NBC gets what it wants: plenty of Woods and plenty of drama

Times Staff Writer

Two things are guaranteed to drive up television ratings for a major golf tournament -- lots of drama and Tiger Woods in contention down to the wire.

NBC got both during Sunday's final round of the U.S. Open.

Commentator Johnny Miller appropriately called it "great theater" as Woods prepared to hit a bunker shot on the 17th hole with a chance for a birdie that would tie him with eventual winner Angel Cabrera.

The "great theater" continued until Woods missed his birdie try on No. 18 and fell short by one shot.

Much of the drama throughout the day came courtesy of Oakmont Country Club.

NBC's Roger Maltbie said last week that viewers enjoy watching players struggle, that they find it compelling. And on Sunday, all that "compelling" golf was delivered in living color -- with high-definition clarity.

When the final group of Woods and third-round leader Aaron Baddeley was at the turn, Miller informed viewers that "the last three groups that just came in were 25 over par."

But the fun started long before that.

After Baddeley had a triple bogey on the first hole, NBC's Dan Hicks said, "It's like what happened at Winged Foot last year, only in reverse." Hicks was referring to Phil Mickelson's implosion on the 18th hole of the final round.

When Baddeley finally finished the first hole with a seven, he smiled.

Said Miller: "That's like a boxer who smiles after getting nailed, trying to show he is not hurt."

And Hicks couldn't resist this one: "I feel badly for Baddeley."

On the third hole, it was Woods' turn to provide NBC with some drama. He hit a line-drive chip that zoomed past the flag and off the green, then fluffed his next shot.

Miller was aghast.

"I've never seen Tiger do that twice in his whole ... not since junior golf," he said.

Jim Furyk was in contention until he hit a poor approach shot from 173 yards on the 18th hole. He had a worse approach shot on the 10th hole from 149 yards that had NBC's Dottie Pepper searching for words to describe what happened.

Said Maltbie: "I don't think that was anything more than just a horrible shot."

There were so many horrible shots on this day, NBC could have used Bill Walton.

Saturday's third round got a 4.6 overnight rating, compared with a 3.2 for the third round last year. In Los Angeles, Saturday's round got a 4.0 and beat the 3.9 for the Dodgers versus the Angels that day on Channel 11.

The 4.6 overnight was the highest for a U.S. Open third round since a 4.8 in 2004. The final round that year from Shinnecock Hills earned a solid 6.3 national overnight rating. Phil Mickelson three-putted from five feet for a double bogey at the 17th hole, and Retief Goosen won by two shots.

When Woods last won a U.S. Open -- at Bethpage in 2002 -- the overnight rating for the final round was a 9.3.

Woods didn't win this time, but he certainly played a starring role, and NBC couldn't have asked for anything better.


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