Chris BaldwinThis Week at April 11, 2006

TV complicit in Masters' drama downfall

If O.J. Simpson wore a green jacket and held a place in Hootie Johnson's oh-so-tender heart, Jim Nantz would compliment him on the brilliant white Bronco "getaway." If Michael Jackson wielded influence in Butler Cabin, Nantz would find time to praise his home amusement park.

Is there anything worse than listening to CBS' worshipping head spray bouquets machine-gun style around Augusta National?

Well, how about Nantz doing it while Johnson and the rest of those hip Augusta gentlemen systematically went about draining the drama out of what long stood as golf's most exciting tournament?

The debate over the lengthening and pine tree-rearranging makeover of Augusta National doesn't need to be so raging and often silly. It's simple really. Do the changes make for a better Masters?

The answer after watching Phil Mickelson's mind-numbing closing run has to be a resounding no. All Johnson's tinkering over the years (where's Martha Burk to distract him when you really need it?) is essentially turning the Masters into a junior level U.S. Open. Protect the sanctity of the championship? Please. How about protecting us from drooling on our couches as we struggle to snap out of snooze attacks.

As Mickelson headed toward the finish, the only suspense centered on how long he would hug his kids on camera (the over/under in Las Vegas stood at five minutes). And whether Nantz or Phil's wife Amy would get more visibly choked up (Nantz in a landslide).

And he strolls down the stretch! Wait, is that . yes, it is . I believe Phil Mickelson is fighting off a yawn. This could be his toughest test yet.

Of course, you would not hear any of this from Nantz or any of CBS' other Masters-puckered lips. Instead, Nantz chose to wage a press campaign on behalf of Hootie's Bobby Jones butchery, going from talk show to talk show with the fervor of a reality TV contestant. The best had to be when he told Sports Illustrated that the Masters was so determined to have dramatic shots that Augusta's 16th green funneled balls toward the hole.

Nantz made it sound like Hootie rigged it with everything but the clown's mouth. He even denigrated Tiger Woods' chip for the ages by saying that, in reality, that 2005 jolt was about a 1-in-20 shot.

Anything's fair game in order to make Hootie look good.

The funny thing is Nantz's own tirelessly promoted 1986 Masters special provided all the evidence to the contrary anyone needed. There was Jack Nicklaus firing darts, able to go for pins at age 46. There was Greg Norman ripping off a birdie run of his own (and just 20 years ago that meant more than two birdies in a row). Anyone who followed up that with the live coverage could tell the difference. Golf at Augusta has had its drama drained.

Yet, what does Nantz do? He defends the Masters overlords like he always defends them. Talk about your bogeys.

As always, welcomes your comments.

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Women have gyms where no men are allowed. They have Oprah. So why can't a bunch of golf nerds have their own club? Should self-appointed society police be dictating who needs to be enlightened? The problem is, when you even bring it up, reasonable, measured thinking is seldom allowed. It's break out the picket signs and choose your side.

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