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PGA’s Back on Golf

The Golf Channel teed off live PGA Tour coverage from the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii last weekend, showcasing a new on-air look, new production elements and the first woman to supply full-time play-by-play for the circuit.

The Comcast-owned links network returned to live Professional Golfers’ Association action for the first time since 2002, when most of its coverage was absorbed by USA Network under a rights deal for the 2003-06 seasons.

Golf got back into that game in November 2005, through a 15-year strategic partnership that now makes it the exclusive cable home for the PGA tour, as well as the circuit’s biggest TV partner, with 15 full four-round events, beginning with the season’s first three tournaments.

Moreover, the network will provide first- and second-round coverage on Thursdays and Fridays for 33 other events throughout the season, setting up weekend action on CBS and NBC, whose deals cover the 2007-12 seasons.

All told, with its live coverage, plus primetime replays of its Thursday and Friday telecasts, Golf expects to offer almost 800 hours of PGA course action in 2007.

“The plan right now is for us to replay the entire three-hour telecast on Thursday and Friday afternoons on those nights. That should be a great platform for those who have to work or are playing,” president David Manougian said.

He believes that the combination of Golf’s live telecasts and the replays will surpass USA’s performance with the PGA: the characters network averaged a 0.7 household rating with its weekday telecasts during the 2006 and 2005 seasons, according to Nielsen Media Research data.

Those drawn to Golf for the first time with the PGA these past few days witnessed some images not typically seen on network coverage of the sport.

There were views from its impact camera — via a lipstick-sized device at the front of the tees — and eyecam, which provides overhead boom looks of the players.

There were also split-screen shots of the golfers reacting to the flight of their shots.

“Some viewers will be joining us with the PGA, so they may not have seen some of the production values we provide on the coverage of the other tours,” Manougian said.

In addition, Golf was scheduled to unveil the Mutual of Omaha Aim Point, a graphic akin to football telecast’s virtual first-down that will depict the proper putting path to the cup.

“It will be very interesting,” Manougian said. “There are some real undulating holes at [The Plantation Course in Maui].”

The network will also introduce Win Zone, a software program that will compute the probability that any player will win the tournament after sinking a putt on each green. A spokesman for Golf said that such criteria as past performance and course layout will be calculated in making those determinations that will be displayed on-screen.

Meanwhile, Kelly Tilghman, who has worked as co-anchor of Golf Central and hosted such original series as Academy Live and The Grey Goose 19th Hole, began her duties as the first woman calling play-by-play full time in the history of the PGA.

She has been teamed with analyst Nick Faldo, a six-time Grand Slam winner and member of CBS and ABC’s golf crew.