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MASTERS NOTEBOOK: Nike airs first Tiger ad post-scandal; tourney available in 3-D this year; Oosthuize wins Pat 3 contest

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

NEW YORK -- Nike aired a new TV commercial Wednesday featuring Tiger Woods and the voice of his late father, an edgy move that calls out his personal problems on the eve of his return to competitive golf.

The ad aired on ESPN and the Golf Channel just one day before the Masters begins.

In the stark, black-and-white ad, a solemn Woods looks directly into the camera without speaking while a recording of his late father is heard, speaking about taking responsibility.

"Did you learn anything?" Earl Woods says.

Woods is returning to golf after a leave that followed revelations of infidelities and a stint in rehab. The ad marks the first TV ad for Woods, who had been the face of many companies, since his problems surfaced in late November.

Nike Inc. is one of the few sponsors to stand by Woods during his troubles. Woods is the face of the company's golf line and will be using its products when he plays in Augusta, Ga. on Thursday.

"We support Tiger and his family. As he returns to competitive golf, the ad addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father," Nike said in a statement.

Nike typically doesn't shy away from mentioning athletes' troubles in its ads, experts say. The company has stuck by other athletes with personal problems, such as basketball star Charles Barkley, who famously said in one ad he shouldnt' be a role model.

Other advertisers can get away with not mentioning their spokespeople's problems, but not when the athlete is this famous or when the scandal is so public, said John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Some may question using Woods' father or mentioning the golfer's personal problems, but it makes sense from Nike's perspective.

"You've stayed with the man, how do you re-engage?" Sweeney said. "It's not a question of what we would like to do under perfect circumstances, it's like we've stayed the course, he's back, how do we address it?"

The ad also plays off Woods' prodigy aura by using his father, who is partly credited with Woods' early success.

Woods has repeatedly said since re-emerging into public life that he strayed from the values instilled in him by his parents.

In the commercial, Woods stands outside, on what appears to be a golf course, with the trademark Nike "swoosh" visible on his dark hat and sweater vest. He barely blinks, while Earl Woods is heard saying in the background:

"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are, and did you learn anything?" the elder Woods is heard saying while his son looks solemnly into the camera.

Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., said the ad was created by Wieden+Kennedy, an advertising agency based in nearby Portland, that the company has partnered with for years.

Woods had been the sports world's biggest moneymaker and was the first $1 billion earner.

But he lost top endorsements from companies such as Accenture LLP and AT&T Inc. as the scandal unfolded. Other companies like Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette unit, didn't drop him outright, although it stopped featuring him in advertisements.

But companies more closely linked to his golf ability, such as Nike, memorabilia maker Upper Deck Co. and video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. stuck by him.

Experts say it will be a year or more before any major new companies sign Woods. Even then, it will depend on whether he can return to his winning ways.

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MASTERS IN 3-D?:

It's the mystery of watching golf on TV. A player hits a putt, the ball starts rolling toward the hole, then with no warning it curves hard to the left.

Not anymore.

To the few Americans who own 3-D-capable television sets, every undulation of the greens at Augusta National will be visible during the Masters. No longer will putts break for seemingly no reason or will viewers struggle to judge the distance from golfer to hole.

A special national broadcast of the Masters this week is the first of what could soon be many 3-D sports events available on home TVs.

ESPN will launch a 3-D network later this year in time for the World Cup.

A live stream of the Masters will also be available for 3-D-capable computers.

Sports fans hearing such announcements are left to wonder how to access 3-D telecasts -- and whether they're even worth it.

On the access front, the answer is viewers must own a 3-D-compatible set to watch the broadcasts, and they'll need to find out whether their cable service provider carries a separate 3-D channel, which is also necessary for viewing.

Is 3-D worth it? For golf, at least, the third dimension makes a major difference. A demonstration by Comcast of Masters test footage last week showed how the wide shots and attractive scenery make for the eye-appealing equivalent of a nature film.

More importantly, 3-D has a practical benefit for rabid golf fans. Now they can play caddie from home, judging how hard or at what angle a putt needs to be hit to roll through the undulations of the green and into the hole.

Comcast executives agreed that golf works especially well in 3-D. For sports like basketball and hockey, with their tight camera shots and quick action, the learning curve is steeper for networks.

"Having something small that's moving very fast, I think that's going to be a bit more challenging," said Derek Harrar, Comcast's senior vice president for video and entertainment services.

Mark Hess, Comcast's senior vice president for advanced business and technology development, predicted that soccer and baseball will also work well in 3-D from the beginning.

The Masters 3-D telecast will feature two hours of live afternoon coverage each day, mostly of the back nine, with its own separate commentators.

Sports fans will have to decide how practical it is to watch sports in 3-D. Viewers must wear special glasses, and the effect works best if they're looking directly at the TV from a couple of yards away. So multitasking and 3-D don't go well together.

But it's best to think of 3-D as an optional feature on a high-end HD set instead of a different kind of television. Viewers can switch back to a regular HD feed if they don't want to watch a 3-D broadcast. Consumers in the market for a new TV may opt for a 3-D-capable set even if they don't plan to watch anything in 3-D right away, especially as prices continue to come down.

For instance, the original list price for a 2009 55-inch LED TV from Samsung was $3,999.99, while the company's 2010 3-D LED TV of the same size is listed at $3,299.99.

Glasses add to the cost, starting at $149 each, although the company is offering two pairs for free with certain purchases.

Mark Francisco, an engineering expert from Comcast, said that eventually 3-D technology will evolve so glasses aren't needed, but that could take 10 years.

For now, sports fans will have to decide whether they'll feel silly sitting on their couches wearing special glasses.

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WINTER WEATHER HURTS AUGUSTA:

It's hard work making Augusta National look so beautiful.

Especially when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne admits that, as recently as a month ago, he worried whether the golf course would be in its usual shape for the Masters because of the unusually harsh winter. All of the South experienced rain, frost and low temperatures in recent months, and there was one day when 4 to 6 inches of snow blanketed Amen Corner.

"Our job is to worry about it," Payne said Wednesday. "So I think it's very fair to say that even a month ago, we were worried about whether or not we could recapture the quality and the brilliance of what we wanted to look like at the Masters. Our very capable staff kept assuring us, 'Quit worrying and quit bothering us.'

"They are just geniuses at what they do," Payne said. "There's a lot of love that goes in the preparation of that course and we are quite proud of it."

While there are always some spots where the grass comes in slower, the process was even longer and more noticeable this year, Payne said. And fans will see a difference in Amen Corner, which lacks its usual explosion of color because the azaleas have yet to bloom. That could change by Sunday, though, with the forecast calling for sun and warm temperatures much of the week.

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PAR 3 CONTEST:

Louis Oosthuizen figures any trophy at the Masters is better than none.

And he's sticking to that story.

Oosthuizen became the third straight South African to win the Par 3 Contest at the Masters on Wednesday, finishing at 6 under. It's somewhat of a dubious distinction, however, considering no winner of the Par 3 has ever gone on to capture the green jacket.

"There's always a first time to break the curse," said Oosthuizen, who has three top-five finishes on the European Tour this season, including a win at the Andalucia Open. "Everyone is aware of it, but to have your name on anything at the Masters I think is great."

Graeme McDowell, who was an early leader at 2 under, joked that he'd never rooted for someone to pass him on the leaderboard before. When Oosthuizen pulled into a tie at 4 under, Ernie Els suggested he put a ball in the water.

"Then I made another long (putt) and he said you might as well go for it," said Oosthuizen, who finished two strokes ahead of Matteo Manassero, David Duval, Jerry Pate and K.J. Choi.

"It was just a fun thing," Oosthuizen said. "We were so relaxed out there."

Indeed, the mood at the Par 3 is far more lighthearted than it will be Thursday, when the players tee it up for real. Some players have their kids caddie for them, and the Big Three -- Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player -- reunited, much to the fans' delight.

McDowell and Jim Furyk had the only aces in the contest, both coming on the ninth hole.

"There's so much luck involved," said McDowell, who used a 52-degree wedge. "I was just trying to make sure I got it past the flag to have a chance on the way back."

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TORN LOYALTIES:

Stewart Cink tees off two groups ahead of Tiger Woods, so his mother will have no choice whom to watch.

It wasn't like that the first time they played in the same tournament.

Cink recalls playing in the Insurance Youth Golf Classic -- the "Big I" -- in Texas in 1990 when he was 17 and Woods was 14. Cink had a morning tee time in the opening round. When it was over and he was ready to leave, he noticed his mother heading back onto the course.

"She said she wanted to go see what this 'Tiger Woods' was all about," Cink said. "I remember I had to go find something to do because she had the car. But that was really the first time people were starting to find out about Tiger."

Cink wound up playing in the final group of that tournament with Woods and Notah Begay. Woods ended up winning, becoming the youngest winner of the tournament.

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ASIAN AMATEUR:

The winner of the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship is at the Masters, and the runner-up went on to qualify for the British Open.

But Augusta National chairman Billy Payne is just as excited about the rest of the field.

Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club help sponsor the Asian Amateur as a way to spur development in golf's fastest-growing market. The first tournament, held the last week in October in Shenzhen, China, drew 116 players from 30 countries in the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.

"The top two-thirds were good -- really good, competitive golfers," Payne said Wednesday. "But the experience of those that were not as good was just as important to us because of the way they now view the opportunity, and the way they now know that in us and the R&A, they have an ally. This is going to be a long-range, long-reaching effort on our part to help grow the game in these regions."

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FEATURE GROUP:

The Masters is putting a spotlight on youth for its featured pairing on the Internet. Each round it will pick a group to follow on the back nine and broadcast it through live streaming on www.masters.com.

For the opening round, it picked the group of Mike Weir, Lee Westwood and Matteo Manassero, the 16-year-old British Amateur champion and youngest player to ever compete in the Masters.

Club chairman Billy Payne was asked Wednesday if it had been determined who would be the featured pairing.

"I think yes, we have," Payne said.

Payne then asked spokesman Steve Ethun to confirm it had been released, and when Ethun said, 'No, sir,' Payne turned back to the reporter and replied with a slight smile, "We're still working on it."