TIGER'S back, Rory is is on the way to superstardom and, for the first time, the United Kingdom goes into a Masters boasting the top three players in the world. But the announcement that the BBC has lost four days more of its already sparse golf coverage signifies that no one has informed the corporation of the game's health.
In truth, the BBC's golfing portfolio hasn't got much left to dwindle. This year it will show six days of live professional men's golf; just seven years ago it showed 24. BSkyB has secured exclusive rights to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and the Scottish Open, meaning that the terrestrial channel has lost the weekend action from both these events. So, for the first time since the European Tour was founded in 1972, the BBC will broadcast no live coverage. It will be restricted to showing highlights.
The fear must be that when the Masters contract is renegotiated next year, the BBC will give up live coverage of the third and fourth rounds, having already conceded the first two rounds to BSkyB, which has all four days of the season's first major. That would then leave only The Open Championship. At least that contract has been signed through to 2016.
Last night, the mutterings from inside the BBC were pointing the finger at the European Tour for caving into the demands of BSkyB. Yet despite the digital channel signing up to show a minimum of 28 European Tour events, it is understood the Tour was keen for the BBC to carry on broadcasting at least a few days of live action. As part of the deal with the R&A, the BBC still holds the rights to the Women's British Open and the Walker Cup, yet any claims on its continued obligation to golf will be received with a smirk.
In contrast, BSkyB has sent a huge workforce here to Augusta. The new deal guarantees it the next four Ryder Cups, as well as all four of the World Golf Championships. "Our viewers have seen the growth of the Tour, the rise of the Ryder Cup and European golfers on top of the world rankings," said Barney Francis, the managing director of Sky Sports. "Now they can be promised even more."
George O'Grady, the European Tour's chief executive, emphasised the "commitment". "The Tour has unquestionably benefited from this outstanding commitment over those previous agreements, during which time we have seen so much new talent emerge," he said.
The BBC may come under further flak here this week, with the revelation that Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, has been taken off Test Match Special duty at the second Test in Colombo to conduct post-round Masters interviews behind the 18th green.
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