ESPN will not begin its full-boat, live Masters coverage earlier than the planned 4-7:30 p.m. window Thursday and Friday, so it will have to cover the majority of Tiger Woods' first two rounds at the Masters via hourly cut-ins throughout the day and recaps once it goes on the air at 4.
That is according to ESPN executives, speaking on a conference call Tuesday about their coverage of the event, which starts Wednesday with coverage of the par three tournament that proceeds the actual championship.
ESPN is covering the first two rounds before handing it off to CBS, though it will produce 3D coverage of all four rounds that is being distributed by Comcast. But ESPN will continue to cover it as a news story throughout the weekend.
Asked on the call whether ESPN had sought to expand its live coverage given the interest in Tiger, John Wildhack, ESPN EVP of programming and acquisitions, said he was comfortable with the 4-7:30 window, and pointed to the live cut-ins, which he said could be as long as 5-7 minutes. He also pointed out that ESPN would go live to the opening tee shot for Tiger on Thursday afternoon. "Every meaningful shot he hits will be shown in some capacity," said Wildhack.
Don't look for ESPN commentators to spend a lot of time recapping Tiger's recent troubles in any detail.
Host Mike Tirico said that unless they have been living under a rock, viewers know what has happened and been talked about for months in every medium, adding that there would be plenty to talk about in what was going on in the golf tournament. Former major champion Curtis Strange did add that the issue of Tiger's four-month layoff from professional golf (following revelations of serial infidelity) would come up as it related to Tiger's play, saying it could not help but affect it.
Tiger's return to pro golf has become the back, side, and front story of the tournament, but Tirico says that may actually take the pressure off the other players, since they have all essentially been under the radar.
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