U.S. Open is ready for prime time again

Two years ago, the U.S. Open was played at Torrey Pines in San Diego. You might remember; that's when Tiger Woods, hobbled by a torn ligament in his left knee which would require surgery,  won an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate.

For the first time in televised professional golf, NBC put the weekend rounds of that tournament in prime time, and the ratings soared. In fact, the ratings were the  highest for a U.S. Open in six years and the third-best Sunday rating in Open history.

Last year, the 2009 U.S. Open was played on the Black Course of Bethpage State Park on Long Island and you just can't put golf in prime time when played on the East Coast. Something about darkness.

Now, this year's Open is back on the West Coast, at historic Pebble Beach and once again, there will be prime-time coverage.

"Playing the Open on the West Coast allows us to showcase this championship in prime time," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics. "It should make for a great Father’s Day weekend with the best golfers in the world competing on one of golf’s most picturesque courses in prime time.''


In past years, parts of the U.S. Open have run into prime time but those were due to delays or slow play.

The third round on NBC Saturday is scheduled from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the final round Sunday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.

This year, there is more than 30 hours of coverage on ESPN and KTTC, nearly twice as much as the Masters. ESPN goes from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday and today while NBC has it from 2 to 4 p.m. today and 3:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Prime time is beneficial to the Eastern and Central time zones but get this, when the Open was played at Pebble Beach in 2000, coverage began at 10:30 a.m. on the West Coast on both Saturday and Sunday.

Tiger Woods shattered the major championship record with his 15-shot victory in 2000.

NBC analyst Johnny Miller talked about Pebble Beach, and Woods.

"This is the top of the top for me. It goes back to when I was eight years old, coming to Pebble Beach and watching the Bing Crosby,'' Miller said earlier this week on a conference call. "For me, it’s just the best. The Tiger Woods performance in 2000, I thought, was the best I had ever seen. It was the best in history."

Miller said Woods is not the same golfer today as he was 10 years ago.


"His middle and short iron swing has been pretty good. He has nice tempo. He pauses at the top like in 2000,'' he said, "but his driver swing is like another person swinging. It doesn't really resemble the iron swing.''

Even a scandalized Woods is a ratings magnet, but there's more storylines to watch, according to Miller.

"A lot of guys just cannot handle the U.S. Open pressure,'' he said. " Everything plays out after the first round. I'm excited to see what does happen, to see if Tiger Woods can actually come out of the box and put all his stuff behind him and actually turn back the clock to 2000 and do his thing, and whether Ernie Ells can get back on track, and Phil, the birthday boy today. There are a million stories.''

Bob Costas will serve as event host for the third and final rounds. Host is Dan Hicks who is working with Miller. They will be  joined by tower reporters Gary Koch, Brad Faxon, and Peter Jacobsen; on-course reporters Roger Maltbie, Mark Rolfing and Dottie Pepper; interviewer/essayist Jimmy Roberts and Golf World’s Tim Rosaforte.

"It's the greatest championship we do,'' said Hicks. " When you combine that at Pebble Beach, it makes it incredibly special.''

Hicks and Miller were first paired in the 2000 Open.

"It's hard to believe that it's been all these years since I did my first U.S. Open with Johnny in 2000, and we all know what happened there,'' Hicks said. "Little did I know that as we reflect back some 10 years ago that we would be where we are with Tiger right now, but at the time it was the greatest performance we've ever seen.

"I think, talking with Johnny and others about it through the years and even at the time, I didn't think we'd see anything that would come close. Honestly, in my lifetime, I don't know if we'll every see anything like what we saw that week at Pebble Beach."


Around the tube

• The Minnesota Twins are on the Fox Saturday Game of the Week, at least on a regional basis,  two of the next three weeks. Saturday, the Twins play at Philadelphia and on July 3, they are home against Tampa Bay. Both have 3 p.m. starts. Kenny Albert (play-by-play) and Eric Karros (analyst) are on the call for the Twins-Phillies.

The No. 1 announce team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will be in Boston for the Red Sox and Dodgers.

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