CBS long favored moving the PGA Championship from August to May, and so it came to pass, starting next week at Bethpage Black.
What no one anticipated was that the move would coincide with an extraordinary stroke of luck, or more to the point, 275 strokes from Tiger Woods en route to winning the Masters last month.
“This is unquestionably one of the great cases of serendipity when it comes to scheduling that I’ve ever seen in the sports broadcasting world,” CBS’ Jim Nantz said Wednesday on a conference call to promote the event.
He was not necessarily exaggerating.
“You had to really bring together a lot of the governing bodies of the sport to execute this one move,” Nantz said. “And who could have ever forecast that the PGA Championship would walk into Year One of this coming on the heels of one of the greatest moments in the history of the sport?
“So the PGA Championship definitely hit the lottery with the move in 2019.”
Even before what CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus called “the greatest comeback in the history of sports” by Woods, the move was viewed as a no-brainer by many, among other reasons for continuity’s sake.
In previous decades, Woods would have had to wait two months to play in another major. The new calendar offers a major every month from April to July.
“We said all along that moving to May would be better from an ad sales standpoint, and it definitely has been, and we think it’s going to be from a ratings standpoint and an overall interest standpoint,” McManus said.
“So for us, for CBS, and for the sport of golf, that’s a win.”
This is the final year of CBS’ current deal with the PGA, but a new one kicks in in 2020. This will be the last year in which TNT shows the first two rounds; ESPN will assume that role next May.
Naturally, having Woods in contention through Sunday would be ideal for the network and the tournament itself.
Analyst Nick Faldo expressed concern on the call that Woods has not played competitively since the Masters, that the temperatures at Bethpage could be unusually cool, and that the rough could be challenging.
“If he hits in the rough at Bethpage Black he will not be able to scramble like he did at Augusta National,” Faldo said, adding, “We have to just go back a couple of notches with our expectations.”
Regarding Woods’ layoff, Faldo said that as a golfer ages, “You need to play competitively somewhere in between the majors to just loosen things up and see where your game is, simple as that.”
Nantz cautioned against thinking the rough will be as challenging as it was for the U.S. Opens at Bethpage in 2002 and 2009.
“The PGA likes birdies,” Nantz said. “I promise you it’s not going to look anything like it did in those two Opens.”
About an hour into the call, with no questions having been asked about defending champion Brooks Koepka, Nantz called it “borderline tragic” how little attention Koepka has received, given his performance in majors over the past three-plus years.
“In my mind, he’s the favorite,” Nantz said.
Perhaps, but Woods is the star.
“The atmosphere is going to be manic,” Faldo said. “I can imagine we are going to be in a buzz from the moment he steps on the grounds until hopefully late Sunday evening again.”