ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger, host Mike Tirico, Leah LaPlaca, vice president, programming and acquisitions, and Mike McQuade, vice president, event production, participated in a media conference call today to discuss ESPN’s multiplatform coverage of the 152nd renewal of The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes in Lancashire, England. ESPN will have live television coverage of all four rounds of golf’s oldest major July 19-22. Full coverage details HERE.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
LEAH LaPLACA: Thanks, everyone, for being on the call this morning. Just a couple of brief comments since I know you probably want to spend most of your time hearing from Mike, Paul, Curtis and Andy.
We’re extremely excited about coverage with The Open Championship next week, 72 total hours of television hours with live hours, plus encore presentations and best‑of primetime edited shows. Clearly the heart of that coverage is the 35 live hours of the championship beginning at 5 a.m. eastern time on Thursday and Friday morning, ten scheduled hours each of those two days, and then seven and a half scheduled hours each of the days on the weekend starting at 7 a.m. eastern on Saturday and 6 a.m. eastern on Sunday.
Obviously we have the flexibility to expand that coverage as story lines or, in the case of The Open Championship, weather conditions, may dictate.
All of those 35 live hours on ESPN are also available on ESPN3 and on computers, tablets and mobile devices via WatchESPN.
We also have some interactive coverage on DirecTV and ESPN3 with hole coverage, BBC coverage and then on ESPN3 a Spanish language feed, as well.
New this year we’ve added ESPN Radio into our mix with six hours of live daily audio coverage. So all that, coupled with our exceptional editorial coverage across SportsCenter, ESPN.com, The Magazine and international coverage in over 70 countries around the world, we’re truly surrounding the event from all angles. Needless to say, we’re extremely excited about another great Open Championship.
MIKE McQUADE: I’m exhausted just thinking about 72 hours’ worth of coverage, but I think from our standpoint, each year we go back and do The Open Championship, we go back with more and more experience. This year the production team has been over twice, spending about 10 days in total there. It is a partnership with the R&A and the BBC, and each and every year we become more independent and less reliant on the BBC’s coverage, and that’s a good thing.
The BBC has been helpful in helping us achieve that, and ultimately combined with their resources, we’re up to about 90 cameras, and we’ll be sending over approximately 250 people to cover the event.
I think for this year, one of our additions that viewers will see for the first time is what’s called a virtual aerial, which will allow viewers to see from the plane exactly what holes we are covering, so in essence, it is an aerial that we can put graphics on live. We can also tell the wind direction up to the minute and can show the pattern at which the holes are playing in, so we’re excited about that technology that we will debut on Thursday.
One other element that we’ve come up with, we’ve got on a couple of holes on the golf course what we’re calling distance markers that we’ll be able to show live the distance off the tee a player has hit a shot and how much they have left. So right after the ball comes to rest, we can show how far he hit it off the tee and what he has left to play the hole.
But all that pales in comparison to the group that we roll out. We believe that we have the best group assembled to broadcast this event, and we’re looking forward to getting over there and getting it done.
MIKE TIRICO: Good morning, everybody. Just two sides of the house here. I know we have TV writers and golf writers, and just to speak to both briefly on the TV and to echo what Mike said, this is the one event that we do from first ball to last that would be in the regular PGA TOUR events. It’s amazing to have, given that we don’t do it all year‑round, as good a collection of analysts as we have. Nobody else rolls out major champs like Paul, Curtis, Andy and Judy Rankin, as well, Hall of Famer, as part of our group. It’s an honor to be a part of that group, and we all get to come together a few times a year. It’s a thrill, it really is, to be with everyone.
And on the golf side of it, I just came back from a couple of weeks at Wimbledon, and just look at the complete opposite side of the story where three players have won 29 of the last 30 Slams, and we know what’s happened here with all the first‑time winners that we’ve had and the different major winners, really a run of three plus years of that.
And I don’t know if it’s better for the game. You know, I think people would like to see the bigger, established names or the guy who have won breakthrough majors back it up with another one.
I do have a deep belief, and I know Curtis and Andy and Paul will expound on this with your questions, I think more guys show up at the first tee on Thursday morning believing they can win a major than we’ve had at any point, let’s say the Tiger era from ’97 on through, which makes it more difficult to cover because you don’t know where the story is going to be, yet more exciting for all of us to discover the new stories as they break through.
Something weird and bizarre always seems to happen at the Open Championship over these last 15 years, so we’re looking forward to seeing which way the wind blows this year.
Q. Question for Andy, Paul and Curtis: Kind of the novelty of this course, I have not been over there, is that par‑3 opening hole. I wonder if you could talk about that, whether you think in any way it kind of lessens the magnitude of the golf course as a whole and the curiosity of it, or maybe whether you think in some ways it lets you sort of insinuate your way into the round with a little less blood and dismemberment than we see say at like those first six holes at the U.S. Open which were pretty hard to navigate.
ANDY NORTH: The first thing you need to do on that tee is count your clubs to make sure you’ve got the right number. That wasn’t the case last time we were over there.
First of all, it’s a good golf hole. It’s not like it’s just a throwaway. It’s a good, solid hole, and I think any time a player doesn’t have to hit a driver at an Open Championship on his first swing of the tournament makes it a little bit easier for him. But at the same time, you still have to hit a quality shot with an iron, and it’s a difficult opening shot because the tee is tucked back into some trees where you don’t feel the wind, and yet it can be blowing pretty hard up at the green. So it’s a quality shot to start the day.
But I do agree with you. It’s much simpler than starting out with a 480‑yarder with a fairway 12 yards wide, which we see every once in a while.
CURTIS STRANGE: I’ve played over there, and I’ve never sensed one bit that it lessened the quality of the golf course or the start of the golf course. I was anxious because it was a good par‑3. I think most of the times if I remember correctly, it plays downwind those first six or seven or eight holes, so my concern was picking the proper club, having to hit the ground and then having it run out properly. You know how tough it is to do over there, and just the anxiousness of having that as your first starting shot was enough for me.
Yeah, I don’t think it lessened anything over there, and I agree with Andy, if it wouldn’t have been a par‑3 we wouldn’t have had the Ian Woosnam controversy years ago. But anyway, it’s a good golf course and it’s typical of all links golf courses.
PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, I agree with both those guys. The golf course isn’t hurt by the start on the par‑3. Personally I did believe, as Andy said, it was a little bit easier start and it has played downwind. I don’t really think there’s a prevailing wind over there for some reason. It seems to come from all different directions at Lytham. It’s an awkward golf course, but I do believe it is an easy start. I think the guys on Sunday, whoever has to sleep on the lead, I think they’re going to be a little more relaxed taking a 9‑iron off that first tee.
Q. My question has to do with the coverage standpoint. I know that from speaking to you guys in the past that one of the major problems is, of course, the wind and the inability to use the blimps over there, you have to use fixed wing situations. What are some of the challenges that we face with this course?
MIKE McQUADE: Yeah, well, besides the fact that when it rains everyone is wearing a black rain suit and a hat and you can’t tell anybody from anybody, that’s a big problem.
The wind is always an issue. Trying to follow the ball in conditions like that is an issue. Telling Andy North he’s got to walk in the rain for eight hours could be an issue.
But I think those are ‑‑ I think at this point we’re sort of used to that. I think the one thing that we’ve tried to do to sort of overcome all of this is this Flight Tracker that we’ve used the last couple of years, and this year I think it’s on six different holes, that really allows the viewer to ‑‑ if the skies are gray and it is tough to follow a ball in gray and white skies, that that tracker will at least give you a sense of where the ball is headed and the direction it’s going in.
So I think we do a pretty good job of combating the weather.
I think the one area where we want to continue to get better is sometimes the weather becomes so bad that it feels like we’re watching when we’re there, like we’re not ‑‑ you don’t hear it as well. You don’t sense how bad it is because most of the commentators by and large are in a booth with the windows closed, and you don’t hear the rain as much. You certainly hear what Andy and Judy and Bill Kratzert and Olin Browne are walking around, but that’s one of our challenges is we tried to increase our audio so you hear the weather, if that makes sense.
PAUL AZINGER: Golf fans are the most educated fans and viewers in the world. They still play the sport that you’re covering. And part of the charm or mystique with the Open Championship is that sometimes you just don’t see the ball go. Of course from a TV perspective you want to find that golf ball, but it’s an imperfect scenario over there more so than any other place where a golf tournament is going to be covered, and I think that it’s part of the charm of it. I believe the fans understand that, the viewers understand that, and it’s accepted as part of the ‑‑ what goes on. The elements dictate a lot of times what you’re able to do from a TV perspective.
Q. From a golf perspective, Paul, how much does the weather get into your head?
PAUL AZINGER: It depends what kind of player you are. With a lot of guys it’s a lot like throwing a rabbit in a briar patch; when the wind is blowing like that, they just love it, and for some they completely dread it. There was a time when a lot of players would skip the Open Championship from America because they didn’t like the conditions, they didn’t like the awkward bounces and it felt unfair over there, so you have to accept it, I believe, and deal with it. Every player is different, every golf swing is different. Golf swings are like fingerprints, there’s no two alike. And same with the mental aspect of the sport. Some guys accept that and some guys hate it.
Q. Just to get back to what Mike was talking about in the introduction, the 15 different winners, I think 12 of them are first‑time winners, and not a lot of those guys have gone on to parlay that into much success on the regular Tour. What does everybody make of it? Has it gone from coincidence to trend, and what’s going on here?
ANDY NORTH: I’ll jump in here. I think when Tiger disappeared for a couple of years, it opened up the door for an awful lot of other players. I mean, for so long he really dictated if guys had chances to win other championships. And it all of a sudden gave some of these guys an opportunity to have some success.
And I know that if you play a lot of practice rounds with three guys and they’re your buddies, and one of them goes out and wins a major, you start thinking, heck, I can beat him. We play all the time, why shouldn’t I be able to win this one.
So I think it’s changed ‑‑ having some guys win that weren’t the normal type players winning I think really opened up the eyes to a lot of other players, and it gave them a lot of confidence to jump in there and do the same.
Now, will we see a Tiger Woods come back and win one of these things again soon and maybe change some of that? I don’t know, but it’s just changed the attitude of a lot of other players.
CURTIS STRANGE: Can I just add to that. Yeah, I think it shows a couple things, that there is a lot of parity in the game. That’s not a demeaning comment. That means they’re all very, very good. The depth of the Tour is greater than ever, and it should be, because it’s the year 2012. With that said, you know, let’s back up just for a moment. If it wasn’t for Tiger Woods, we would be talking about Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson like Tiger Woods because they would have won many more majors. It’s hard to have a conversation without talking about Tiger. But in this sense, yes, he gave them the stage, but if it weren’t for him it would have been Ernie and Phil that would have dominated much more than they did.
I just think as they get older they’re not going to win as often. Somebody will step ahead. Who that is right now, we just don’t know. But I think by having the stage, it’s given a lot of these 12 or 13 or 14 young men that have won majors a chance to gain that confidence and show the world that they can play. You know, we’ll just have to wait and see, and that’s part of the fun for me as a fan and somebody who’s done this, to really kind of speculate and dissect games and try to get in their head to see who is going to step forward, who has the guts to step forward in the game.
MIKE TIRICO: Six of the top 10 in the world haven’t won a major. Eight of the top 13 I think the number is, which is just odd, because the World Rankings ‑‑ it’s very hard to equate what somebody is doing in Miami compared to what somebody is doing in Milan or Munich, but we do know that the best events over the 52 weeks, you kind of get a sense of the players who are the most consistent, the players who are always up there and who win. And to see that six of the top 10 in the world haven’t won a major and three of them have won just one, the only guy in the top 10, probably the top 14 if you go back, in the World Rankings who’s won more than one major is Tiger.
So it’s a very odd time. Will we see guys break through? Will we see somebody consolidate this and take that mantle of having been there and done it and continue on and grow to become the next generation of rivalries that are out there. I think it’s a really unique and interesting time that appeals deeply to those of us who love the game and those of us who watch it every week, and I don’t know if the casual fan is as excited by the next guy who you don’t know stepping onto the stage and doing it.
Q. And the flipside of that would be that Paddy won the first two after Tiger at Torrey Pines, and it looked like maybe we’re going to get the same guys over and over again stepping up. But why do you think that of these guys that have won, few of them have actually parlayed that into much more success? We haven’t really heard of a guy like Lucas Glover being in contention at a major after he won an Open, and he’s kind of like the norm there.
MIKE TIRICO: I’ll defer to the three guys who are on the call who know that your life changes forever when you win a major championship.
PAUL AZINGER: I’ll be brief on this. My situation was different because I got sick after I won the PGA. But I think it becomes a mountaintop experience for a lot of guys, especially when they get into their early 30s. And they capitalize on that monetarily, and they start to run around the world and try to make as much money as they can off of that.
The guy in his 20s is a little different. He has a lot more opportunity.
But it really becomes a mountaintop experience, and there becomes a little bit of a letdown after that, I think, for a lot of guys in my personal opinion there.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, and I agree completely there, but I think the individual has to have discipline and enough intestinal fortitude and enough drive and focus to not let that overtake his career. We’ve seen that in Tiger and Phil in a lot of respects. So I think to be a complete golfer is not just to be able to drive it in the fairway and hit it on the green and make putts. It’s ability to control your career and rise above the opportunities and not run for the dollar. And everybody wants to make a buck, don’t get me wrong, but I think you have to have such a strong will to keep driving yourself to do well.
PAUL AZINGER: I think some of it has to do with age, too, and I love with Rory McIlroy said the other day. He’s quoted as saying he believes his second major will be more special than the first. That guy, he’s young and he’s driven, where when you allude to Lucas Glover, he was a little bit older. He was more well into his career when that happened to him. When you climb Mount Everest, I don’t think you’re going to go rush over and climb Mount Rainier. It’s just one of those things. And maybe that Mount Everest experience causes those guys to just let down just a little bit as they get older.
Q. This is for Paul, Curtis or Andy. It’s been a while since Lee Westwood kind of reinvented himself or rededicated himself or whatever you want to call it. I’m just curious what you think the reason is that he still hasn’t broke through for a major victory.
ANDY NORTH: You know, first of all, he is an incredible player, fabulous ball striker. He might be as good as we have at hitting the ball solidly every single time. He drives the ball well. He does all those things exceptionally well. He has struggled just enough with his putter that you get yourself in a situation to where you have to make an eight‑footer at a critical time, and over the past major championships, whatever, he hasn’t been able to do that.
And I think at a major championship in particular, where the greens get faster, you’ve got maybe a little different conditions, the imagination part and the feel part of putting becomes much more important than just the technical part. I think he still works so hard at his putter that technically he gets so involved in it that sometimes he doesn’t let the feel and the natural athlete within him come out. And he’s got to putt a little bit better. That’s the bottom line.
Q. Question for Mike or Leah. I’m just interested, with Wimbledon and this championship, you’ve chosen to have a tape delay on ABC. I’m wondering how effective that has been. Does it draw any kind of audience? Does it seem to maybe reduce the complaints about this being an all‑cable telecast? What’s the philosophy behind that?
LEAH LaPLACA: Well, I can’t speak to Wimbledon as much, but I think the idea is that we want to have as much coverage available for as many golf fans as possible. ABC has had coverage of The Open Championship since 1966, so we like the tradition of having some coverage available on ABC.
So we’ve been doing the encores and the best‑of shows on ESPN on Thursday and Friday. We opted to do the encore 3:00 to 6:00 shows on ABC just to expand that audience a little bit more, keep some consistency of having Open Championship coverage on ABC.
MIKE TIRICO: Trust Curtis and I, we’ve been doing the encore shows on ABC late in the afternoon at least for a decade; it’s not just with the ESPN deal. Curtis and I have spent many a 10:30, 11:00 on Sunday night doing the wrap‑up show that aired at 6:00 back on the East Coast.
Q. Does it seem to register an audience more so than you normally get in that time slot?
MIKE TIRICO: I don’t know, that’s all Leah’s bailiwick. I just know that ‑‑ what I was pointing out is it hasn’t just started since the Open was on ESPN. We would do an hour recap or 90‑minute recap late in the afternoon that ended right around the time that people are used to watching golf, late in the afternoon on Sundays. We’ve been doing that at the Open because our finish is usually middle afternoon. We’ve been doing that for the last decade.
Q. You’re saying back in the days when ABC did the live telecast?
LEAH LaPLACA: Exactly, yes.
MIKE TIRICO: Yes. We would go off the air around 2:00 eastern time, and then there would be some sort of a highlights show. There was one year that we had a playoff that the live coverage turned right into the recap show, the day went so long. So that’s been going on at ABC for over a decade.
LEAH LaPLACA: Right, exactly. As Mike said, given the time difference with these events in the UK, with Wimbledon and The Open Championship, folks are out, sometimes golfers are playing golf in the mornings eastern time on Saturday and Sunday, we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for fans to be able to see the coverage even if they missed the live coverage happening in the morning.
Q. I would like to address to Mike Tirico, and then if Andy, Paul or Curtis want to jump in, Peter Alliss, a true legend in the sport, obviously this is the only opportunity you get to work with him. Just explain a little bit about what he’s meant to you and how he’s influenced you and how you present this tournament.
MIKE TIRICO: Well, Peter is a walking history of over half The Open Championships, pretty much, and that says a lot considering that we’ve played over 140. Going back to his dad playing, Peter playing, and the time that Peter is on on the BBC broadcasting, this event is a rite of summer for fans in Great Britain. And what he brings to us is not just the understanding for the championship and the history of it but that unique sound and style. Peter can say more with less, and sometimes he will go on and on about people eating ice cream, people passed out because they were drinking too much on a hill, dogs running on the beach, and those are things that only Peter could do, and he does them with aplomb, with great use of the language.
But what always gets lost is Peter’s great depth of knowledge of the game and where it’s come from. While we may get all excited about something that’s happened in the last five or 10 or 15 years, Peter is right there to bring us back to something that happened in The Open Championship in ’58 or ’63, or my dad played with so‑and‑so back in the day.
So for us to have Peter still as a part of our group when he comes over from the BBC is one of the things I look forward to every summer. It’s a treat, and he has been very important to all of us who have covered golf at ABC and now ESPN over my 16 years for sure.
CURTIS STRANGE: Let me just say one thing about Peter. I’ve had the privilege of working with him for a long time at ABC. But he taught me a great deal when I got in this business. I think the one thing I remember the most is Peter always had an ability to simplify things. What I mean by that is we critique, analyze, throw numbers at you, try to justify all of our comments and opinions through stats, and Peter would always seem to come back to the basics of, hey, he drove it in the rough. It was very simple. Or something which made more sense and to me was humorous sometimes, but he just always had a way to simplify things, which brought the viewer and us back to reality that, hey, this is really a tough game and they’re just human.
ANDY NORTH: I’d like to jump in here, also, that Peter is one of those few individuals that you come across in life that if you open up the New York telephone book and had him read six or seven pages you’d be enthralled by it. He is one of those gifted people that is so much fun to be around, and Curtis and I have the great opportunity to work the week following the Open Championship at the Senior British Open Championship. It is a riot. We literally are in a booth together, and we sit and laugh with him and at him basically for four days. It’s just wonderful.
So it’s really a truly great two weeks for all of us to get to see and work with Peter.
PAUL AZINGER: If you haven’t seen Peter’s Hall of Fame speech, you have to Google it. That’s all I’m going to say. Please go see Peter’s Hall of Fame speech. It’s the best.
Q. Kind of a tough one here. Last time around at this venue, Duval won. I’m wondering whether Curtis and Paul can sort of put his career in context.
CURTIS STRANGE: I know David reasonably well. David is a good guy. He’s a well‑read, thoughtful guy. I think what Paul just said made a lot of sense about David Duval. He climbed that mountain, and when he got on top, he really didn’t like what he saw and the things that came along with being the best in the game. David was a wonderful talent, and we were all waiting for him to win his first tournament, then we waited for him to win his first major, and he accomplished those things, became the No. 1 player in the world, and David just kind of sat back, and I don’t think he really enjoyed it a great deal.
With that, I don’t know which came first, the mental fatigue which affected the game or just loss of interest in the game, but whatever the case is, I think David is a prime example of kind of liked to be behind the scenes, play golf, but didn’t like a lot of the attention.
Q. Curtis, do you think Duval is happier now? He seems to be; two kids of his own, instant family, doing the paternal thing?
CURTIS STRANGE: I got a chance to spend some time with David at the U.S. Open. He did some work with us at ESPN. He was very much like that. He was relaxed ‑‑ I’m sure he’d like to play better golf and maybe have a little more drive, but he’s ‑‑ I don’t know really how old he’s getting now, but he seems very, very happy and happy with life right now, yes.
PAUL AZINGER: I think David is an example of ‑‑ I think Curtis hit the nail on the head. He had that mountaintop experience, he got on top, and rather than have the letdown because he climbed Mount Everest, I think he looked up there and didn’t really like what he saw, but I think sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you lose it, and David Duval wanted to get it back in a big way once he fell off that mountain.
I think injury hurt him a little bit. He’s a quirky guy, David Duval is. He’s extremely bright. And I just think that once he got up there, he maybe didn’t like what he saw, but when he fell down or fell off that mountaintop, he wanted it back in a big way, it just didn’t happen for him and ended up being kind of a tragic scene really to watch him play the way he’s played, but he’s handled it with great dignity.
Q. A Tiger Woods question hopefully that wasn’t covered in the first five minutes when I wasn’t on: As Tiger has worked his way now to where he’s got the three wins this year, do you sense a greater impatience, I guess particularly on the part of the golf fan, for him to actually get the major, or has it calmed the fans down a little bit more, I suppose?
CURTIS STRANGE: On the Tiger question, I think that my personal opinion is I’m not so sure the public is waiting for Tiger to win a major as the media is. I know they have questions on is he back. That’s the catch phrase of the day, that kind of thing. I think as far as the players, they watch him play. The comments are just spectacular, stunning on how complimentary they are on how he’s playing. He’s only the three‑time winner on Tour this year. He’s leading the Money List, I think, and all the above. I think he’s playing pretty damned good. Certainly he’s not playing as consistent as he would like because we never saw him miss cuts before, and that’s a little bit misleading, I think, with he and Phil. I think they do so much to peak for the Open, the U.S. Open, the Masters and the PGA.
I expect him to do well, I really do. I think he has plenty of experience in the Open Championship. I think he can get away with some driving the ball erratically over there more so than in the U.S. Open Championship, and I think he can iron it, and his imagination and short game is still very sharp.
ANDY NORTH: I think there’s one person that’s been a little impatient about Tiger winning a major championship, and that’s Tiger himself. We saw him at Augusta when he looked like he was playing well, looked like he got frustrated with himself. At the Open, the first two rounds, I think he played as well as I’ve seen him play in about four or five years, hitting the ball right on the button, controlling his distance, doing the things he wanted to do the first two days, and he got behind the 8‑ball a little bit and it looked like he got a little bit frustrated on the weekend.
I think for the first time in his career it looks like he’s maybe trying harder at major championships because he knows he desperately needs to get that first major championship win again, and we’ll see how he handles next week.
PAUL AZINGER: The reality is your golf swing is only as good as your putter. And the difference is Tiger now and then is that I wouldn’t bet on him probably, as much as I might have bet on him in the past. He’s just kind of not the same. He’s older, and who’s ever done what he’s done? He’s 10 years ahead of Jack Nicklaus in total wins. He’s eight or nine years ahead of where Sam Snead was in total wins. He’s established a bar that’s just something that’s not attainable, and then of course after the mishap and his life changed, I think he’s a lot more human, and I don’t know what we expect out of him. More than he can deliver.
As far as majors are concerned, Andy hit the nail on the head. He may be pressing a little bit now, who knows. But I think the whole golf swing thing, everybody on Tour’s swing is as good as their putter will let it be.
CURTIS STRANGE: Let’s remember one thing about The Open Championship. You can lose it just because of your tee times if the weather turns badly in your favor, okay. So if he doesn’t do well, if Phil doesn’t do well, if Westwood doesn’t do well, whoever it might be, Luke Donald, it might not be because of their play, it might be because they’re behind the 8‑ball to start with, and they might play well, finish well, but really have an impossible task of winning. We have to always keep that in mind at the Open Championship.
Q. Is it possible for even Tiger Woods to try too hard?
ANDY NORTH: Absolutely. Every single one of us does that. There’s such a fine line between just going out there playing relaxed and free and then trying to make stuff happen. And generally when you start doing that, it’s when you’re not making putts. And it’s hard to make putts when you’re trying to make putts. You’ve got to just let it happen. You know, every single good player has gone through that.
PAUL AZINGER: I think it’s just gotten to the point where he was so good, you don’t even look at Tiger as human anymore, but he still feels the pressure like everybody else. He got more comfortable with it because he’s in contention more often, but it’s real pressure and he feels it, he’s human. I think he became something beyond human in some respects in all of our eyes, so he feels it like everybody else, he just dealt with it better.
Q. We remember Tiger winning at Hoylake where the course was burned out and he was hitting stingers down the fairway, and I think the conditions were similar when at St. Andrews. It’s supposed to rain next week, but as Curtis mentioned, the luck of the draw. He fell into that at Birkdale. But how would windy, rainy conditions affect him? Would it work against him or would it make any difference at all?
ANDY NORTH: Personally I think it probably helps him relative to the field. I think he is as strong or stronger mentally. I think that’s a big part of that. He really can flight his golf ball, and he’s proven to us that he can really play in bad weather and wind and all kinds of other conditions.
I go back to, of all The Open Championships I’ve been to, I think the only one I can remember, and maybe someone can chime in on this, Tirico particularly, that Lytham was the only place we actually had a rainout. We had rain there so bad that we had to play the next day. They stopped play completely that particular day. That was maybe ’88 or whenever it was there last, that time. Do you know that, Mike, for a fact?
MIKE TIRICO: Yep, that was one of the Seve two there. Not in ’01, the last time we were there when Duval won, and not ’96 when Lehman won there, but before that. Yeah, one of the two Seve Opens.
ANDY NORTH: Yeah, because I actually was playing in that one, and the water ‑‑ there was little lakes on half of the greens, which doesn’t happen over there very often.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s the big question of the day. If he’s playing well, he’s better than everybody else in the field. If he’s not, he’s average. It just depends on which Tiger shows up. And we of late have seen two different Tigers. Is he going to play like he did in 2000‑2001? No. But if he comes and shows up and plays well, he’s still better than everybody else. So yes, it’s to his advantage when you have conditions out there. He has the ability, the guts and the imagination to hit different shots, versus take the other end of the spectrum, a Bubba Watson. Bubba can curve it a lot, but can Bubba play on the ground? Can Bubba keep the ball low on the ground? Can he do things that he doesn’t do in the States on a day‑to‑day basis? I don’t think so right now. It doesn’t mean he can’t learn to do it.
So you’ve got to look at those situations. Can Lee Westwood out‑strike the ball better than everybody else? Probably, but can he make putts. Everybody has got strengths and weaknesses, and I still think when Tiger is near on his game, he has more strengths than anybody else.
PAUL AZINGER: I agree, and the reason you watch is to find out how it all is going to unfold. The real question is in the bad conditions, you tend to kind of just fall back on instincts, and if Tiger’s instincts are his new swing now and he has ownership of his new swing, then his instincts are going to be an advantage to him. If his instincts at this point, this deep in, are to go back to what he was doing with Hank, then he’s going to be in trouble.
Again, that’s what makes Tiger so compelling. He’s trying something different again. But change is as good as the rest. Who knows, maybe changing coaches is what keeps him going, gets him out the door. But when I look at Tiger now and he owns this new swing, and his instincts are to continue doing what he’s doing, he’ll be great. If his instincts are to revert back, he’ll be all over the place.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s a good point, Paul. I think some of the change has been because of boredom. We all go through it. We want to see if something else works, and certainly he has the ability to hit it a lot of different ways. But I think some of that to make these changes is just that.