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Monday, October 1, 2012

USA Melts Down at Medinah

Rory McIlroy’s police escort from his hotel to Medinah, just in time for his 11:30am (Central) tee time should have sounded the alarm for team USA. Europe’s number three player on Sunday avoided a major league blunder, stepped right onto the course without any warm-up and played his way to a 2 and 1 victory over Keegan Bradley for a European 3-0 start on the Ryder Cup’s final day of play. This in itself should have been a sign for the Americans; it was not going to be the dominant finish they had hoped for and a collapse wasn’t far away. What took place from that point on however is well, just a travesty? The United States, which opened the final day of play with a commanding 10-6 lead, had still only given up its margin for error with plenty of golf remaining. But the momentum had swung and the United States squad then found itself under pressure. But not just normal golf pressure, Ryder Cup pressure. The weight of holding up both team and country, not just oneself and it proved to be too much for several U.S. players to handle. The first to gag, or be outplayed, however you personally would like to put it was Phil Mickelson. Lefty, led Justin Rose by a shot heading onto 16. Rose however picked his game up to another level. He drilled a 12-foot par to halve the hole. He then knocked down a 35-footer from the back of the green to win the 17th outright, tying the match. On 18, he then drained another 12 foot birdie putt to capture the match, tying the overall competition. Rose simply took his play into another gear that Mickelson could not match and from this point on, it all seemed to fall apart for the squad captained by Davis Love III. Six of the 12 matches on Sunday, weren’t determined until the 18th hole and the United States only won just one. Maybe the most painful and telling of the growing pressure the U.S. team felt was blown lead by Jim Furyk, one of Love’s Captain’s choices for the team. He outplayed Sergio Garcia for 16 holes only to go belly-up with bogeys on both 17 and 18 losing his match to the Spaniard 1-up, as the Americans lead was completely gone with just four matches remaining. The next big choke job came from another of Love’s Captain Choices in Steve Stricker. He was all-square with Martin Kaymer heading to 17. Simply put, the German birdied and pared while the American finished par, par and that was it. With the win, Europe pulled a full point in front with just one match remaining, Tiger Woods versus Francisco Molinari. Since the defending champion retains the cup in the matter of a tie, Woods finish was left meaningless even with his halve, all part of a 14 ½ to 13 ½ European victory. So who deserves the heat in this debacle that adds to the European total of nine Ryder Cup victories to just four for the United States since 1985? Well the guy who didn’t even compete takes the most. Davis Love III had four captain’s picks on the team. The only one who played well was Dustin Johnson, as he went undefeated at 3-0-0. The other three, Brandt Snedeker, Furyk and Stricker finished a combined 2-8-1. With a record like that, his judgment has to be questioned. You can add Tiger Woods to the list as well. Even though his final match on Sunday was basically meaningless at the finish, Tiger’s halve point was his only positive contribution to the competition as he failed to generate a single full point for team USA. The bottom line however is the Ryder Cup is always won and lost on Sunday with the singles matches. The two American’s that fell apart in crunch-time were Furyk and Stricker. Both just happened to be playing down the stretch when the United States needed a win and neither made it happen. When you play in the spotlight, either the glory or blame comes your way. Unfortunately for both of these guys, they failed at the wrong time. But the greatest collapse in Cup history took a total team effort along with some luck from the other side. When McIlroy managed to avoid the biggest blunder in Cup play and turn it into mojo for a European rally, it wasn’t too hard to see what has about to take place.

Will it take a Miracle at Medinah?

Where have all the great shots gone? That’s what American golf fans must be asking when the talk turns to the biennial team event know of course as The Ryder Cup, played this year on American soil at Medinah. During the event’s first 56 years, the stars and stripes dominated the competition but the United States and Europe have been playing since 1927, so we can all do the math. Since 1985 with the Europeans led by the late Seve Ballesteros, team red, white and blue has been just that, blue! Just four cup victories over the last 26 years. Narrow victories coming in ’91 and ’93, an amazing comeback under Ben Crenshaw in ’99 at Brookline and a whopping five point victory at Valhalla with Paul Azinger guiding the squad back in 2008. Well, in this political year isn’t in about time for team USA to show some pride and confidence? After all, that’s what the competition really comes down to, who gets hot with the putter and the confidence to step up in the heat of the moment. Case in point; The Battle of Brookline win 14 years ago. Crenshaw’s crew was getting housed heading into the final day of play, trailing 6-10 with the Europeans only needing 4 points to retain the cup. But United States pride came shining through, as the U.S. captured the first six matches of the day, taking the lead. Jim Furyk upset Sergio Garcia giving the Americans their 8th point of the day and then the United States celebrated wildly as Justin Leonard halved his match with Jose Maria Olazabal, leading a pre-mature celebration of epic proportions on the 17 green, before the Spaniard even had a chance to keep his team’s chances alive with a putt to win the hole. It’s still the greatest United States memory in recent Ryder Cup history and that’s the type of enthusiasm and confidence that has been lacking. Maybe a reason for doubt entering Friday’s 39th Ryder Cup is the year’s dominance of the European players. Team Europe sports four of the top five players in the World Ranking (Rory McIlroy and company), and that doesn’t even include their best cup players according to record in Ian Poulter (8-3-0) and Garcia (14-6-4). Team USA counters with five of the top 10 in the world, including a revived Tiger Woods (2nd), who won the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships at Medinah. Despite Tiger’s reemergence as one of the top players in the world, his Ryder Cup record both team-wise and individually leaves a lot to be desired. In Woods presence, the United States is just 1-5 overall, while Tiger has been anything but an animal in the competition going 13-14-2 during his own matches. Woods hasn’t coward under the criticism of his play in the game’s overall biggest event. “I needed to go get my points for my team,” and I didn’t do that. Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling “, Woods told Sports Illustrated.Com. Woods opening play during the first day of competition on Friday didn’t improve however as during the alternate ball foursome, he and teammate Steve Stricker started things off with a 2&1 defeat to Poulter and Justin Rose. As of this writing, after the morning round the overall competition was even at 2-2. Another reason for renewed U.S. hope is the play of American rookie Bradnt Snedeker. One of four rookies for team red, white and blue, Snedeker is the hottest player on either team after winning the Tour Championship and the Fed Ex Cup last week. But what’s done on the PGA Tour and in major championships for that manner has little or no meaning when it comes to The Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson’s four majors and Tiger’s 14 don’t intimidate anyone with the world team title is on the line. “Lefty” playing in his ninth Ryder Cup sports a record of just 11-17 and 6. Those aren’t personal stats that exactly excite the home crowd, who can really play a role in the play of either team depending on what continent the competition is being held that year. Without a doubt, team USA will be relying on the Chicago-area crowd to be rowdy, supportive and acting like it’s a Bears game out there after every American made putt. The United States roster which carries four rookies in Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson who looked solid at last year’s President’s Cup, going 3-2-0 overall, could use the enthusiasm and kind of young innocence to provide an extra boost. Whatever the case, the run of European dominance in this event is a mystery. The bottom line is team USA captained by Davis Love III, a six-time veteran of the competition (2-4) needs to show some sac and simply outplay the visitors. There is no logical reason for Europe’s domination of the event over the last three decades. In this year of great national pride in the United States, it shouldn’t take a miracle for team USA to show some guts, make some shots and grab a little “Old Glory”, at Medinah.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tiger Still Taking Weekends Off

The one song you won’t find on Tiger Woods iPod, “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy. If you’re not familiar with the 80’s hit by the Canadian band, the song speaks of taking care of business during the week so you can have a great time on Saturday and Sunday. Having fun on the weekend is the last thing that’s been taking place for Woods this year at least as far as major golf tournaments are concerned. How bad has it been, or how bad has Tiger been? On the first two days of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship combined this golf season, Woods is a combined -8 under par. That’s the stuff championships are made of. Make the cut, get yourself established high on the leaderboard and possibly lead the tourney after 36 holes. From there, pull away a little on moving day and then on Sunday when everyone else falls by the wayside, seal the deal with a few clutch putts and finish off a major by knocking down a couple of jaw-dropping birdies. That was the old Tiger. This Tiger however, has suddenly forgotten how to execute when it really counts. Over the course of the final two days of all the four majors combined in 2012, Tiger is an astounding +15 over par. Now, Woods has never been known as a come from behind champion. As a matter of fact, Tiger has always at the least, shared the lead after 54 holes, in all of the 14 majors he has won. That means his Thursday and Friday play is usually impressive to just get to that point. In three of the four majors this season, Tiger has been in serious contention after 36 holes, leading twice. That was the case in this past weekend’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Woods was tied with both Vijay Singh and Carl Pettersson at -4 under par heading into Saturday’s action. But after shooting a 75 at the U.S. Open and then a 74 in round three of the PGA Championship, Woods gave himself too much ground to make up on both Sundays, never challenging over the course of the final 18 holes in either event. He finished tied for 11th in the final major of the year, going winless in 2012. So how the world is it that Tiger Woods suddenly does not know how to set himself up on Saturday and close out on Sunday? Well according to Woods, “I was trying to enjoy it, enjoy the process of it,” Woods told (meaning his Saturday round of two over par). “But that’s not how I play. I play full systems go, all out, intense, and that’s how I won 14 of these things. That’s something I rectified and I played a lot better because of it”. (Talking about his round of 72 on Sunday.) But the damage was done as he started the final round five shots back of eventual champion Rory McIlroy. When the 23-year-old player from Northern Ireland scorched his way to a final round 66, Tiger was never a factor, finishing 11 shots back. Part of the problem for Tiger continues to be his putting. After knocking down putt after putt in the first two rounds, he managed just five birdies over the weekend. So another full season of majors is in the books as Tiger’s winless streak of the only tournaments that really matter is now up to 18 majors, counting the fact he didn’t play in four of those due to injury. At 36 years old, the question on whether or not Woods will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career major victories has now become serious! Tiger Woods pressing too much in the final 36 holes of a major? That was never the case earlier in Tiger’s career but that was also before his cheating scandal rocked his world and the golf world in general. While Tiger has brought his game back to win three tournaments this season after a drought of a couple of years, he is far from the dominant player of the past, that was working for the weekend and enjoying it because he won. With three shots to retake that form in 2012 and coming up short in each attempt, one can only assume the presser heading into the 2013 season will only mount. Woods ineptness of weekend play in majors this year marks the first time of his career he’s failed to at least break par once. Whether or not it is a distinct sign of decline will only be told by Woods play in future Masters, U.S. Opens, British Opens and PGA Championships. But the race to catch Jack is now reaching a critical stage with another season of majors in the books and nothing to show for it by weekends end.

Monday, August 6, 2012

London Struck By Bolt of Lightning

While there may have been doubt from others, all the naysayers after the Jamaican National meet; there was never a strain in confidence from the world’s fastest man. Usain Bolt restated what has always been his creed during recent track history. “I’ve said over the years, that when it comes to the championships, this is what I do”. “It’s all about business for me.” Handling business is exactly what the 25-year-old defending Olympic 100 meter champion did on Sunday in London. At the halfway mark of the game’s premier event, Bolt turned up the juice to capture his second consecutive gold medal going away in a time of 9.63 seconds, a new Olympic record! The victory allows Bolt to join the elite status of only the great Carl Lewis as the only men with consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters. As he took a victory lap in only the way the Jamaican superstar can, with his right index finger lifted in the air showing his number one status, Bolt received high fives from enthusiastic fans in the front rows, eventually stopping to give his now famous lightning bolt pose. The easy and convincing win, by .12 seconds or two full strides, backed up the first stage of Bolt’s coming out party from Beijing four years ago. In China, the 6-foot-5 physical specimen blew up the track and field world by taking gold in the world record times in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay, something no man had ever done at an Olympics. He later backed that performance with a new world mark in the 100 of 9.58 at the next year’s world championships. But then came a dip in his prime, a chink in the armor of the Superman of sprint events. A series of minor injuries to his back and legs helped spring a series of defeats, aiding talks of his demise. In 2010 he lost to American Tyson Gay. A false start disqualified Bolt from the 100 meters in last year’s world championships as teammate Yohan Blake stepped to the forefront. Then came this year’s Jamaican Olympic qualifying meet where Blake once again dealt Bolt a power shortage, upsetting him in both the 100 and 200 meters. But when the lights came on in the race that really counts, the superstar re-emerged. Showing no signs of fear or concern, Bolt was as flamboyant as ever before entering the starting blocks, playing to the crowd and flashing a million dollar smile to the live camera, which proved to be pre-courser of things to come. The victory however is just the first part of what could be a London performance that forever cements his legacy as the greatest sprinter to ever grace the surface of the planet. The 200 meters now waits with heat races beginning on Tuesday. Then the team 4x100 and possibly even a run with his teammates in the 4x400. Should Bolt strike more gold in all of these events he will surpass all of the previous greats, even Lewis in dominance. He of course won ten medals including nine gold; over three separate Olympic Games, with back to back gold medals in the 100 in Los Angeles and Seoul but only after Canada’s Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal after failing a drug test. Three or four gold medals will also eclipse the biggest stories of the games to date in Michael Phelps career mark of 22 medals over three games and the emergence of American Gabby Douglas stunning win of the gymnastics all-around competition in London. Without a doubt the showmanship, the confidence and playfulness make Bolt the most intriguing attraction of the games. He sucks the spotlight in like a black hole and uses the electricity created from the attention to power his way to dominance and standards never seen before on the Olympic stage in track and field.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Does the US Need an Attitude Adjustment?

Perhaps the US Olympic Team was a bit overconfident going into the 2012 games as there was no shortage of pre-games hype for almost all of the team sports, as well as individual swimmers and track participants. Now, I know it’s early but the first few days may be a harbinger of things to come as we’ve seen some of the “go to guys” not deliver right off the bat as Ryan Lochte got gunned down from behind in the final of the 4 X 100 (left off the podium in 200-free) and Phelps had the same done to him in the 200 individual. The men’s gymnastics didn’t show up for the team competition and were left off the podium. The women’s volleyball and beach volleyball are ranked the best in the world and seem to enforce their will early but then let the opponents back in the match only to pull away in the end. Even Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh have dropped their first set in Olympic competition . Men’s hoops hasn’t played a good first quarter since a practice game against Argentina before they arrived in London. Of course there is plenty of time to tighten things up but one has to be concerned with the apparent absence of a sense of urgency which may be the symptom of the less than expected results.
View the current medal count standings here.

Is this a matter of everyone reading their own headlines or is it the pressure that comes with the realization that this country loves a winner, and ONLY a winner, so the endorsements only come when preceded by a gold medal? In any case, after the first week the US is slightly behind in total weight but much more in precious medal. If they’re going to pick up more Gold then then it first needs to change between the ears before it can translate to the pool, court, sand, or the field.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will London Be A Pool of Gold for US?

Is American Dominance In The Water Good For Olympic Viewers?

Gymnastics and track and field may be the most viewer-friendly events of the Summer Olympics, but the swimming pool holds the highest gold medal hopes for Team USA in London.

View the Current Medal Count Standings Here.

Gone are the days of deep American rivalries with the Aussies and Brits, or nail-biting finishes in nearly every race. Instead, we have Michael Phelps. And if not Phelps, then Ryan Lochte. And if not Lochte, then Missy Franklin, etc.

"Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the U.S. swim team has won about one-third of all gold medals and one-third of all medals awarded," according to the Wall Street Journal. "In Beijing in 2008, U.S. swimmers won 31 medals, including 12 golds."

So much for international competition.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that the U.S. swim team is projected to take home 28 medals including 12 golds. That's a lot. Flash back to 2008 when Phelps won eight golds in Beijing and when put in context with projection of the entire American team winning 12 golds, it makes Phelps' feat even that much more astounding.

This time around, Phelps is only swimming in seven races (what a slacker) and more importantly, he will only go head-to-head against his strongest rival, Lochte, twice. Lochte has beat Phelps several times in the last few years with each guy stealing a victory over the other in Omaha during the Olympic Trials in June.

During the days, Phelps and Lochte are two teammates who share a suite in Olympic Village and are partners in Spades, beating their roommates at cards. Phelps is mellow, laid back and somewhat dry. Lochte on the other hand is hyper, cites Lil Wayne as his style icon (--blank stare--) and is fairly outspoken. Two talented American teammates with contrasting personalities presents a fascinating dichotomy worth watching in the water.

Perhaps its a good thing that these two will only swim against each other twice, making each race that much more exciting and anticipated.

On the women's side, Franklin, a 17-year-old who should be catapulted to superstardom in these games, has it all. She's about 6'2, attends an all girls high school in Colorado and break dances. Franklin has a huge personality to match the gigantic expectations of "the female Phelps" that has been cast upon her. Franklin qualified for seven events in London making her the top woman in the world to watch in the pool.

I know, we sure sound like self-absorbed Americans, don't we? How typical.

In fairness to the international swimming community, the U.S. does face tough competition but only from a select few individuals.

China's Wu Peng has a serious shot at beating Phelps in London after he beat the greatest swimmer of all time in the 200m butterfly back in May on U.S. soil. An outstanding distance swimmer from Team China is Sun Yang, who, in search of his first Olympic medal, has won several gold medals in various distance events in the World Championships and Asian games over the last few years.

Kosuke Kitajima of Japan won gold in Beijing in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke and will look to do the same in London.

As for the rest of the U.S. swimming contingency outside of the Big Three (Phelps, Lochte, and Franklin), there are plenty of good human interest stories to go around.

We're more likely to see a random photo finish (a la Team USA's tight win over France in the relay in Beijing) than an Ian Thorpe-type rivalry where we expected each race to be a close battle down the stretch.

Then again, just because something is "projected" doesn't mean the outcome is pre-determined. We see upsets in sports every day, the "unknown" drawing us to competition.

As fans, we can find humanity in any winner (or loser for that matter), regardless of country or ethnicity. That's what makes the Olympics such a unique and compelling athletic stage. There will be plenty of room for great races and wonderful stories to come out of the pool in these next two weeks and whether or not those tales of greatness involve Americans doesn't really matter at the end of the day. As long as the races are fast and furious, it's a win-win for all of us viewers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Major Choke at St. Annes

Tiger who? Despite the fact that the world's most famous golfer was out of the running down the stretch, all eyes were on the 18th hole of the Open Championship when Adam Scott arrived at the tee.

Adam Scott, looking for his first major victory, could taste it after playing 68 holes of solid golf. The Australian started the final round of play with a four-shot lead and continued to roll Sunday. But from 6 shots back came Ernie Els who surged his way up the leaderboard, birdying four holes on the back nine. Back in the clubhouse with a one-stroke lead and awaiting his fate, was Els. Adversely, Scott had bogeyed the 15, 16 and 17, yet still had a chance to force a playoff on the 18th if he could just make par.

It came down to a seven-foot putt that went left. No par. No playoff. No win for a watery-eyed Adam Scott. Instead, four consecutive bogeys on the final holes of the Open Championship.


Four-shot lead with four holes to play. It was a collapse of Norman-esque proportion, Scott's fellow Aussie, often times remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

Scott and Els, two men of different eras and different countries, yet both very likable guys whose play on the back nine gave viewers a taste of the best and worst that the game of golf has to offer.

Els, the affable elder statesman (at age 42), getting to play comeback kid for his first major title since the PGA Championship in 2007, had to put a smile on the face of anyone who has ever played the sport.

On the other hand, if you've ever hit the links, your heart was likely breaking right alongside Scott's as we all know just how quickly the magic can slip away out on the course.

Els finished at 7-under 273, with a one-stroke lead over Scott. Ouch.

Going into the Open Championship, World No. 1 Luke Donald and of course, Tiger Woods, were the two names on everyone's tongue.

While Woods absolutely plays a role in getting eyeballs to the TV initially, great play and dramatics will keep people watching, whether Tiger is a threat to win or not.

Luckily for the sport and golf fans alike, the final round of the Open Championship gave us the perfect combination of joy and heartbreak to keep us glued to the TV.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tiger Faces Another Major Challenge

View the Current British Open Leaderboard Here
It’s that time of the golf season again where all who care, ask the same question
that’s been asked, since that November evening in 2009 when Tiger Woods had a minor accident in his SUV that turned into a major pain in the ass for the 14-time winner of golf’s biggest events. Is Tiger Woods really back? Well that depends on what exactly you mean. Has his game progressed to where he is once again he is considered the best player in the world? The answer is a very simple yes. Woods has won three times on tour in 2012 and is the leading money winner, even though he’s played three less events than second place Jason Dufner. With a victory this week in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Woods would once again become the world’s top ranked player. He was ranked 58th last season. Is he the same Tiger Woods that at one time captured four consecutive majors in a row? No, but is it realistic to think any golfer could make a run like that again in our lifetime, probably not. It’s no secret Woods hasn’t captured a major since his heroic effort at the U.S. Open in 2008 basically playing on one leg. Despite his recent return to form new swing and all, he finished 21st at this year’s U.S. Open after being tied for the lead after 36 holes. Before his falloff at Olympic he bogeyed his way to a tie for 40th at the 2012 Masters. Unfortunately for Tiger, winning majors is the standard fans and analysts hold him to. It the standard however that he set. It’s the standard that comes with wanting to be the labeled the greatest golfer of all time. Only three players have ever won more than 10 majors. Jack Nicklaus of course with 18; Tiger’s 14; and Walter Hagen with 11 titles. It’s not an easy thing to do, even for the best players in the world but it comes with the territory of that ultimate title Tiger has been longing for since turning professional in 1996. After all, he did win his first major shortly after in June of the next year, so why wouldn’t we all expect the journey to be an easy one after that start? The expectations for Woods have never really left; they’ve just been put on hold. Once again, he is an 8-1 favorite to win the British Open which would mean a fourth Claret Jug to his collection. With the way he has been playing of late, you have to give him the best shot at dealing with the obstacles that Royal Lytham and St. Annes challenges those who dare tee up on the first box. 205 deep bunkers that are not forgiving, almost sure to cost players a shot if they are visited. Rough that a lion would find sufficient for stalking prey and also there are the winds of Lancashire. Gust that are capable of taking one’s shot and landing it somewhere in the Irish Sea. Sounds like the perfect setting for separating the alpha male from the rest of the pack doesn’t it? The 2012 golf season has already proven Tiger Woods has battled back from scandal, injuries, a swing adjustment and maybe even some self-inflicted doubt. But to truly end the speculation on just how far he’s come and where he’s headed, he needs to win a 15th major. He next shot begins on Thursday another opportunity to put an end to this major question.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Oh Tiger, Where Far Art Thou?

O Tiger, Where Art Thou?

So close, yet so far, seems to be Tiger Woods' motto these days as the golf legend continues to see-saw between success and disappointment on the course.

I suppose it's no fault of Tiger's that people overreacted to his U.S. Open lead after 36 holes. Since when should a halftime lead ever be presumed safe, in any sport? While perhaps tickled with a minor sense of excitement, Tiger knows that Saturday is just the beginning, especially in a Major.

On the other hand, tied for the lead going into the third round at Olympic wasn't a shock either as Woods won the Memorial Tournament heading into the U.S. Open, enhancing his resume with top five finishes in five tournaments played this year.

Just when you think El Tigre has all of the pieces in order for a 15th Major victory, the puzzle falls apart and ends up in a scattered pile on the scorecard. What we witnessed with Tiger's Memorial victory and subsequent U.S. Open misfortune mirrored that of his Arnold Palmer win and Masters meltdown.

Tiger can easily go from unbelievable tee shots and back-to-back birdies to literally scaring the birds in the sky with ugly swings before landing in the trees and taking out their nests. Let's not even discuss his putting issues.

Every golfer experiences days, rounds and even entire tournaments plagued by inconsistent play, but we still can't come to grips with the fact that Woods is now just like "ever golfer," something he never was before.

People love to champion the underdog while hating winners, and now Tiger somehow fits both bills. He's the Yankees and the Mets at the same time.

Love him or hate him, golf is not the same without Tiger in contention. Period. His presence alone creates a unique drama that no other golfer can generate.

The good news for the sport is that Tiger is finally back on his game, as much as any golfer can be after more than three years of professional misery. Rome wasn't built in a day and athletes don't exactly become winners overnight (well, aside from Jeremy Lin). It has taken a long time for Tiger to rebuild his physical game and more importantly, his mental fortitude. He has the tangible tools to win more majors, but his mind seems unable to sustain the top-notch physicality and focus the way it used to, pre-personal life collapse.

Tiger will win another major and he'll do it soon. It might take the rest of this season, getting a few more PGA Tour wins under his belt, before winning a Major next season. That seems like more of a natural progression than winning a Major this year.

Will he ever be the Tiger of old? No, primarily because he lost too many critical years of his professional youth and at age 36, he is now bordering on "old." But Woods has too much talent not to find enough of his former self to win a few more Majors.
View the Final US Open Leaderboard Here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Elimination Saturday”, let the scenarios begin

We can finally begin to reduce the scenario analysis starting today as the “elimination games” begin with group A, which may be the simplest group can certainly get complicated if Russia loses to Greece, which would only be the biggest upset since the Greeks beat Portugal, in Portugal, to win the whole thing in 2004, so it’s still on the table. If that were to happen and the CR lost to host Poland then the Host Nation Poland would actually go in as the group winner, Russia second, and the Czech Republic and Greece out. However back on Earth, you gotta’ figure Russia takes care of business for at least a draw and wins the group with 5 points but then things can get a little crazy. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Poland beats the Czech Republic and jumps over the current 2nd place side, as the host nation has been known to pull those types of heroics in the past. So back to step 1, this is the simplest group because they are all ‘win and you’re in’ scenarios, as opposed to the others which we’ll visit next where if ties occur you’ll see tie-breakers that go 2, 3, and even 4 deep.

Now when we get into the “Group of Death” things get a little more complicated but still we can see the forest through the trees. If Germany wins or ties they’re in, but if they lose and Portugal and Denmark win then you go so far into tie-breakers that you’ll need an MIT grad to sort it out. Portugal needs to win vs. the Dutch and have Germany win or draw, which could/should happen as the Dutch are going to need to be very aggressive in their match making them very susceptible to the counter attack as we will soon see. Denmark, simple on paper, beat the Germans and you’re in. However not so simple on the pitch. Lastly, the Dutch. Beat Portugal by 2 goals and have Germany win. There are so many moving parts in this scenario that if I were a betting man I would have to say for being one of the early favorites the Dutch will have a very disappointing Euro as they will go home early.

In any case get a deep breath because if you enjoy tournament soccer, this is your weekend.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is the table set for Tiger to make a Major comeback?

We saw the patented Tiger uppercut and fist pump for the first time since he wore his driver on his head a few years ago and now pundits wonder if the striped one is back. Captain Jack said it was the best shot he’s ever seen on his course because of the consequences that would have accompanied failure and that may the shot that marks his return. It will certainly be a historic focal point if that proves to be the case but the real test will be if Tiger can take another step to catch up to Jack on the only stage that matters, the Major stage, and this weekend may be one of the better opportunities to do it IF he brings his ‘A’ game, and his driver. Olympic sets up to be one of the longest courses in PGA history which should suit Tiger’s game just fine. The first six holes go 520, 428, 247 (par 3), 438, 498, and 489 respectively and they are all Par 4s except for one. Add the Boardwalk and Parkplace, back-to-back par-5s at 16 (670 yards the longest in PGA history) and 17, and you’ve got a course that should be Taylor Made (no pun intended) for Tiger seriously start seeing red, numbers that is. Conversely if the Tiger of the past two years shows up and starts hookin’ and a shankin’ then it could be a very long weekend and sadly speak he may even be home in time to catch the end of the Group stage of the World Cup as he won’t make the cut. However I would think that playing so close to his old stomping grounds at Stanford, in good No Cal weather, and a very long course we may see make his first Major move in years and Jack may turn out to be a prophet.View the Complete US Open Leaderboard Here.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Euro 2012 Will the real Group of Death please stand up?

Who is the side to beat in the Euro 2012 competition? Well it depends on who you ask. There are dangerous sides in every group, in fact every group could make a case for the “Group of Death”. Here’s our group by group breakdown and the top 3 sides in each.
Group A – (Poland )Any time you have the host nation in the group you’ve got a problem so what would normally be a tough match on its own becomes one where any result is a considered a victory. (Czech Republic) Based on their performance in the last World Cup they would be one of the sides to beat but they have limped into the tournament after a bad loss to Hungary and may be without Mila Baros for the first and maybe two matches but the return of Tomas Rosicky just in time for the big match with Russia should be enough to push them through. (Russia) A powerhouse that has the experience and comes into the cup playing extremely well coming off a 3-0 drubbing of Italy but do they have the legs to go deep in the tournament? Any of these three can win the group and also be sent home early, oddly, if Greece can pull of an upset in any match that could be the difference. Our Pick: Czech Republic

Group B – Our Pick for the true “Group Of Death” as not only are any the three top sides in this group capable of winning the group whomever comes out of it should be the fav to win the whole thing. (Netherlands) already at 6-1 to win the tournament will be led by RVP the EPL’s leading scorer, and he’ll be flanked by Robben and Sneijder presenting one of the best fronts in the world. (Germany) The consensus pick to win the whole thing, should have the services of Klose and Schweinsteiger to make their roster complete. The matches they face in the group stage may be toughest test they get if they get out of it. (Portugal) Anytime you have Ronoldo you’ve gotta a chance to score and one goal in these games could make all of the difference. Not on the radar as they once were, age promises to factor in but probably won’t catch up with them until the latter stages of the tournament. In other words for the group stage they will be fit and ready. Odd man out…Denmark. Our Pick: Germany

Group C – A very close second to the most competitive group starting off with the defending champion (Spain) who will try to repeat the feat of 08. They will have the services of Cesc Fabregas but not Alvaro Arbeloa who is out at least for the first match with back problems. Their litmus test will come early as they take on Italy in the first game. Speaking of (Italy) they may not be the powerhouse we have seen in previous years but they can still do some damage and we look for them to be one of the two that come out of the group but it need be the side that plays in unison rather than the club team that played so poorly against Russia recently. (Croatia) the side no one wanted to play in the last World Cup needs to bring that kind of intimidation and steal a game early if they are going to rise to the top. Our Pick: Spain Odd man out: Ireland

Group D – Historically this could be a group where every match ended in a draw and tie-breaks decided who move on, but England is in shambles to the combination of suspensions, injuries, and family tragedies, and who knows if the French are due for another meltdown and players going home for other reasons. Because of that we like the host (Ukraine) to make some serious waves and if they pick up a win early it could lead to momentum that could cause an upset not seen since the Greek miracle of 04’. (Sweeden) quietly goes about their business as usual but may run into a buzzsaw in the first match as they take on the host and if it is more than a goal difference it could be costly. (France) well, it was a coin toss between they and the English mash unit, and at the fact that they may be looking to make a statement to make up for their last international appearance which may be just enough extra motivation to push them over the hump. Our Pick: France. Odd man out England.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Jack welcomes Tiger to the Table

As the gracious host of the Memorial Jack Nicklaus must have been thinking he would be dining alone again this evening as at the start of the final round Tiger Woods was four shots back. Now four years ago that was nothin’ but a thang and you be in front of the TV with plenty of beverages ready for an exciting Sunday, but the animal that used to lurk in the tall weeds on weekends was rumored to be extinct. On Sunday not only was there a sighting but an attack as with the exception of a bad second shot on the 10th hole for his second bogey of the round, the big cat sunk seven birds en route to a 5 under 67 to not only make up the deficit but win the tournament by two strokes. With the win Tiger ties Jack for the most PGA wins of all time (73) which culminated with quite the moment as Jack was there to present the trophy and graciously welcome Tiger to a very exclusive club.

So with the Open coming up in two weeks the question remains what Tiger Woods will show up? Similar to the Facebook IPO which has failed to live up to expectations out of the gate but continues to keep the hopes of many that the shooting star still exist as once again Tiger is the favorite ( 5/1) to take the open at the Olympic Club in Frisco just outside of Tiger’s old stomping ground from his college days at Stanford. The Tiger on the prowl on Sunday was the cold blooded killer of old that you knew it things got tight his zen upstairs would keep him sub zero while the other wilted under the mid-day sun, but he has been about as consistent as warm weather in winter over the past few months. That said, for the kudos Rory Sabbatini got for calling Tiger out over the past couple of years he lost a ton of street cred after dropping his one-stroke lead after sinking two consecutive birds on 11 and 12, and watched as TW birdied 3 of the final 4 holes en route to dinner with Jack.

So with the appetizer behind him Tiger Moves on to the main course in No Cal and we’ll know after the first two days if he’s truly back or if we should sell into strength. I’ll tell you this however, if we have seen the return of the bad man, we’ll remember that chip on 16 as the moment he rode back into town.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chelsea vets bring the Blues back from the brink

Bayern were riding the crest of a ruckus crowd, taking advantage of being the host nation that has the good fortune of reaching the finals. As expected the German side came out swinging and looking for the first round knockout controlling nearly 60% of the possession in the first half and had Chelsea taking a standing eight count. However the Blues regrouped and the break and made it more of a give and take but when Thomas Muller bounced in a header with seven minutes to go it looked like and sounded like the result was inevitable. But then the Londoners got huge plays from the ol’ guard that was supposed to be long since past their prime, starting with the man in the middle Didier Drogba who scored on a header ironically Chelsea’s first of the match witch came in the 88th minute, to further point out Bayern’s dominance. Needless to say the Ivorian made the most of it and equalized then suddenly the chill of possibly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory submerged the nearly seventy thousand at Allianz Arena. Then it was Petr Cech’s turn to bail out his brother in arms after Drogba tried to give back his equalizer with a bad foul on Robin while in the box but Cech was on point on the penalty kick and the game went into extra time, then PKs. Much like the first 90 minutes it looked bleak for the Blues to start shootout as Bayern converted then stopped and they were once again on their way. But Cech was on his game, guessing the right direction each time but letting the first two get past him. Then game the big save to even things up and you could see the noose getting tight on those red jerseys. Then in the final frame the studs stepped up for each side and Cech guessed right again, for the sixth time, and Schweinsteiger was stopped cold, the man in box had done his job then he handed it back to “da man” in the bottom of the fifth frame and Drogba polished the game championship off as Neuer was not in the vicinity of kick and left hopelessly to look back and the ball hoping it to sail wide but it was square in the back of the net. For a player who was reduced to a part-time player in the eyes of the previous management, Drogba came through when the Club, city, and history needed it most as did the box man who was too old and too slow to hold his own. But instead of seeing the flaws when the lights were the brightest they vets looked like the classics they are.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

EPL's "Regulation Sunday" may be even larger off the pitch

The Sunday sets up as the biggest day in the EPL in recent years as for the first time in over a century the EPL table could very likely be decided by a tie-breaker. At the top of the Man City and Man U. will both need to win to provoke the afore mentioned scenario but it despite the difference in records, neither game will be a “gimme”. Although City will be at home with a chance to clinch they’ll face off with QPR who is in a ‘do or die’ scenario of their own as they are currently two points clear of the mire that is regulation with Bolton who will be on the pitch simultaneously. Tied with City at the top of the table are their inter-city, and hated rivals, Manchester United who feel they may have let the championship slip away in the last six matches going just 3-2-1 while City has gone 5-1 to tie for lead but with the massive eight point edge in goal differential only a straight point total win will do. To add insult to injury five of those crucial eight goals came at the hands of Manu during their 6-1 drubbing. Man U will be on the road on the final day as they travel to 11th place Sunderland who hasn’t had a victory in their last six going 0-4-2, so they may be due or on simply on their way down? Not only is there action on both the top and the bottom of the table but in the middle as well as Spurs and Newcastle will need one more day to decide the final Champions League participant. On top of all of this, Sunday will also mark the first time the entire EPL day will be televised which could be huge for the sport and the future of the EPL in the Untied States. The knock on soccer in general is the frequency of the scoring but knowing the importance the games, which will be redundantly reiterated by the announcers for each given game, it may capture an audience for the first time since the World CUP. This is a great opportunity, particularly for fans on the east coast. So the up hill battle continues in regards to the English game’s popularity here and now the stage is set for the EPL to deliver a product that can justify the title of World’s most competitive league.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Manchester Derby for more than all the marbles

It’s hard to imagine a scenario when the off the field pressure could exceed what takes place on the pitch but on Monday night that will be the case when the Manchester Derby takes place. Manchester City was officially formed in 1894 have hoisted the FA Cup five times but never been EPL champions, Manchester United formed in 1878 (LYR) has 19 EPL Championship Trophies including last season, 11 FA Cup titles, and three Champions League crowns among their other accolades. The fans of Manchester England have been at war since “The Great War” and although they’re unable to shake the stigma of being the JV side in the city of roughly 2,7 million, they have every intention of striking David in jaw with right cross on Monday evening as they have Man U. in their crib with a chance to take back the top spot in the EPL with three matches to play. It would be the ultimate coup, upset, turnabout, whatever superlatives you can conjure up but in the realm of global uprisings this would be among the biggest. However on the other sideline is a dynasty that is not ready to relinquish its status and has some of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction pointed directly at Etihad Stadium where they hope to exceed the record for 47,304 fans set in 2004 when they hosted Chelsea. To say that this will be bigger than that would be an understatement, because every match until now has been.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The man they once called “Captain Fantastic” John Terry has again fallen well short of the billing after getting red carded and ejected in the first half of the Champion’s League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona. Despite being down one man for most of the match the Blues put on a perfect display of defense and how to not only tread water but turn the tide for about an hour of game time to post a 2-2 draw and advance to the final on aggregate. Moreover it was a complete statistical domination for the Italian side including Possession (83%), Total Shots (23-7), Territorial Advantage (82% to 18%), and Corners (10-1) BFC failed to win the only stat that really matters, goals. Once the buzz wears off from their victory the focus will surely turn to the poor example set by their captain who will also miss the final and if the band needs to move on to someone whom better exemplifies what Chelsea football is about. When the final decision comes down on who will manage the Blues going forward the second shoe will certainly be about who will head the club on the pitch.

Monday, April 9, 2012

No Tiger, No Problem, Sunday delivers at Agusta

It started with Louis Oosthuizen's historic double eagle on the second and ended with the people's champ making the unlikeliest of shots out of the trees and on to the green, setting the table for Bubba Watson's first major championship.

Four rounds. Many leaders. Tons of tears. Typical Masters drama.

The first major of the year did not disappoint as Peter Hanson, Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson were all in contention on the final day of the 76th annual Masters at Augusta National.

But as the aforementioned names faded down the stretch, playing partners Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson emerged together, finding themselves atop the leader board when it mattered most.

Oosthuizen, of South Africa, got off to a roaring start logging the first ever double eagle on the second hole at the Masters, and only the fourth double eagle in the tournament's history.

Mickelson followed by making waves of the opposite kind when he triple-bogeyed the No. 4 hole, a horrendous sequence from which he never fully recovered.

Watson, a local favorite who attended the University of Georgia, got in the groove on No. 13 making what would be his first of four consecutive birdies, culminating with the sixteenth hole where he finally pulled even with his partner Oosthuizen.

Both men overcame ugly tee shots on No. 18 to par the hole and tie for first at the end of regulation at 10-under 278, forcing a sudden death playoff.

While Oosthuizen's only PGA tour victory was a mighty impressive seven-stroke victory at The Open Championship in 2010, Watson had faced a playoff situation on a major stage once before, finishing second at the 2010 PGA Championship after being defeated by one stroke on the third and final playoff hole.

On this day, the outcome would be vastly different for Watson who had three PGA tour victories to his name coming into these Masters.

The first playoff hole was the No. 18 par four where both men made phenomenal approach shots, prompting Oosthuizen to compliment his opponent as they walked up the green together. We all thought Oosthuizen's birdie putt was in, but the ball went slightly right, visibly crushing the golfer who dropped into a crouch after the ball lipped out. Adversely, Watson's shot went left and both men parred, so on to the No. 10 hole they went for round two, not yet knowing that this was where the most memorable shot of the 2012 Masters would be etched in to our memories.

Watson and Oosthuizen both blew the tee shot on the par four No. 10, but Oosthuizen at least had a straight shot despite his ball landing slightly in the gallery. Watson, on the other hand, was in the trees with a much tougher task ahead.

Oosthuizen ended up on the front edge of the green after his second shot, providing him with a literal and figurative uphill battle. Meanwhile, Watson's second shot from the mulch and trees had to be seen to be believed, as what looked like an impossible shot was executed with nonsensical precision. Hooked in who-knows-what direction, the ball curved perfectly, rounding it's way on to the green, paving a surprisingly smoother path to the green jacket than the road traveled by Oosthuizen on No. 10.

After his shot on to the green, Oosthuizen found himself away, thus right back at it, attempting a long putt for par. It was a tough shot, but definitely makable. Oosthuizen's shot was a beauty that once again, just lipped out as you could almost hear the man's heart break underneath his shirt. Oosthuizen bogeyed the hole, thus Watson found himself in a two-putt par situation.

Oosthuizen's shot went right, so naturally, Watson's went wide left, leaving him a foot-long putt for par and the win. Watson gathered himself, read what little grass there was standing between him and the green jacket before making a minuscule putt for his first major championship.

The only sight sweeter than his miraculous shot on the second playoff hole was the picture of emotion painted by Watson as the 33-year-old broke down and sobbed on the shoulders of his caddie, mother and several friends.

Without his wife Angie who stayed home with the couple's newly-adopted infant son, Watson's outpouring of emotion continued during the green jacket ceremony inside Butler Cabin. Watson, who lost his father to cancer in late 2010 said, "I never got this far in my dreams…To go home to my new son, it's gonna be fun."

Watson's win makes it the fifth Masters victory for lefties in the last 10 years, joining fellow southpaws Mike Weir (2003) and Mickelson (2004, 2006, 2010).

Near the end of play, CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted, "If Bubba wins, he'll make 10% of his 12-year career earnings with Masters check. Earned $14.4M in career. Win worth $1.44M."

On so many levels, this was indeed one sweet win for Bubba Watson, the freshly-crowned People's Champ of golf.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Countdown to Agusta

Between a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, his old nemesis Phil Mickelson and the emerging young star that is Rory McIlroy, Augusta, Georgia is the place to be next weekend as the 76th Masters has epic potential.

I'll never forget watching Tiger and Phil, paired together for the final round of the Masters back in 2009. As a small-town sports reporter and anchor, it was my job to write, edit, produce and deliver the sports segment in Sunday's newscasts. There I was, editing the Masters highlights off of live television, recording the game using an old-school VCR tape deck and importing the raw footage into the computer for editing. With every shot Tiger or Phil took, especially with Mickelson's six birdies on the front nine, I was re-editing the highlight, dropping and adding clips with both a sense of frustration with the workload and excitement with the electricity I could feel from the greens of Augusta zapping directly into my office all the way in southeastern Idaho. Remember that shot Tiger took in the middle of the freakin forrest, through the trees, shown over and over again in crisp, slow-motion replays?

While the Tiger vs. Phil soap opera lost steam down the stretch, there was little time for disappointment as the game went to a three-way sudden death playoff with Angel Cabrera finally putting on the Green Jacket as the sun began to set.

I have 2009-ish hopes for this year's Masters because of the strength of the field. Tiger. 4-time Masters champion. Mickelson. Jacket-winner three times in the past eight years. McIlroy. The Irishman who managed to maintain enough confidence to win the 2011 U.S. Open (by a whopping eight shots) despite coming off the Masters in which he played the worst round in tournament history when leading after 54 holes, shooting an 80 on the final day and surrendering any hope of victory. Day and Scott. Last year's runners-up. Westwood. Rose. Furyk. The list of potential leaderboard-toppers is vast.

Tiger may have momentum coming into the Masters now that his PGA Tour victory Mojo is back, but I wouldn't take Tiger over the field in this one. Not yet. There are too many other talented golfers who have a real shot at the Green Jacket.

What about Augusta's defending champ, Charl Schwartzel? He comes in ranked seventh in the world, but he hasn't won since last year's Masters. If he repeated at Augusta, he would join one of the most exclusive clubs in all of golf as only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods have won back-to-back Masters.

Someone to watch out for is Luke Donald, the Englishman who currently owns the No. 1 ranking in the world (McIlroy is No. 2 in case you were wondering). The 34-year-old has yet to win a major, but with 10 wins on Tour and a superb putting game, Augusta might just be the place for Donald to get over the hump and win his first major.

That leads us to our next question… when was the last time the No. 1 player in the world won the Masters? How much does one's world ranking even matter at Augusta? Here's a look at the winners and their world rank heading into the tournament over the last 11 years:

2011 - Charles Schwartzel (No. 29)
2010 - Pil Mickelson (No. 3)
2009 - Angel Cabrera (No. 69)
2008 - Trevor Immemlan (No. 29)
2007 - Zach Johnson (No. 56)
2006 - Phil Mickelson (No. 4)
2005 - Tiger Woods (No. 2)
2004 - Phil Mickelson (No. 8)
2003 - Mike Weir (No. 10)
2002 - Tiger Woods (No. 1)
2001 - Tiger Woods (No. 1)
2000 - Vijay Singh (No. 8)

Tiger was the last top-ranked golfer to win the Masters, a feat he cannot accomplish this year with the No. 6 ranking. I still don't understand how he was ranked that high after a 30-month winning drought, but that is neither here nor there.

Mickelson comes in ranked 15th but he's played well this season with a victory at Pebble Beach and a near-win the next week at the Northern Trust Open where he lost a three-way playoff.

I would put my money on Mickelson or McIlroy to take the Masters this year, but with a field filled with both veterans and youth, it's going to be one heck of a fight for anyone in contention.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Letter to Tiger

Dear Tiger,

Please, please win tomorrow. Pretty please?

After the incident which caused you physical pain and in the process, revealed your less-than-admirable "extracurricular activities," I was completely grossed out, unsympathetic and never expected to root for you again.

But after nearly two and a half years, I have changed my tune as you hold a 1-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and here I am, begging you to win. If there's any stop on the Tour that can get you back on track, this is the place. You love Bay Hill! After all, you've won there six times. It seems like this would be a fitting place to finally log a PGA Tour victory for the first time in 30 months.

You were back on your game Saturday, dare I say, old-school-Tiger style, leading by 4 shots after 13. Then, you were tested. You bogey'd the 14th and followed up with a disastrous shot on the 15th which sent your ball trespassing poolside on some home owner's property. Yes, 15 was ugly, landing you your first double bogey in 247 holes on the Tour this season, but that's okay! You hung in there, stayed calm and still managed to shoot 1-under 71, good for a 1-stroke lead.

Remember how incredibly clutch you used to be when taking a lead into the final round? You were as close to unbeatable as it gets, winning 48 of 52 PGA Tour events in which you started Sunday on top. This week at Bay Hill, you are excelling on the toughest parts of the course, birdying 10 of the 12 par-5's you've played through the first three rounds, outperforming the field by an average of 7 shots in that category.

Look, I know you've come really close to winning recently, yet came up short in the end. But this isn't the Australian Open or Abu Dhabi. It's Bay Hill, a place where you will get your mojo back.

Sure, Phil Mickelson is a fan favorite and the rise of young Rory McIlroy has been fun to watch (and is somewhat reminiscent of you), but the sport just isn't the same without you, Tiger Woods, in contention on the back 9. Golf just isn't that fun without your eye-of-the-tiger-death-stare scaring the pants off the competition down the stretch.

Listen, you don't have to win 'em all, but "71" doesn't sit well with me. As ludicrous as it sounds, you are better than 71 Tour victories. Your talent should have easily taken you beyond 14 Majors, but I'll try not to get ahead of myself.

72 has seemed like an impossible task, but I implore you to please get there tomorrow. Put on your finest red Nike swag and get your signature fist-pump ready because I think you, Tiger Woods, are ready to be a winner once again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rory backs his smac and takes over as top Dog as well.

What does a guy have to do to get top billing? Rory McIlroy just won more than $1 million with a victory at the Honda Classic which catapulted him to the top of the standings where at 22 years old, he is now the No. 1 golfer in the world. McIlroy has three PGA Tour wins - including the 2011 U.S. Open - on his resume, and he's dating the world's 4th-ranked tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki. Despite living a fairytale-like life at the moment, the young man from Northern Ireland is being overshadowed by another golfer.

Although McIlroy is No. 1, "Tiger" is on the tip of everyone's tongue after Woods' shot a spectacular 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic, leaving him two shots behind McIlroy for a second place finish (Tom Gillis tied Woods as the runner up). Starting the day nine shots behind McIlroy, Woods dazzled his way up the leader board, at one point trailing McIlroy by only one stroke. 62 is Wood's best-ever final round score in a PGA Tour event.

Not too shabby.

Nearly everything went well for Woods who logged two eagles and three birdies in Sunday's final round while McIlroy struggled mightily at times, looking like he might not earn a first place finish. Instead of letting the game get away from him, McIlroy made the best of potentially nasty situations on the 15th and 17th with two impressive up-and-downs out of bunkers good for par on both holes.

Perhaps the biggest "goosebump" moment for McIlroy came on the 13th hole where he was preparing to putt an 8-footer for birdie when he heard the crowd going nuts from the 18th. Woods had just eagled the hole, putting him within one measly shot of the Irishman. McIlroy made his birdie putt, reclaiming a two-stroke lead.

But don't think he wasn't shaking in his boots a bit. After the tournament, McIlroy told reporters, "It was tough today, especially when Tiger made a charge and posted 10 under."

Ya, no kidding! That comment is a far cry from those he made during the Honda Classic last year when the young, then up-and-coming McIlroy had this to say about a down and out Woods:

"When Tiger had that aura, I wasn't playing against him - I was watching on TV.

"I remember getting nervous when I first met him. I was 15. There was a presence about him. There still is to some extent but when you're on the course you simply block it out.

"But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best.

"I'm not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.

"It's not that he's playing badly. He's simply playing badly by Tiger's standards. He's playing like an ordinary golfer."


Listen, young Rory was right, but saying this stuff on the record, as a 21-year-old scrub taking the tour by storm, probably wasn't such a bright idea.

Either way, Woods managed to set McIlroy straight with his play today, despite losing the tournament. While a competitor such as Woods is never satisfied with a moral victory like this one, his fantastic final round surely gave the man who once held the world's No. 1 ranking for a record 623 weeks that much more confidence, which will eventually propel him to his first PGA Tour win since 2009.

After the tournament, Tiger tweeted the following:

@TigerWoods: Congrats to @mcilroyrory on getting to No. 1. Thanks to PB fans for all the love this week.

At 21 years and 10 months old, McIlroy became the second-youngest player in golf history to be ranked No. 1, right behind you-know-who. 15 years ago, Woods was 21 years and 6 months old when he shot to the top of the rankings in 1997.

Apparently, love was in the air in Palm Beach Gardens Sunday as McIlroy dished out plenty of compliments to Woods as well. "I always had putts on the putting green when I was 10 to beat Tiger Woods or to beat Phil Mickelson. But hopefully it would be great to turn that into reality at some point," McIlroy told reporters. "They are the best two golfers of this generation, and obviously Tiger's the best by a long way. It's quite an honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys."

That's right son. Respect your elders.

After details of Woods' personal life unfolded publicly, I was pretty disgusted and thought I could never root for him again, but as we've seen over and over again in this country, time and winning heals most wounds. Woods has become the unlikeliest of underdogs and I, along with most in the sport of golf, am praying that he will soon provide us with the drama, skill and splendor that was once routine with nearly ever tournament in which he played.

What could be better for golf than a Woods/McIlroy pairing on a Sunday?

Okay, maybe Woods/Mickelson. But you get the point.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Another EPL side faces a cold winter

Chelsea is the next on the list to take a tumble in Champions League Play as they fall to Napoli 3-1 and now have their work cut out for them when the sides return to Stamford Bridge on March 14th. Unfortunately for the Blues they will have to do it without the services of Captain Fantastic, as John Terry will be sidelined for two months. This will put added pressure on the already tested Chelsea defenders who will need to pitch a shutout due the lone away goal Chelsea was able to put up on the board.

Extra Time proves to be costly for Real –
To say that the home side pushed the favorites to the limit would be an understatement as CSKA Moskva in a frozen Russian Tundra needed all of regular time and then an additional 3 minutes of stoppage to finally equalize with the Spanish side, thus keeping their unbeaten string intact. It may not have been pretty and it certainly will be up for some discussion but now the Spaniards had better bring their A-Game to the second leg and take care of business at home. Moreover, keep the Russians out of the onion bag early, or watch how tight that noose will get if they give up an early goal and must put two on the board.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Phil’s finish good for golf

To say that the home side pushed the favorites to the limit would be an understatement as CSKA Moskva in a frozen Russian Tundra needed all of regular time and then an additional 3 minutes of stoppage to finally equalize with the Spanish side, thus keeping their unbeaten string intact. It may not have been pretty and it certainly will be up for some discussion but now the Spaniards had better bring their A-Game to the second leg and take care of business at home. Moreover, keep the Russians out of the onion bag early, or watch how tight that noose will get if they give up an early goal and must put two on the board.
What did we learn from Sunday’s left-handed spanking in the final round of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am? We learned Tiger, is still more pussycat mentally than the man-eater he once was. We also learned Phil Mickelson on his best day, can rip the heart out of the field and we learned their rivalry has become more even and it is indeed great for golf. When viewers tuned in, bloggers started to write and reporters took notes at one of golf’s most pristine venues last weekend, everyone expected the coming out party of Tiger-remixed. He’d played well in the United Arab Emirates a few weeks before. Not good enough to win but well enough to keep the parade marching forward among golf fans that he, his confidence and his game were all on the same page. Through three rounds of the Pro-Am, he was solid and in position for a Tiger type of Sunday we all have seen before he got clubbed by the ole ex-wife while burning out of his driveway. Suddenly the unexpected happened. Wood’s little brother on tour for all these years, all of a sudden wasn’t intimidated by big bro. As a matter of fact the understudy stole all of attention and embarrassed the show-stopper himself. Mickelson’s start coming from six shots back to take a two-shot lead within the first six holes not only stunned the gallery it put Tiger into panic mode. He watched Phil eagle the sixth with a 20-footer, and then Woods bogeyed the next three holes starting with an ugly three-putt from just 20 feet on the seventh. On the 12th and desperate to make something happen, Tiger holed out from the bunker for birdie. But Mickelson, who was starring at a 30-footer for par and a possible two-shot swing in Tiger’s favor, starred the master down and buried the putt, ending any hope of a Tiger-like comeback. Mickelson’s 11 stroke spanking of Woods left all in awe of what had just happened and renewed a rivalry that had gone stale between the games two big wigs. Despite Lefty now owning Tiger the last five times they’ve been paired together in the same group on a Sunday, the consensus had been Phil still melts under the heat from Woods but Pebble Beach completely changed that persona. It showed that not only can Mickelson set the pace; if Tiger isn’t locked in he can be humiliated. Woods round of 75 only cemented the feeling that mentally it’s still not all together. What made Sunday’s defeat worse for the 14-time major champion is that not only did he lose to his rival; he lost to what his rival stands for. Mickelson is viewed as the faithful, loving, caring husband; who puts his family first even before golf. Tiger is still seen as the self-centered, hot tempered, sexual addict, who cared more about indulging in his fame and celebrity, fulfilling his own personal needs and fantasies, then the damage he could do to his wonderful wife and family and his game, even though he didn’t know it. The loss to Phil on Sunday was a huge mental setback in his attempt to regain the edge he’d held over every player on tour since before the SUV crash in his driveway.

Where this goes from here can only be good for the drama the 2012 season. The intrigue of where does Tiger go from here only expands. Does he completely fold his tent and regress or does he fight the way we we’re all once so used to seeing? Does Sunday’s beat down make him stronger and more determined to scrap his way back to the top, pushing him towards a major victory this year or even just a PGA win for the first time since 2009? Those questions remain to be answered. What about Phil? Does this direct him towards a consistency that we’ve never really seen from the 40-time tour winner? Can he shoot to the top and take over the void in the sport, Tiger has left behind that so far no player has not come close to filling? What about when they meet the next time on a Sunday with a tournament championship on the line. Can you imagine the anticipation, the drama and most importantly the enormity of the moment? Because after what happened at Pebble Beach last Sunday, there will be no sure idea of what to expect.

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