Big Monty and the plastic Palmer band
Sport on TV
Sunday 13 April 1997
It is a well-known fact that the powers-that-be at Augusta pay obsessive attention to the grooming of the plant life on the National course. Now it seems they have gone one stage further and done away with untidy, unpredictable human spectators, instead installing leisure-suited automata programmed to sit absolutely still until Arnold Palmer walks up the fairway, whereupon they burst into whoops and screams regardless of the fact that he is one squillion over par.
The BBC's coverage was once again exemplary, Messrs Alliss, Marr and Hay murmuring informatively and staying one step ahead of the ferocious American editors, who hop from green to green like bunnies on dexedrine. The one thing a BBC golf commentator can't afford to do is miss the cut.
Steve Rider was the anchor, and it was gratifying to see this personable and professional operator with a job he could get his teeth into: he has been too long in Des Lynam's massive, moustachioed shadow.
Some of the best bits of the BBC coverage occur when the American networks go for their frequent advertisement breaks, and Rider is left to fill the gaps with a guest. His chatting partner on Thursday night was Colin Montgomerie, who can on occasion prove a tricky interviewee. Indeed, sitting next to Monty in irascible mood is akin to picnicking on the slopes of a live volcano.
But the Scot had survived the first round with a healthy score for the first time in his Masters career, and shared his views on the first day's pin positions with due deference to the Augusta authorities, who do not look smilingly on snipers.
"They can stop you scoring on this course," Montgomerie observed, having taken a deep breath to steady his pulse rate, "and they have done that today on those greens. The front nine is probably the hardest nine holes of golf I've ever played as a pro. It was a battle, believe me, a real battle." There was some consolation in this encounter for Rider: he might have missed out on the glamour of Monte Carlo when he was denied the ITV Grand Prix job, but he did get the low-down on the Monty Par Low.
Aside from today's big race in Buenos Aires, ITV's main sporting event of the week were the European football encounters in Germany and France. Clive Tyldesley was despatched to Parc des Princes to commentate on Liverpool v Paris St Germain. "It's Paris in the spring-time," he announced with his customary adenoidal vehemence, "the most romantic time and place on Earth, and who am I here with? Ron Atkinson." Fair comment. Say what you like about Big Ron, Juliette Binoche he ain't.
Tyldesley didn't linger on his hard luck, being too busy going over the top with his research. As the Liverpool team marched out, he noted that the occasion was "a nostalgic return for many of them to the scene of their 1981 European Cup success over Real Madrid." No matter that most of the team were barely out of nappies 16 years ago.
Liverpool were terrible, and Atkinson was duly censorious. "That was scruffy, untidy and untimely defending," he noted as Paris tucked away the first of their three goals. If French television had been subtitling the English commentators, they could have put it thus: "Bon, Ron?" "Non."
Bob Wilson led the half-time discussion, and was in his usual scintillating form, particularly when setting the scene. "The Eiffel Tower is shimmering brightly in the night sky of Paris," he began, poetically, but then inspiration deserted him: "and - why not?"
They Think It's All Over (BBC1) is back, and in rude health. Phil Tufnell guested on David Gower's team, and was offered the warm welcome traditional to the show. "They call him 'The Cat'," Nick Hancock, the host, said, explaining: "Too much grass and he throws up."
Tufnell was the target of numerous scurrilous drug-related jibes, but got his own back when asked to comment (for reasons too bizarre to go into) on a photograph of Rory McGrath in a frog-shaped loin-cloth. "Looks like a nasty croak habit to me," the Middlesex spin-meister quipped.
In the "Sporting Excuses" slot, Wimbledon's Robbie Earle explained his team's mid-season improvement. "The owner, Sam Hamman, threatened to take us to the opera, or to a Lebanese restaurant where they serve sheeps' testicles." Never mind the penalty aria: for once, the Crazy Gang's hard men pulled out of a sheepish tackle.
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