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NBC, USGA Nearly Come Up All Wet


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — If Tiger Woods wasn't going to be the big news at the U.S. Open on Sunday, then the chance that NBC wouldn't be able to show the finish probably gave him a good run for the headlines.

In fact, NBC and the United States Golf Assn. barely avoided a messy incident in the midst of Woods' victory--it might not have been completed because of a late starting time dictated by NBC. Coupled with a small time margin for error, a rainstorm stopped play for 49 minutes and jeopardized the chances for the tournament to be completed Sunday.

Woods and Sergio Garcia, the final twosome of the day, didn't tee off until 3:30 p.m. EDT, with both the United States Golf Assn. and NBC figuring that would mean a 7:40 p.m. ending.

However, neither party took into account a volatile thunderstorm that caused play to be halted at 6:03 p.m. with Woods through 11 holes.

Severe weather had been established in the forecast and that might have prompted an earlier start Sunday to ensure play would be uninterrupted without incident.

There is precedent for such an action.

At the Masters two months ago, Sunday's play began an hour earlier than scheduled to make sure the tournament would be completed because bad weather was expected.

Starting early was not considered by the USGA. According to spokesman Marty Parkes, there was a discussion about sending the leaders to the first tee even later, at 4 p.m.

The usual starting time for the final pairing at a U.S. Open is 2 p.m. Parkes said the 3:30 p.m. start time was a late decision.

"Our decision is based on conversations we had with NBC," said Parkes, who was asked who had the final say on the matter.

Said Parkes: "I guess I would say we do."

Broadcast partner NBC, which pays the USGA a reported $22 million to carry the USGA's championship events, benefits if the U.S. Open telecast crosses into prime time on the East Coast, because it is expected to draw higher ratings.

However, Parkes said he knew of no USGA decision about the U.S. Open and its broadcast times decided because of money.

Play resumed just after 7 p.m. and finished in the gathering twilight at about 8:25 p.m., when Woods closed out his three-shot victory over Phil Mickelson.

If darkness had suspended play, the plan was to finish the remaining holes this morning, and, if a playoff were necessary, to begin it soon after.

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