Soccer’s World Cup takes semi-center stage for the next few weeks...and for some the start can’t come soon enough while for others the end can’t arrive too quickly.  Prepare for three groups of fans to emerge:  the first that can’t stand soccer and complains how the lack of scoring make it such a boring game, a second that can’t believe how one can’t see the pure beauty of a 19th century game that’s brilliance lies in its pure simplicity, and a third that would wish both previous groups would shut up so they can actually follow the games and tournament.  I wish the substitution rules were relaxed (unlimited after goals, between periods and before goal kicks) and time kept on an actual scoreboard (can the game move into the 20th century sometime during the 21st?) but understand that it’s not America’s game to tamper with.  The only substitution rule that would help Team USA is if they were allowed to suit up 12 against Germany and Portugal.  If the US gets to the knockout round, it’ll be a major victory.  Instead, we get to watch the world go crazy as Brazil tries to wash away the stain of losing the 1950 Final on its home soil (trust me, that defeat to Uruguay still stings)…Spain try to become the first European nation to win in the Americas and first repeat champ since Brazil in ’62…nations like Chile and the Netherlands hope that this is finally the year they join the small circle of world champs…and England obsess over what’s wrong with this year’s roster and why they can’t dominate a sport they created.  It’s been 48 years since England stood atop the world…can you imagine Team USA not winning Olympic Gold in mens basketball from now until 2060?  Hopefully Brazil will be ready to host the tournament– word is the conditions will make the Sochi Olympics look like the London Games.

 

Golf’s US Open has two Grand Slams in question:  can Bubba Watson follow his Masters win better than he did in 2012 when he missed the cut?  Outside of his two green jackets, Waffle House’s most famous patron has just two top ten finishes in majors– (2nd at the 2010 PGA Championship and T5 at the 2007 US Open).  He’s already made remarks about the conditions at Pinehurst–and even if they have merit you don’t crush the course.  Come on, Bubba.  The other Grand Slam in question replaces the annual “is the year Phil finally breaks through?” storyline.  Can a player who appeared to be doomed a little over a decade ago (no Major wins until the 2004 Masters) join the ranks of Tiger, Jack, Player, Hogan and Sarazen?  Injuries and inconsistencies have helped keep the reigning British Open Champ out of the top ten this year (with 3 missed cuts and 2 withdrawals)…although the fact he returns to the site of his first of a record six runner-up finishes makes the heart hope he’ll complete the circle.  In Lefty’s near-misses, the first three came at the expense of a multiple-major winner (Payne Stewart, Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen) while the last three came to one-hit wonders (Geoff Ogilvy, Lucas Glover and Justin Rose).  In four of his six second place finishes, Mickelson had the lead after the second or third round (trailing by an average 6.5 shots after those rounds at Bethpage in ’02 and ’09) and shot 70 three times while carding a 71 and a pair of 74’s.  Everybody will be rooting for him though…

 

Rafael Reigns at the French Open– Nobody can contend with the King of Clay:  Nadal wins his 9th championship at Roland Garros and improves to 66-1 lifetime in the tournament.  His Finals victory over Novak Djokovic turns the pendulum back;  after once losing three straight Grand Slam Finals to the Serb Nadal has now bested Djokovic four straight times (3 times at Roland Garros and once at the US Open).  His 14 Grand Slam titles ties him with Pete Sampras (and he’s won each major, something a French-less Sampras was unable to do)…and Roger Federer’s 17 while not a slam-dunk isn’t out of the realm of possibility.  At age 28 one could see Nadal winning perhaps 1 or 2 more French Opens while nabbing one more Australian or US Open.  We often compare grand slam tennis to golf because they’re both individual sports;  but the cliff that elite players fall off of in tennis is far steeper.  But the way Nadal has played over the last year makes one think he has 2-3 left in his pocket.  

 

Horse Racing trots quietly into the night– No Triple Crown winner again, you say?  The streak hits 36?  California Chrome’s co-owner turned what was a good story that just missed perfection somewhat ugly by whining about how Tonalist didn’t deserve to be the Belmont champ because it didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.  Not cool.  Even after the first outburst he could have regained a little dignity…but now the blue bloods who snubbed the Cinderella Story will tell themselves “go figure”.  Now-Steve Coburn has a point.  The short turnaround between the Derby and the Preakness causes a lot of owners to hold his horse out of the race at Pimlico if they don’t prevail at Churchill Downs.  This often inflates the actual perceived ability of the horse that wins the Derby and Preakness–as often it takes the Black Eyed Susan amidst a diminished field (or at least one that’s not as elite as the one it competed against two weeks ago).  And then to run the longest distance of its career against the best of the rested?  I’ve long wished they move the gaps between the races to 3 or even 4 weeks…but much like unlimited substitution and scoreboard clocks in soccer, it’s not going to happen.  Until next year…

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