CBS to Golf Team: No Tiger Talk
By Stephanie Wei under General

Wondering why Ian Baker-Finch and Gary McCord dodged questions about Tiger Woods? They were asked to keep their mouths shut. CBS executives suggested to their golf talent not to discuss Tiger publicly until the network’s golf coverage starts the new season next week.

In mid-December an Australian newspaper reported that CBS announcer Ian Baker-Finch had received a gag order from the network:

“Mate, if I say one word about Tiger I will get fired,” Baker-Finch said before playing in Australia’s richest one-day pro-am at Wynnum Golf Club today.

And more recently SI’s Farrell Evans asked CBS golf analyst Gary McCord, “When is Tiger coming back?” The usually outspoken McCord, whose controversial remarks at the ‘94 Masters barred him from stepping foot on the sacred grounds of Augusta again, replied:

I’ve had my tongue surgically removed from any questions about Tiger. So I can’t answer that.

While the network declined to comment back in December, CBS spokesperson Leslie Anne Wade confirmed to me in a phone conversation that the network would prefer its golf team to hold off on their commentary:

Both Gary McCord and Ian Baker-Finch were talking to people they know a little tongue in cheek. CBS suggested to its commentators to wait until the network came on with its golf coverage in San Diego. [The Tiger story] had very little to do with golf and they’re not reporters; they’re not speaking for a magazine or a show — they’re specifically golf analysts, analyzing the tournaments as they’re being played.

Fair enough, but the world’s number-one golfer’s self-imposed indefinite leave from the game is a very significant golf-related issue, particularly the potential economic impact it could have on multiple fronts. It also arguably has an effect on the mentality of his fellow competitors as the tournaments are being played when the best player isn’t in the field.

Not surprisingly CBS broadcaster and jokester David Feherty spoke out when the scandal was just unfolding (before Tiger announced he was stepping away from the game) — though it’s unclear whether this was before or after the edict was imposed. Talking with Golf Magazine’s Connell Barrett, Feherty unleashed his rage:

There’s nothing funny about this story. This is someone’s private business and private misery we’re talking about…I’m sick of it, all the coverage…I wouldn’t mind a show on how [Nancy Grace, host of the HLN show that sometimes covers missing persons,] disappears. Everyone is so nosy. I can see it now. This is gonna be a movie. There will be books. You know, people have a right to work through problems on their own, without all the attention. Tiger plays golf, but he’s a very private figure. The way the tabloids feast on private misery makes me sick and angry.

When the network starts its coverage at Torrey Pines, Tiger and his absence will be an inevitable topic that must be addressed — which Ms. Wade acknowledged:

[The commentators] would certainly be free to speak about the developments with Tiger and how his lack of presence will affect the season.

I’m curious to hear how much they’re willing to say. Certainly they’ll talk about how much Tiger is missed, how Torrey Pines is one of his favorite tracks, his previous success at the event, his amazing win playing on one-knee in the ‘08 US Open, how he’s opened his season there in recent years (notwithstanding last year because he was still recovering from knee surgery). You know, the usual. But will they bring up the sponsors that have dropped Tiger, the timing of his comeback and his alleged stint in sex rehab? I’m betting not.

Perhaps the network wants to stay in Tiger’s good graces to maintain future access to him — that “first sit-down interview” is still up for grabs and a show like 60 Minutes is a possible contender.