UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) _ New to golf broadcasting, Fox Sports also gets its first crack at Tiger Woods. And the two primary voices at the U.S. Open, including Greg Norman, don’t have high expectations for him at Chambers Bay.
That’s not alarming.
Woods now has gone seven years since he last won a major. Due to injuries and yet another change in coaches, he has gone 18 months without finishing in the top 10 anywhere in the world. And he’s coming off an 85-74 weekend at the Memorial, the highest 36-hole score of his career.
“It’s a massive effort, mentally and physically, for him to get himself out of this hole he’s in,” Norman said on a conference call. “The more he shoots 85, or extraordinary high numbers, the harder it is for him to get out of that hole.”
Norman will be in the booth with lead announcer Joe Buck, who said Woods has been “front and center” for as long as Buck has been watching golf.
That hasn’t been the case the past two years except for being curious about a comeback. Woods missed the first two majors in 2014 because of back surgery, and he took a two-month break before this year’s Masters to fix his short game.
When the USGA announced in August 2013 that it had awarded Fox a 12-year contract to televise the U.S. Open, Woods was coming off his fifth victory of the year that included a 61 at the Bridgestone Invitational. He was No. 1 in the world. He was the betting favorite at majors.
Golf has not lacked for a group of rising stars. Rory McIlroy is No. 1 in the world and already has four majors. Jordan Spieth is a Masters champion at age 21. Rickie Fowler recently picked up an important win at The Players Championship.
Woods still moves the needle. The question is how much.
“Trust me, we’re a network trying to get viewers,” Buck said. “They’ll get Tiger when it’s appropriate. But there’s no way you can go into expecting him to play great just because history doesn’t tell you that he will.”
Woods was among several players who took an early scouting trip to Chambers Bay, a course unlike any other for the U.S. Open with its sprawling fairways shaped through man-made dunes and framed by rugged bunker complex.
Built on a former sand-and-gravel pit that was mined for more than a century, it is not a links golf course. It just plays one on TV. Woods does not lack for imagination, and perhaps this brand of golf might help.
“With the way the golf course is set up, obviously he has the ability to have it click in at some point, though we’ve been waiting for that,” Buck said.
“But he also has the ability to blow up. With so much importance being placed on the short game, considering how the season started for Tiger, I don’t see how you can go into this with any expectation of having him being among the leaders coming down the stretch on Sunday. That would be crazy. Could it happen? Sure.”
Norman can relate to Woods in one respect. His work ethic was legendary. And that’s one reason he believes Woods still has a long way to go, if he ever gets there.
“He’s gone through major swing changes in the past,” Norman said. “But those swing changes … his body was a lot younger. When you do make a change, you have to hit a lot of golf balls. You have to get the old swing thought out and the new swing thought in. And that’s just a lot of repetition and hitting, hitting and hitting.
“Your body doesn’t recover quickly, or as well, like it used to when you were in your 20s and 30s,” he said. “He’s got that mountain to climb.”
For all the innovation and technological gadgets Fox plans to introduce, the biggest change for television viewers will be sound. For the past 20 years, the voice of the U.S. Open was Johnny Miller. Now it’s Norman, a two-time British Open champion and the only player to lose all four majors (stroke play) in a playoff.
Norman was an influential voice as a player. Still to be determined is how that translates to the booth. He’s not Johnny Miller and won’t try to be.
“I was always a big fan of Johnny. He was very forthright in his thoughts and opinions,” Norman said. “When you’re in that seat, you’ve got to give your opinion. It can’t be sugarcoated. It irks me when I do watch TV and every player hits the perfect shot, every player is just the greatest short-game player in the world, every player is just so good. When they do something wrong, it’s got to be pointed out.
“A lot is going to be magnified dramatically at Chambers Bay,” he said. “If a player is a little off, he’s going to get brutally penalized.”