Sport on TV: Distressed Duval gives way to sunk Cink

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The Independent Online
THEY CAME in search of paradise - and found it until the rain came, and Augusta buckled in the storm just like any old golf course.

For we couch potatoes, the Masters is one of the year's highlights, with all that high-grade golf played out amid delicious vistas and shifting shadows. But when the sun had disappeared on Thursday (BBC1 and BBC2) and the drizzle fell, it could almost have been the local Municipal.

It looked as it if it felt like that, too, for the unfortunates who hadn't yet finished their rounds. The hitherto invincible David Duval, in particular, was put well out of his stride by the enforced delay. He seemed to be losing his literal and metaphorical grip, his eyes looking increasingly haunted, especially when his ball bade the 10th fairway goodbye and bounced off a tree.

After the rain, it was dull and windy, and most of the spectators had gone home. Indeed, the rain seemed to have leeched away the atmosphere along with them. "It's a most extraordinary Masters for me," said commentator Peter Alliss, "because it's all gone a bit dead."

The first round was like a skiing event - the earlier out you were, the better you did. There were a few unhappy sorts out there, and if Duval looked "distressed", as co-commentator Alex Hay observed, he wasn't the only one. Mickelson was looking miffed, Parnevik pissed off, Lickliter lost and Cink sunk. (Quite literally, as it turned out, at least in terms of his ball, which described an elegant arc before landing in the water, leaving him with the expression of a man who has just had proof positive that God is not on his side, and that his wife has run off with his caddie.)

The officials have done much recently to make the course a little tougher, including (gasp) laying down a bit of rough here and there - though it's all relative, Augusta rough being, as Hay said, "like a day the greenkeeper forgot to mow the fairway."

With a few players still to reach the clubhouse, the bad light hooter sounded - "unless," Alliss pondered, "it's the old lonesome train whistle in the distance." There were some beautiful shots in the fading light - camera shots that is, of sumptuous pastel glades in the gloaming and what looked like sci-fi pods rolling the greens, their headlights penetrating the drop-dead gorgeous dusk.

In fact, the thought occurred, why not have floodlit golf? Courses would be more difficult to negotiate, naturally, but that would be part of the fun. It would look fantastic on the telly, and, let's face it, that's the prime consideration these days. And whispering Peter Alliss would be perfect to round it off.

If Alliss's commentaries are (mostly) sublime, the ridiculous is alive and well and flourishing in the BBC's Superbike coverage. Last Monday at Thruxton (BBC2), Barry Nutley came on like Tom Waits on angel dust, or Mutley after 40 years on 60 a day.

"And he's turning the corner!" was a typical Nutley cry. His heroes are clearly Murray Walker and Jonathan Pearce, and you wondered what he would do when something interesting happened. The race provided fantastic pictures, but Nutley's tar-lunged roars added nothing to the atmosphere.

The downside of ranting commentators was underlined at the race's three- way climax won by James Haydon. It was a genuinely dramatic finale, but for Nutley, who had already taken his voice as far as he could, and though he upped the gravel factor, in terms of intensity there was nowhere to go.

Back in Augusta, the Beeb filled the rain delay with a repeat of Alan Hansen's evocative look at the tournament's history (The Magic of the Masters, BBC2, Monday). He'd probably make a reasonable commentator himself, and at one point he came across like the rabid-dog figure he cuts on Match of the Day. It was during his account of the shot Larry Mize played before the wonder-shot that beat Greg Norman in 1987: "An absolutely shocking shot," roared Hansen. Why don't the Beeb team him up with Alliss?