UNLESS YOU'REhooked on the Big Break or infomercials, it has probably been a few monthssince you've watched much Golf Channel, but with the return of the PGA Tourlast week, it was once again time to crank the cable box up into the tripledigits. What you found when you got there probably looked the same butdifferent.
Last May,Comcast, which owns Golf Channel, brought in Tom Stathakes to run the show.Stathakes, who had been the head of news and programming for CSN, Comcast'sregional sports networks, imported a simple plan, which is hitting the smallscreen now. "I just wanted to make it better," he says. "Whenpeople think of Golf Channel, I want them to think we're on the same playingfield as the broadcast networks."
Technologicallythat means more than 2,100 hours of high-definition programming on a newdedicated HD channel (previously shared with Versus). It also means that theuniversally applauded Putting Line graphic is joined by Shot Trail, whichtracks the ball's flight in the air, and Virtual Eye, which gives an overheadperspective of the next shot. Behind the scenes Stathakes has brought in a raftof new talent, including Jack Graham, an ABC veteran, to produce the tournamentcoverage. In front of the camera Frank Nobilo and Brandel Chamblee will jointhe tournament team to add new views and voices. In the main booth Paul Azingerwill sit in for four events, rejoining his old partner Nick Faldo for at leasta few of them. That should take the pressure to fill time off Faldo, lettinghim save his comments for when he's got something good to say, and it couldalso turn Kelly Tilghman into more of a traffic cop.
Tilghman, who'sbeen something of a critical lightning rod, will work 17 of the channel's 46Tour broadcasts, and while the rumors of her imminent demise are untrue, allbets are off for 2010. "It's a big year for our talent," Stathakessays. "We're going to assess everyone and see what they can do. We're notgoing to rush into anything." Instead, he says, "We're going to workwith the talent, sit down with them and say, What were you thinking here? Or:Why did you say that there? They're not used to that here, but I think it'sgood. People like to get feedback." That, after all, is how they do it atthe networks.
• WHAT'S IN aname? If you're Jesper Parnevik, an awful lot. Parnevik earned the first of hisfive career wins at the 1998 Phoenix Open and commemorated the feat by naminghis only son (born in 2001) Phoenix. Last week Parnevik, who hasn't won since'01 and finished 143rd on the '08 money list, received a sponsor's exemption tothe event now known as the FBR Open. Was his son's name a factor in thedecision? No one's saying for sure, but it's tough to turn down a guy who namedhis kid after your tournament. Maybe Jesper should have dubbed one of his otherthree children (all daughters) Augusta.
Alan Shipnuck'sHot List, exclusively at GOLF.com.
"You can't make a living betting againstTiger."?
—MY SHOT, PAGE G16
KEY STAT 8
Number of consecutive wins by international players at the Mercedes.
HE SAID | HE SAID
The secret to a strong start is being rested ... or isit?
"Yeah, I feel very fresh. I haven't had so muchtime off, ever. I had like seven or eight weeks off out of nine, so it waspretty nice."
"We only finished the Australian Open three weeksago, and I played three tournaments in five weeks, and three weeks isn't longenough to get rusty."
PAUL WHITE/AP (SNOWSTORM)
THE RAIN IN SPAIN The snow in Madrid rarely sticks to the ground, but a surprisingly strong storm last week caused major problems around the city and had frosted golfers longing for colored range balls.
ROBERT BECK (ELS)
ROBERT BECK (OGILVY)