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Mixed reviews for Fox's U.S. Open coverage

Sportscaster Joe Buck watches pre-game warmups before a

Sportscaster Joe Buck watches pre-game warmups before a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in Philadelphia. Credit: AP / Michael Perez

Avid golf fans are second only to soccer fans when it comes to crankiness levels in the face of change in TV coverage.

But for moments such as the final rounds of the soccer World Cup or golf's U.S. Open, networks should and do cater to those of us who watch only the biggest events.

As Fox's Joe Buck told me last week, "If somebody calls themselves a traditional golf TV viewer, there's not much we can do to chase them away. But [maybe] we can bring some new viewers to this and maybe hip it up and bring it into the next decade."

So give Fox credit for doing what it always has done by experimenting with innovations in its U.S. Open debut.

The shot tracer worked well, even though Fox often had trouble finding balls at the other end of the parabola thanks in part to Chambers Bay's relentless beige-ness. And audio enhancements allowed for invaluable eavesdropping on eventual winner Jordan Spieth and his caddie.

Also, bonus points for going commercial-free for the last hour of action!

But not all was well as Fox worked out the kinks. For example: Greg Norman has the personality and knowledge to become a strong analyst, but he will need some guidance.

Mr. Shark, sir: It's OK to talk, or at least whisper, about strategy when a guy is lining up three consecutive putts on the 72nd hole -- the first to win the U.S. Open, the second to send it to a playoff and the third to lose it.

Then things went journalistically awry during post-tournament coverage.

It started with a brief, awkward interview of Spieth during which Holly Sonders . . . well, let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was doing a clever parody of a sideline reporter. She was hardly alone, though.

No one asked analyst Norman, who coughed up a tournament or two in his time, whether he could sympathize with Dustin Johnson until Buck got around to it 31 minutes after the fact.

It took 13 minutes for Fox to replay Johnson's missed putts on the final hole, and there never was a deeply detailed analysis (or extreme close-up, or ground-level angle) to decipher what precisely went wrong.

The post-three-putt commentary was all over the place, actually, making it impossible not to wonder what NBC's Johnny Miller would have had to say, but his next gig at a major will not be until the 2017 British Open. Tom Weiskopf in particular seemed less useful than he should have been.

There also never was an explanation of why Johnson was not interviewed during the Fox telecast. (He did talk to a few journalists who caught up with him, but he did not talk to Fox or sit for a formal news conference.)

There was an essay over a video montage by an Irish fellow named Shane O'Donoghue -- who called Bobby Jones' 1930 Grand Slam the "impregnable quadrilateral," a phrase writers actually used at the time -- while Fox ignored Spieth's remarks to the crowd at the 18th hole.

In fairness, NBC and CBS have been doing these sorts of events forever, and golf has a steeper learning curve than other sports given its sprawling, complicated nature.

Plus, in addition to Fox's money, the USGA wanted its outside-the-box thinking, and it got that. But Fox has refining to do before next June when it hits Oakmont -- where the grass is green. So that should help.

The final-round dramatics did help ratings that had been mediocre before Sunday, considering the advantages of a West Coast Open with four prime-time windows.

Sunday's nearly nine-hour show averaged 6.7 million viewers, easily beating the historically low 4.6 million that NBC averaged last year. But NBC's coverage was not in prime time.

New York Sports