colin Montgomerie in particular have been as entertaining as they’ve been illuminating. The glue is forever-glib host Mike Tirico, who moved from ESPN to NBC/Golf Channel a few months back and seamlessly deals like a Vegas card sharp.

The “Live From The Masters” show used to be a nice complement to the coverage at major championships. This week, thanks to the laughably archaic Augusta National premise that less is more as it relates to its live TV offerings, it’s become the next-best thing.

It’s not just default TV, either. The show all week has had a terrific momentum, mixing analysis with pre-round interviews with players such as Rory McIlroy, Charley Hoffman, Will McGirt and other guys still in the mix today.

Moments after the CBS coverage ended Saturday night, the show kicked back into gear, starting the post-round analysis with this nugget: Jordan Spieth has a chance to become the first player in nearly 120 years to win a major after being 10 or more shots back after the first round. (Same for Adam Scott.)

The post-round slot Saturday was filled with exclusive chats with Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and other contenders. For the avid fans, it’s like catnip. For true junkies, it’s like an aural opioid.

Golf Channel veteran Todd Lewis corralled Spieth – who shot 75 on Thursday – after the third round, and as Lewis has done all week, squeezed some great stuff out of him that will appear nowhere else.

“I came out with a completely different mindset in the second round,” Spieth said. “Just, Who cares? Stop worrying about what other people think and go out and do what you love to do. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. I get so caught up in what I’m doing sometimes, just so heightened, and it’s just golf.”

Easily the best bits are when the cast goes back and forth on certain points. In what might represent the show’s all-time highlight, Chamblee and Duval had a terse exchange during the Ryder Cup last fall, which included Chamblee wagging a finger at Duval, who mumbled, “You’re never wrong.” The clip has been replayed thousands of times on YouTube.

Then there’s Monty, who gets on such a verbal roll at times, his brain seems to disengage from his mouth. When discussing Sergio Garcia’s attempt to end a career-long majors drought, Monty said Friday, “I first came across Sergio when he was a teenager, and to think that he wouldn't have won a major? I wouldn’t believe that he wouldn’t have won a major."

Sound the irony alert. Monty, a Hall of Famer, famously never won a Grand Slam event, either, of course. But he meant every word of it nonetheless.

Stanford alumnus Notah Begay, who is frighteningly good on TV, cut right to the chase on the Garcia issue: “Sergio might be at that point in his life where he really might not give a rip. He’s at a point in his career where it’s now or never.”

Said Chamblee: “Every other player on that leaderboard, you think they will have many, many more chances. I watch Sergio and think the game doesn’t owe anybody anything. But my goodness, isn’t he due a major championship?”

Duval, who said he never took broadcasting courses at Georgia Tech or received formal coaching before taking his Golf Channel gig, has become one of the network’s shining stars. As a former world No. 1 and major champion, he has credibility that most of his on-air brethren lack. He’s also incredibly insightful.

As the Masters celebrated the 20-year anniversary of Tiger Woods’ whirlwind 12-shot Masters victory, Duval never was better.

“Having traveled with Tiger a lot, practiced with him a lot, and spent a lot of time with him over a number of years, I saw a lot of things that he had to carry with him through this process, through his march to greatness,” he said. “I can only imagine what it’s like to try to perform that well under that scrutiny that he lived daily, whether he was at a golf tournament or not. He has to be one of the most-scrutinized golfers ever.

“I miss him this week, wish his health was better, wish he was here to perform, to play and to celebrate it. Because I see that as the reason you’re seeing the Jason Days, Thomas Pieterses, Dustin Johnsons and Rory McIlroys happening today is precisely because of that week.”

Since the network doesn’t own the broadcast rights to show live action, the crew occasionally must tap-dance around the logistics awkwardness but pulls it off. The banter can be brilliant, and with Lewis adding player interviews that nobody else is landing, it usually has proved to be far more illuminating than Masters.com’s streaming-video option.

Before the third round, Lewis cornered co-leader Charley Hoffman on the range, and asked if he had visions of donning a green jacket.

“A hundred percent, there are,” Hoffman said in a rare admission from a contending player. “You throw them out the back of your head and try to go hit the next shot and prepare. If you didn’t think about that stuff, you wouldn’t be human.”

Forget human. Filling so many hours of the Masters television vacuum with quality content is downright Herculean, but the “Live From The Masters” crew nails it.

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