Normally, the way some sportscasters and some of the participants have been analogizing this week's World Match Play Championships to the NCAA basketball tournament would feel more like hype than legitimate.
But, surprisingly, most of the comparisons hold up, especially when you put each under the microscope. For instance, each has 64 contestants with a one-and-done format that pays out millions of dollars.
So far, the biggest difference between the two events is that in March, relative no-names like Campbell or Valparaiso get in and usually get right out. However, the talent gap from top to bottom in the Match Play Championships is small enough so that anyone can win, witness the first two days, where nine of the top 10 seeds were bounced, save for top seed Tiger Woods.
"These are the best players anywhere playing with a lot of pressure, and some intimidation," said former player Curtis Strange.
Strange, who will analyze the proceedings this weekend for ABC, says the fear factor will be omnipresent this weekend from the La Costa course in Carlsbad, California. After all, one bad match or a pairing against a hot golfer could send you home.
And the match-play format, used mostly at the amateur level, may help send the professionals looking for heartburn medicine.
"These guys are used to playing against the course, but now they have to play an opponent all day long, and that takes some adjustment," said Strange. "Your opponent's play dictates how you play and it's much more of a crapshoot."
Strange joins Judy Rankin and Mark McCumber as analysts, with Mike Tirico hosting. ABC (Channel 2) will carry eight hours of coverage this weekend, beginning tomorrow and Sunday at 2 p.m. ESPN, meanwhile, will air today's session, starting at 3 p.m.
Starting Monday, ESPN Classic is undergoing a full-body makeover, with a new programming lineup that includes theme weeks, and a sport-specific weeknight prime-time schedule.
For instance, the Monday night lineup is devoted to golf and baseball shows, while Tuesday will have NFL and boxing-related programs. Wednesday is the night for college football and either the NBA or ESPN's "SportsCentury" series. On Thursdays, it's baseball and the NFL, with a documentary series and auto racing shows on Friday. The Saturday slate has the NHL, followed by boxing and college basketball shows. Sunday nights will feature golf and a show selected by viewers via Internet voting.
This weekend, ESPN Classic will zero in on great conference tournament games from the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences. Leading it off tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., with a repeat Sunday at noon, is the 1974 ACC final between Maryland and North Carolina State, perhaps the greatest game ever played. If you've only heard about this contest, be sure to set the VCR.
Getting set for the 64
CBS has put together its menu of play-by-play announcers, color analysts and sideline reporters, who will bring all the pageantry and spectacle of the NCAA men's basketball tournament into your homes, beginning March 11.
Get ready to clip and save this list, noting that the sideliners are in parentheses:
Jim Nantz-Billy Packer (Bonnie Bernstein); Sean McDonough-Bill Raftery (Michele Tafoya); Verne Lundquist-Al McGuire (Armen Keteyian); Gus Johnson-Dan Bonner (John Dockery); Tim Brando-James Worthy (Beth Mowins); Kevin Harlan-Jon Sundvold (Mike Harris); Ian Eagle-Jim Spanarkel (Mike Mayock) and Craig Bolerjack-Rolando Blackman (Jimmy Dykes).
The first four teams will all advance to work the next weekend's regionals, while Nantz and Packer will man the Final Four. Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg will head up studio coverage and we won't get any Dean Smith before the Final Four.
Or so we hope.
Around the dial
WCBM (680 AM) has decided to fill the void left by Phil Wood's departure with a syndicated show, "Sports Byline USA," out of San Francisco and hosted by Ron Barr, starting Monday at 10 p.m.
And, by way of clarification, yesterday's item regarding Wood's leaving should have made clear that the topic was the state of sports talk radio in Baltimore, not WCBM specifically.
There's a ton of basketball this weekend. CBS (Channel 13) has men's college tripleheaders tomorrow and Sunday, both at noon. Sunday's lineup is fierce, when Tennessee plays host to Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division crown, followed by Connecticut taking on Syracuse with a share of the Big East title up for grabs, culminating with Michigan State traveling to Purdue.
Locally, the Maryland men close out their regular season tomorrow at Florida State (Channel 54, 1: 30 p.m.), and George Washington takes on Xavier in an Atlantic 10 matchup tomorrow (ESPN, noon).
Four of the top women's conferences will determine their tournament champions this weekend. The SEC title game airs Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2, which will also have the Atlantic 10 showdown at 5 p.m. Monday, followed by the Big Ten title contest at 7: 30 p.m. Meanwhile, the ACC tournament will get extended coverage on Home Team Sports, which airs a quarterfinal tomorrow at 1: 30, the semifinals Sunday at 1 and 3: 30 and the championship game Monday night at 8.
Finally, the NBC Sunday tripleheader has Miami-Orlando at 12: 30 p.m., the Jazz-Spurs at 3 p.m. and the Lakers host to Houston afterward, all on Channel 11.
Pub Date: 2/26/99