The 2014 U.S. Open is just two months away, but with NBC having the second major championship of the year for the last time, we are already looking ahead at what Fox is planning to do when they debut their golf coverage in 2015.
The latest announcement is an interesting one, as sources are telling Sports Business Journal that Joe Buck and Greg Norman will be the featured broadcasting group when the network turns to golf.
Norman, a two-time major champion, never won the U.S. Open, but competed in it 19 times, finishing second in 1984 and 1995. Buck, the man that seems to do it all for Fox, has never broadcasted golf but is apparently a scratch golfer who seems to be versatile enough to do just about anything the network asks.
The team is definitely going to be a different feel from what we've come to expect from the NBC team. Johnny Miller, who can get under viewer's skin at times with his pointed comments and thoughts back to his own accomplishments, is one of the most knowledgeable golf announcers out there, and Dan Hicks always seems to handle himself as a professional and do a solid job in the booth on the 18th.
Buck and Norman will be a new team broadcasting the second biggest golf tournament of the entire year on a golf course that has never hosted the U.S. Open, so if nothing else, it will be a debut for all involved when the golf world turns to Chambers Bay in 14 months.
Each week for the remainder of the golf season we will be rolling out a mailbag, with any and all questions invited from readers and fans around the world. Have a good question you want answered? Hit me up on Twitter at @shanebacon and we will try to get to it in the coming weeks. Here we go ...
Bacon: It's quite remarkable how Augusta National plays into certain player's hands. It's a golf course that has history, sure, but it seems to also pick favorites. We've seen Jack Nicklaus dominate there, Arnold Palmer have major success at Augusta and then random names like Nick Faldo and Ben Crenshaw, who just seem to understand what it takes to play well, and play consistent, at Augusta National.
Bubba Watson seems like the guy of this generation to "get" this golf course. He already has two green jackets in just six career starts at Augusta National, and at the age of 35, still has a full decade of being competitive and hitting the ball a country mile (sometimes, literally).
So, I'm putting the over/under on green jackets at 3.5, and I'm taking the under. I think Bubba will win one more Masters for sure, getting in some seriously elite company with just eight other players that have won this tournament three or more times.
The reason I don't see four in his future is simply because only Nicklaus, Palmer and Tiger Woods have been able to accomplish that feat. I think history will play against Bubba if and when he gets to three green jackets, and landing that fourth will be the hardest of them all for him.
If I had to pick anyone right now to get a fourth green jacket, I would go Phil over Bubba just because I think Mickelson has a better chance of being in contention every year at this tournament until he turns 50 (and possibly well after that).
Of course, a lot of this depends on the next mailbag question we will tackle.
Bacon: If we know one thing about the green jackets of Augusta, it's that they don't like when their golf course gets made to look silly.
Tiger Woods did that in 1997 with bombing drives and no rough and the club immediately went to lengths to make the course tougher for that type of player (at that time, there was only one, and his name was Tiger). Sure, Woods went on to win three more green jackets over the next eight years, but since then he has left with exactly zero coats and a lot of disappointments.
That tee shot Bubba hit on the 13th might be something the club replays over and over again when thinking about ways to eliminate that type of domination.
Bubba's driver was absolutely on fire all weekend at Augusta, and he really left a lot of shots out there on the par-5s considering where he kept hitting his tee ball, especially on the 13th and 15th.
The only thing I could see the club doing is adding some trees just off the right of some of the tee boxes. That seems like the best way to eliminate a guy aiming right and swinging out of his shoes, but even that might not stop a guy like Bubba, who will just aim a little further left and try to hit it a little straighter.
Distance is king in this game, and unless you can raise some of those trees left of the 13th fairway and get them to grow a few feet before next April, I don't see a lot of things you can do for a guy that is flying his drives 320 yards, all in the air.
Bacon: I have a few thoughts on Jordan Spieth and what we should be making of his early success, his play at Augusta and just his overall potential in this game.
First, Spieth is an incredible talent, and we should all be excited about his future, especially considering the lack of young Americans that actually seem like the type of player that can win multiple major titles.
That said, Spieth is still just 20 years old, has played in exactly four major championships as a professional and has already contended in one.
Learning how to close on the PGA Tour is a skill. It isn't just Spieth that struggles with this, we've seen Rory McIlroy blow leads, Adam Scott let them slip away, and just about every golfer on tour this season either get the lead and lose it or make a run and fall short at the end (just look at Matt Kuchar's last three weeks).
The expectations for Spieth are so loud right now it's hard to hear anything else, but we need to remember that just because he isn't putting on the green jacket at 20, the week wasn't a disappointment. Spieth will learn how to close out tournaments just like some of the greats learned how to close them out. The problem with our society today is that we want SO BAD the next big thing in every sport.
"Is Spieth the next Tiger?" "Is Rory the next Jack?!" "Could Ryo Ishikawa win the career Grand Slam?!"
Tiger fooled us into thinking that winning major championships was easy if you're young and talented and hit the ball far. But just look at the current world rankings and see how many of those names don't even have a single major title in their trophy case.
Spieth is great, and will be great for the game, but he's still young and at times shows it on the golf course. If you're buying stock in a golfer right now, Spieth is the guy to invest in, but even if it takes him two or three years to win his first major championship, that is totally fine and still miles ahead of most of the big names on tour not named Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy.
Bacon: I got a couple of versions of this questions after Sunday and was a tad confused by it.
Did Augusta National really play that tough for people, or was it the simple fact that nothing really happened on the back nine on Sunday that left fans unfulfilled? The winning score by Watson was 8-under, which to me represents a perfect Masters.
I'm not a fan of the Masters when the winnings core is 15 or 16 under, and I didn't really enjoy seeing Zach Johnson come in at 1-over and claim the green jacket. But to me, 8-under is a very respectable score for a champion, especially considering the course did play tougher this week than it has in the past couple of years.
I do wish that the club had softened the greens a little for Sunday, because that seemed to be the biggest factor in scoring, but the course didn't play impossible and allowed people to go out and post a number if they played solid golf (Miguel Angel Jimenez shot 66 on Saturday, and Joost Luiten came in with 67 on Sunday, so the scores were out there).
My perfect winning score for each major goes like this; Masters -9, U.S. Open E, British Open -6, and the PGA -11. So, the Masters was just a shot off that number, which to me means a success. I don't want people thinking just because nobody made a charge on Sunday that something was wrong with the golf course. It was just as simple as nobody really getting anything going that had a chance to catch Bubba Watson, and that was that.
Bacon: For me it has improved all big moments on television about 4,000 percent.
One of the things that I think Twitter has helped with is simply allowing you to feel like you're hanging around a lot of people that enjoy or think the same way as you as you're watching something you enjoy. The reason Twitter makes this possible? Because you get to pick and choose who you follow, what style they have, and who is going to be watching and enjoying something the same way you would.
When I watch the Oscars, I love Twitter because the comedians I follow usually are on their A game. I could say the same for the NBA playoffs, as NBA Twitter is probably the best out there. And for golf, it's great because not only am I enjoying being a part of the major championship twitter scene, but I'm getting feedback, comments and jokes from people I've never met but feel like I could enjoy a cold beer with them even though I've never met 80 percent of the people I'm interacting with.
We don't always get the chance to be with our best buds when the Super Bowl is going on, but social media has allowed us to interact and enjoy moments like that with "friends" we've picked for one reason or another. That's what makes it so cool to me.
Bacon: For full disclosure, I was between Rory McIlroy and Bubba as my pick last week for the Masters, eventually going with McIlroy because I will never pick a major championship winner correctly as long as I live.
But, since we are here, I figured I'll give you my major championship predictions since we are months away and they will change 400 times as we approach each major.
I'm going with Sergio Garcia at Pinehurst (why not?!), Tiger Woods if he's healthy at Hoylake, and Dustin Johnson at the PGA Championship.
On Sunday afternoon, on a beautiful day at Augusta National, a 20-year-old kid was trying to do something that no 20-year-old kid has ever done. Jordan Spieth, a kid ranked 810th in the world a season ago, was continuing his run on professional golf, the Masters records and basically anything that had to do with the misnomer that kids can't dominate this game.
But there was one problem with all that. Tiger Woods wasn't at Augusta National. How do those two things have anything to do with each other? I'm not sure, but apparently they do.
That is what seems to be the consensus this Monday about the 2014 Masters .
"This tournament was boring!" "Where was Tiger?!" "How can anyone watch this without the two biggest names in the world in contention?"
The thing is, if you looked past all that screaming and focused simply on the golf tournament at hand, you probably enjoyed yourself. Sure, the back nine on Sunday wasn't exactly the '86 Masters, but the front nine was full of fireworks that had people from all walks of life turning their televisions to CBS to see just what the heck was going on.
A 20-year-old might win the Masters. A guy that has never had a lesson might win two. A Swede with a goofy glove and great touch around the greens could steal it from everyone. Oh, and what about Fred Couples?!
The problem with golf these days, myself included, is that we spend so much time wondering about Tiger Woods that we forget to enjoy the actual moment. You've heard of "stop and smell the flowers"? Well, what about the azaleas?
Tiger Woods will turn 39 in December. He isn't some young gun anymore out there shooting for history. Woods is a man that has been up against scandal, the media, swing coaches and now his own body. He isn't the guy we used to see go out and rip driver past everyone on Earth, smiling because he knew that putt he had to make was going to drop even before we did.
The 2014 Masters might have dipped in the ratings without Woods around, and might have left us with a weekend that didn't include Tiger or Phil, but it was still a compelling golf tournament and something we must enjoy if we claim we enjoy golf.
One of these days Tiger Woods is going to retire from the game, or play only Champions Tour tournaments, and the game and the championships and the golf shots will continue.
Would Tiger have made this Masters better? Personally, I can't answer that. I thought it was great to watch throughout Sunday, and even when Bubba was running away from the field it was still fun just to watch a man, and a kid, make a little bit of history, red polo or no red polo.
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For golf fans, the Masters is always one of the best sports weekends of the year, but the random fan was probably missing something over the weekend. Tiger Woods wasn't playing for the first time since 1994, missing out because of back surgery that has him sidelined indefinitely, and that hiatus could extend, according to one pal of Woods.
Notah Begay, a four-time PGA Tour winner and Tiger's teammate at Stanford, chatted with CBS Radio on Monday and said he doesn't think Tiger will make it to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open.
Here is what Begay, an analyst for Golf Channel, said on the radio.
“I’ve been in contact with (Tiger) this week. He missed being at Augusta and certainly was watching the tournament, (but) I think he needs to give (his back) a minimum of 90 days to make sure that scar tissue heals up appropriately and he doesn’t run the risk of re-injuring it. So that would push him past the U.S. Open.”
Personally, I think Tiger timed this surgery so that he would have a chance to return for the British Open. This year the Open Championship is being played at Royal Liverpool for the first time since 2006, when Woods hit stinger after stinger on his way to a two-shot victory over Chris DiMarco.
If Tiger is going to get another major win, his best chance is the British Open, and the fact that Hoylake seems to set up perfectly for the way he plans major courses these days, it makes the most sense for him to have that as the perfect major to set his return.
That said, who really knows when Woods will return. Tiger will turn 39 this December, meaning he is past that prime age to win major championships, so picking a perfect return date is almost as important as fine-tuning his golf swing.
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We aren't even a full day past the conclusion of the Masters, but as the world turns so does our interest into the next big event on the golf calendar.
The U.S. Open, which kicks off June 12 at Pinehurst #2, might be a couple of months away, but that doesn't mean we can't take a look and see who the early favorite is at the second major championship of 2014.
Rory McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open winner, is the favorite alongside Tiger Woods, who we aren't even sure will be playing in two months after having surgery that forced him to miss out on the Masters.
The rest of the odds are below, so check out the numbers on some of the big names (Bubba Watson is 25-to-1), courtesy of Bovada, and let us know in the comments who you think is the best value on the very early U.S. Open board.
Rory McIlroy 10/1
Tiger Woods 10/1 (Note: If Tiger doesn’t play, you would get refunded)
Adam Scott 12/1
Phil Mickelson 16/1
Henrik Stenson 22/1
Justin Rose 22/1
Bubba Watson 25/1
Jason Day 25/1
Jordan Spieth 25/1
Matt Kuchar 28/1
Dustin Johnson 33/1
Graeme McDowell 33/1
Lee Westwood 33/1
Zach Johnson 33/1
Brandt Snedeker 40/1
Charl Schwartzel 40/1
Hunter Mahan 40/1
Jason Dufner 40/1
Luke Donald 40/1
Sergio Garcia 40/1
Keegan Bradley 50/1
Rickie Fowler 50/1
Steve Stricker 50/1
Webb Simpson 50/1
Graham DeLaet 66/1
Hideki Matsuyama 66/1
Ian Poulter 66/1
Jim Furyk 66/1
Louis Oosthuizen 66/1
Bill Haas 80/1
Harris English 80/1
Jonas Blixt 80/1
Martin Kaymer 80/1
Miguel Angel Jimenez 80/1
Nick Watney 80/1
Ryan Moore 80/1
Billy Horschel 100/1
Ernie Els 100/1
Thorbjørn Olesen 100/1
Angel Cabrera 125/1
Bo Van Pelt 125/1
Boo Weekley 125/1
Brooks Koepka 125/1
David Lynn 125/1
Francesco Molinari 125/1
George Coetzee 125/1
K.J. Choi 125/1
Kevin Streelman 125/1
Martin Laird 125/1
Matteo Manassero 125/1
Michael Thompson 125/1
Nicolas Colsaerts 125/1
Peter Hanson 125/1
Branden Grace 150/1
Chris Wood 150/1
Fredrik Jacobson 150/1
Geoff Ogilvy 150/1
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano 150/1
Marc Leishman 150/1
Padraig Harrington 150/1
Paul Casey 150/1
Paul Lawrie 150/1
Robert Garrigus 150/1
Russell Henley 150/1
Stewart Cink 150/1
Thomas Bjorn 150/1
Tim Clark 150/1
Bernd Wiesberger 200/1
Danny Willett 200/1
Richard Sterne 200/1
Darren Clarke 300/1
Mikko Ilonen 300/1