Saturday, May 05, 2007

Third round at Quail Hollow was a thriller

How good was that?

It’s hard to think how the third round of the Wachovia Championship could have been any better.

Three of the central characters - Rory Sabbatini, Vijay Singh and Arron Oberholser - holed out for eagle on par-4 holes.

Tiger Woods made four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to take the outright lead.

Phil Mickelson moved within a stroke of the lead for a time until a double-bogey at the 18th sucker-punched him.

OK, so it took longer than it should have - Woods using a racing analogy saying it was golf under a yellow flag - but it was great theater.

And it very nearly wasn’t seen by anyone not on the Quail Hollow property.
There was a very real chance that when CBS went off the air at 6 p.m.

Saturday - about the time Woods and Singh were making the turn - that television coverage would end.

But Wachovia executives got on the phone early Saturday and began brokering a deal to move the coverage to The Golf Channel after 6 p.m.

It wasn’t automatic nor easy. And it wasn’t what many title sponsors could pull off, but Wachovia executives took an aggressive approach - and perhaps an expensive one - to keep their event on the air.

If it cost some CBS talent dinner at a local steakhouse, it was worth it for golf fans everywhere. The Golf Channel had to be ecstatic, getting two-plus hours of Tiger, Phil, Rory and Vijay when they were scheduled to be showing Leonard Thompson and Scott Hoch at a Champions Tour event.
The luxury of just clicking the remote was a great bonus and a show of the commitment to making the tournament special.

Now comes the final round when the wind is expected to kick up and the day begins with Sabbatini one stroke ahead of Woods.

Sabbatini was recently voted the player others on tour least like to play in a Sports Illustrated poll because he’s brash and cocky. He’s taken a strong stand against slow play, but he hasn’t always been gentle about it.
The final pairing with Woods should be an interesting study in personalities. Woods starts a stroke behind, but he will be the name everyone is watching on the leader board.

Arron Oberholser and Singh can’t be overlooked. Mickelson, though, may be too far behind.

It has been a terrific week. One more day to go.