When Tiger Woods’ final putt dropped on Saturday afternoon and he walked off the 18th green nursing a one-shot lead over Graeme McDowell, NBC knew exactly what was at stake going into Sunday’s final round.
After 924 days, the network was on the verge of covering one of the most highly anticipated final rounds since last year’s U.S. Open, when Rory McIlroy made history at Congressional, blitzing the field by an impressive eight shots.
It was historic stuff — not just because Tiger Woods was ending a two-plus year winless drought in official events, but also because NBC had the opportunity to wrap a nice bow on the most tumultuous stretch in Woods’ life.
Sure, plenty of other people would talk about what the win meant for Woods after the final putt had dropped, but NBC had the opportunity to be the network of record, if you will.
Like an announcer trying to nail the championship-winning call, NBC’s Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller had to nail the moment on the 18th. Because whether they liked it or not, Woods’ final hole was going to be one people would remember.
So let’s set the scene: Tiger coverts his par putt on the 17th and starts to walk off the green with an expressionless look on his face. Johnny Miller sizes up the magnitude of the final hole, albeit in an awkward sort of way.
“Look at that look right there … you can see it’s a look of I couldn’t mess this up if I tried.” Miller said, as Woods strode to the 18th tee.
And then this little gem from Johnny as Woods prepared to hit his final tee shot: “This could be a little low shot here. … Even if he pulled a Jeff Overton, who hit three balls in the water and made nine, that’s still a way for him to win this tournament, so…”
Now I’m not sure if it was his intention to jinx Woods, but seriously, who the heck says that on the final hole? Oh, that’s right; we’re talking about Johnny Miller here. Of course he’s going to say something absurd.
Just after striping his drive down the center of the fairway, Hicks attempted to make his mark on the broadcast, summing up not only Woods’ round, but everything that’s gone on in his life since the Thanksgiving accident. And for the most part, he did an admirable job giving people a sense of how important the win was on not only a golfing level, but a personal one as well.
“It’s not just any Sunday at Bay Hill,” Hicks said. “Tiger’s been out of the mix for a few years, the last of the wins here in 2009. Mention the same city that he built this legendary career, but it’s just a few miles from here at Isleworth, where his personal life became unraveled — the accident that Thanksgiving night, and one of the most unlikely and unexpected falls from the heights of the sport. From those heights to the depths, if you called the 71 PGA Tour wins and 14 majors phase one, then this is the beginning of phase two. The first win of the resurrection of the personal life and the golf swing and the golf career.”
Not bad, Mr. Hicks. Johnny Miller chimed in immediately to put his stamp on Tiger’s win, mentioning that this wasn’t the start of a resurgence for Woods, but rather the start of a second career.
“I said prior to this that every golfer has sort of two careers. You have the first burst and then a lull, and then you have a second career. Some guys have a pretty darn good second career and if I was coaching, I’d say, ‘OK, you made mistakes during the first part of your career. But let’s just start over with your second career; you’ve got a new swing and let’s see what you can do with this one.’ It’s all bonus points now given the fact that he’s done everything so great, and then, of course, sort of the fall from grace was … he’s paid the price, and hopefully he’s made good changes. But I think he’s got a lot of game. It totally wouldn’t surprise me if he were to win 35 to 40 times from now. He could do it. The way he’s playing right now, he’s going to kick butt.”
The he’ll win 35 to 40 times line? Yeah, that goes back to his Golf Magazine interview when he said the exact same thing, only to reverse on the statement during a “State of the Game” discussion on the Golf Channel … only to then come back to the initial statement when Woods was on the verge of winning. Mr. Waffle, folks!
Hicks wrapped up the moment by bringing Woods’ swing coach Sean Foley into the discussion, as well as pointing a finger at the detractors (those darn detractors!) who said he’d never win again.
“There were people who said they didn’t think Tiger would ever win again,” Hicks said “There were also moments when the resurrection of his golf game — and, again, we can only speculate on the mental and personal side of what Tiger’s been through — but looking at his swing, heavy criticism, bringing on Sean Foley … all of a sudden, it’s all kind of clicked and culminated here.”
The moment continued, as NBC went to a stunning overhead view, as fans started to converge on the hole, running up the fairway as course marshals tried desperately to keep fans behind the ropes. It was a fantastic shot if for any other reason than you rarely see tournaments where they let the fans run up behind the players on the last hole. It’s was very British Open-esque.
NBC’s cameras, just moments later, caught Woods, head down in a moment of reflection, as he looked up with a slight grin on his face, almost like he realized the magnitude of the moment. It was one of those special shots you’ll see replayed over and over when they show highlights of the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
While the moment was special, it paled in comparison to Woods’ final putt on 18. The second it dropped, Hicks went for it: “Tiger Woods is a winner again!” he said, almost yelling at this point. “And how appropriate that it comes at Bay Hill, his seventh victory here.”
Nothing corny or cheesy (like someone else we know); it was perfect, and wrapped up not only the tournament but a chapter in Woods’ life he most likely left behind with perfectly.
Hicks, of course, wasn’t the only one yelling. NBC execs were doing the same thing, after the network’s 4.8 overnight (up 129% from last year) bested the NCAA tournament coverage on CBS. They have Tiger Woods to thank for making that possible.