Archives for posts with tag: British Open

The Midsummer Classic is upon us, even though it’s not technically in the middle of summer (technically that’s around August 7 or 8) or even in the actual midseason (a few weeks ago) but it gives us a chance to take a break.  And the Nats could use one…last week they had seven games with sub-500 squads in Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.  A team looking to enter the hiatus on a strong note would win five of seven…and instead they were lucky to win three.  While the offense has improved (9th in runs in July), the pitching has begun to spring leaks (25th in team ERA this month).  It’s beginning to feel as though the odor of 2013 and 2015 when defending division champs underachieved their way out of contention is back.  It’s not longer early as just under 60% of the schedule has been played. Max Scherzer likely has only 12-13 starts remaining in the season.  And the deficit isn’t shrinking.  Gimme a break?  One break…coming up.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia despite losing consecutive games to Miami still stand atop the division one half game ahead of Atlanta and five and a half ahead of the Nats.  The Phillies are here because of pitching:  they rank fourth in quality starts and are 11th in team ERA while having major issues at the plate.  They’re 26th in MLB in hitting and 21st in runs scored.  The Braves boast a little better balance:  8th in runs scored and 10th in team ERA.  Meanwhile the Marlins and Mets played spoiler by snatching games from the Nats and Phillies over the weekend…remaining in a tie for last place.  We’ll be by with tragic elimination numbers at the appropriate time.

O’s Woes- the Birds won their first series at home since taking three of four from Tampa Bay Mother’s Day weekend.  Still, the 28-69 slide has the club inhaling elimination fumes: the tragic number is now 26 (Red Sox wins + Oriole losses) and the Manny Machado departure countdown is in full force. Philadelphia, the Dodgers and even Milwaukee is in the mix.  Manny was asked at the All Star Game’s media availability what the strangest rumor he’s heard was and replied– “the Giants.  The Tokyo Giants…”.  Regardless, the end of an era looms and one wonders what is next for this franchise and the key figures in the management team.

Last Week’s Heroes- Daniel Murphy hit .533 while Adam Eaton batted .458 andAnthony Rendon led the team with 3 HR and 6 RBI.  Jeremy Hellickson won both of his starts while finishing with an ERA of 0.82 and Max Scherzer won his second straight.

Last Week’s Humbled- Jefry Rodriguez and Austin Voth allowed 13 runs over 9.1 innings in their starts.  They’re not ready for the Major League level and while that is to be understood, the middle of a pennant race with the Nats losing ground is not where you want to see these guys earn their stripes.  Trea Turner hit .115 while Bryce Harper batted .167 with 11 strikeouts in 24 at-bats.

Game to Watch- well with only three games on the slate I’m going with the series opener against Atlanta Friday.  Will Stephen Strasburg finally make his return from the DL?  Since he went on the shelf the starters are a combined 4-20 with an ERA I’d rather not disclose.  If he doesn’t make the start, this is still a huge game as the Nats need to make a dent into the Phillies’ lead–and they have to get past the Braves first..

Game to Miss- the series with the Braves wraps up Sunday with a 1:35 start on a day when the British Open (or “Open Championship” if you insist) wraps up.  Unless it’s a Scherzer start, I’m out.

Golf’s British Open (or The Open Championship as the fine folks across the pond will tell you) tees off this week with Jordan Spieth having a chance to do what nobody has accomplished in over 60 years– win the first three Majors of the calendar year.  The window of opportunity is a little wider as the defending champ Rory McIlroy is out for this week’s tournament with an injured ankle suffered while playing soccer.  No, soccer haters–it wasn’t while faking an injury.

Spieth is the sixth man to attempt the “Hogan Slam”…named so because Ben Hogan is the only golfer to complete that triple play.  How did the other four fare?

2002– Tiger Woods.  Fresh off winning his 7th Major in 11 tries, Tiger was poised to land one step closer to the “true grand slam” as opposed to the “Tiger Slam” from 2000-01.  Woods was in contention after following up a first round 70 with a second round 68…but imploded in a rain-swept Saturday by carding an 81.  Despite a Sunday 65…Woods finished tied for 28th and wouldn’t win another major for almost three years.

1972– Jack Nicklaus.  Not only had Jack won two straight majors, but he also held the other three titles at the time.  But let the record show he did not win three straight majors; through a strange quirk that saw the PGA reschedule their 1971 championship from August to February. Nicklaus finished second by one stroke to defending champ Lee Trevino despite firing a final round 66.  It wasn’t as close at Jack’s “Duel in the Sun” with Tom Watson five years later, but this was perhaps his second most frustrating runner-up finish in that major (and he has plenty to choose from–a record seven).

1960– Arnold Palmer.  This was the year that this tournament became the third leg of golf’s majors as Palmer made competing in the Open a priority;  previously most American pros shied away from competing in the Open Championship as the cost of travel was prohibitive to whatever they would wind up earning overseas.  Palmer finished one shot behind Kel Nagle (the only major Nagle would win in his career) after carding a final round 68.  Arnie would be back–with his army–and win the next two British Opens.  The ripple effect was in the future:  while Americans (Ben Hogan and Sam Snead) had won the tournament just twice from 1934-60, Americans would win the British 16 of the next 23 years.

1953– Ben Hogan.  The course at Carnoustie played rather unforgiving as only six finished under par.  Hogan got better as the week progressed–shooting 73-71-70-68.  Hogan’s run is more impressive when one realizes that he was just four years removed from a near-fatal car crash where he suffered a double-fracture of the pelvis plus fractures to his collarbone and left ankle.  In those days the final two rounds of the British Open were played on Friday– so Hogan walked 36 holes that day en route to victory.  Glenn Ford plays him in the movie.

1941– Craig Wood.  Never had a chance to try for the triple play because World War II had cancelled the Open Championship from 1940-45.  Wood did earn one spot in history:  as the first man to lose all four majors in extra holes (he lost the 1935 Masters to Gene Sarazen, the 1939 US Open to Byron Nelson, the 1933 British Open to Denny Schute and the 1934 PGA Championship to Paul Runyan).

Even minus McIlroy, the field is far from a walkover.  Slicing and dicing through the notables:

Jordan Spieth (9/2 odds)– Pros: he’s won both majors played this year…that takes a lot of skill and a little luck.  Spieth is just beginning to find his ceiling, and is young enough not to realize how ridiculously huge this tournament is for him.  Cons: he’s won both majors played this year…and may have used up all the luck when Dustin Johnson 3-putted the final hole of the US Open.  The rest of the field is too good to hold off…and this is a 23-year old kid at ST. ANDREWS (knees shaking).

Dustin Johnson (12/1)– Pros:  he came this close to winning last month’s US Open…and revenge is a dish best served cold on a Scottish shore.  The 31-year old is just hitting his peak, with one victory and seven top 10 finishes already this year–and he enters this weekend rested.  Cons:  Johnson hasn’t played since that fateful 3-put last month…that’s a long time between starts to effectively golf.  This also means his last competitive hole was that 3-putt.  You’re not telling me he might be a little pre-occupied?  Especially when he plays with Spieth for the first two days?  Rust, anxiety and regret make one horrendous cocktail on the course.

Rickie Fowler (16/1)– Pros:  he’s on a roll, having just won the Scottish Open last weekend.  Fowler finished tied for second last year (one of four top 5 Majors finishes in 2014);…and he brings a certain style that makes the tour a little more interesting. Cons:  the hair.  And clothing.  Do you think the golf gods are going to let him win at St. Andrews?  Fowler also missed the cut at the US Open (a course that played like a British Open course).  Plus, isn’t the Scottish Open like the Masters Par 3 as far as jinxability? (I can say that, I’m 25% Scottish).

Justin Rose (18/1)– Pros:  he’s proven he can win on the Major Championship level (US Open-2013).  Rose has played well in Majors this year (tied for 2nd at the Masters) and has contended at the British Open before (tied for 4th).  He’s also won this year (Zürich Classic).  Cons:  that 4th place finish?  1998!  That’s not just Rose’s most recent top 10 finish, but he’s missed the cut more than he’s made it at the Open Championship this decade.  To top it off:  unlike previous years, Rose won’t have the Quicken Loans/AT&T/Tiger National to prepare him for Open.  Congressional gets you ready for Majors, or at least really bad traffic on River Road.

Henrik Stenson (20/1)– Pros:  he finished 2nd last year and has played well in Majors as of late (4 top fives in the last two years).  Stenson tied for 3rd the last time the Open was played at St. Andrews.  And with it being a decade since the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Sweden needs a little excitement.  Cons: the European hasn’t actually won in Europe since 2006 (Dubai Desert Classic is European Tour but technically in Asia).  Stenson hasn’t played that well this year, either (19th in the Masters, 27th at the US Open).  You think its rough being a Swedish golf fan?  Wales’ hopes rest on Jamie Donaldson.  Let’s just say that Sweden and Wales will likely remain tied in Open Championship winners after this weekend.

Guys we hope are hanging around Sunday morning…because it will elevate breakfast somewhat:

Tiger Woods (20/1)– He’s won at St. Andrews twice, but hasn’t had a top 5 Majors finish in two years.  Tiger’s coming off his best tournament compared to par (7-under at the Greenbrier) and if anyone can turn it on after wandering in the wilderness, it’s the guy with 14 Majors. But he also missed the cut at the US Open (on a course similar to Open Championship tracks).  The putter remains a problem.  And the new generation of challengers is just too good…and not afraid enough.

Bubba Watson (33/1)– Bubba is like a country breakfast.  Plays big.  Plenty of excess.  Bacon, ham or sausage?  Bubba enjoys all three with extra home fries and syrup just because.  Sad to say the Open Tournament is a little more refined than the Masters Watson has won twice, despite what they tell you at Augusta National.  For the record, the fact that a continental breakfast is actually smaller than a country breakfast is major false advertising.

Phil Mickelson (33/1)– Lefty won the Open in 2013…so it doesn’t burn a hole in his golf heart like his quest for the US Open does.  St. Andrews and the lovable dad don’t get along too well either– Mickelson finished 48th five years ago and 60th in 2005.

Sergio Garcia (33/1)– Do you know…Sergio?  Incredibly underwhelming?  World of talent with no majors?  Heavyset thin guy?  One still wants to think of this guy as the teenager who went toe-to-toe with Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship.  Sergio’s playoff loss to Padraig Harrington in 2007 is the closest he’s come to winning the British Open–or a Major at all.  But–he’s only 35.  One year older than Phil when he started winning Majors.  It’s not so far-fetched… is it?

Tom Watson (750/1)– It would be much longer odds if the 5-time winner didn’t finish second in 2009.  Watson dominated the British Open like none other in the modern era…winning 5 claret jugs over a 9-year span.  He beat Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino during their heydays while also keeping multiple-Major winners like Hale Irwin and Nick Price from padding their totals.  In 1984 Watson while not ready to challenge Nicklaus’ then-record 17 Majors was at least ready to pass the likes of Gary Player and Ben Hogan…and maybe Walter Hagen.  But runnerup finishes that year in the Masters and British Open was just the beginning of Watson not winning another Major after the age of 33…after being so dominant for such a spell.  Just to illustrate to the Tiger fans who can’t believe one can stop winning Majors at age 33–it can happen in this fickle game.  But for one last Thursday and Friday– Watson competes against the one course he did not win on during his heyday.  Here’s hoping he makes the cut…

Another week, another benchmark.  The All Star break finds the Nationals two games ahead of the pack in the NL East after the team took two of three against the Orioles (now there’s a team tumbling– with 10 losses in 13 games).  Seven of last year’s ten playoff teams were in postseason position during the All Star break of 2014…and this year the Nats can be comfortable knowing that they are the only team with a positive run differential in their division.  While two wins can’t completely erase going 0-2 against Cincinnati, it’s nice to enter the break off a winning series where your ace has returned to form.  But seriously, what is it with the Reds?  The Nats are 0-5 against the NL Central’s 4th place team.

Alan Alda Would Be Proud– four of the Nats projected eight starting position players this year are on the Disabled List, not including last year’s #1 pitcher Stephen Strasburg.  Ryan Zimmerman (on a pace for 100 RBI when he went down) has missed 31 games.  Jayson Werth (hitting .250 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in 12 May games after hitting .175 in April) began the season on the shelf, has missed 60 games overall and won’t return until early August.  Anthony Rendon didn’t play until June 4th and was just beginning to hit his stride (batting 8-15 over his last four games) when he went down three weeks later…meaning the guy who scored 111 runs last year has missed 69 games in 2015.  Denard Span also began the year on the DL–and back issues sent him back to sick bay last week…making him the most active of the bunch at 28 games missed.  Thus, the projected 1, 2, 3 and 5 hitters in the lineup have missed a combined 188 games…and we’ve only just passed the halfway mark.  But that’s not all:  Stephen Strasburg’s in his second stint on the shelf (5 starts missed) while the guy who led the team in victories last year (Doug Fister) has missed 5 or 6 starts (depending on your rotational math with off days in the mix).  Not to mention the absence of bullpen bulldog Craig Stammen (who led the team in relief innings pitched last year)…who’s been an afterthought since tax day.  The fact that this team is even in contention– let alone in first place– is an achievement for the bench, the manager and the organization.

Digesting the Division– the New York Mets begin this week two games behind the Nats…thanks to their sweep of Arizona.  The Mets regained their mojo against the NL West, taking 7 of 9 games over the last week and a half.  Atlanta’s now five games under .500 after losing five straight entering the midseason hiatus.  Can either team make a second half run?  The Mets pitching (3rd in MLB in ERA and quality starts) is betrayed by their bats (28th in runs scored, 29th in slugging and 30th in batting average–clearly they’re spending too much time working on their 26th ranked on base percentage)… while the Braves are lucky to be in the conversation (22nd in runs scored, 21st in ERA–so at least they’re somewhat consistent).  Miami and Philadelphia continue to provide punchlines.

Division to Watch– Sunday night Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco belted a walk-off single to give the Pirates a 6-5 win over St. Louis for the second straight night.  The previous night Andrew McCutchen ripped a walk-off homer in the 14th to give the Bucs the W.  While Pittsburgh may have momentum, they still trail the Cardinals for the best record in the NL Central as well as all of baseball.  They’re two of the three teams currently playing over .600 ball (Kansas City being the other).  Two playoff teams from 2014 to watch out for this summer.  Meanwhile, the third place Chicago Cubs would also make the playoffs if they began today and they possess the freshest new face in Kris Bryant as well as a manager in Joe Maddon who’s known for getting the most out of his club.  Even the also-rans merit mention:  as previously dwelled upon, fourth place Cincinnati is 5-0 against the Nationals this year and last place Milwaukee boasts Bob Uecker as their announcer (he got locked in the team’s radio booth earlier this year and had to be rescued by ladder).

Last Week’s Heroes– Danny Espinosa led the team with 2 HR and 4 RBI while continuing to play the role of defensive Swiss Army Knife (he’s played 5 of the 8 positions in the field so far this year).  Max Scherzer bounced back from his worst start of the season to toss 8.2 solid innings against the Orioles while Drew Storen tallied saves at Camden Yards on consecutive days.  While much was expected from Scherzer and Storen this year, Espinosa’s risen above even the most inflated of 2015 hopes.  Despite playing 26 fewer games, he’s already surpassed his 2014 totals in runs scored, doubles, homers, runs batted in and walks.  While Bryce Harper is the team’s MVP, Espinosa and Yunel Escobar have been just as essential in their own way.

Last Week’s Humbled– San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy for not adding Drew Storen to the All Star team after Max Scherzer pitched Sunday.  Storen is currently tied for second in the NL in saves…and while Kershaw does lead the majors in strikeouts the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher is 6-6 to start the season.  Storen boasts a sub-2 ERA and has been the backbone of a bullpen that is still finding itself.  In the All Star Game, pitchers only throw 1-2 innings anyways and with Zach Grienke already starting do the Dodgers want to burn another starter?  Maybe that’s the Giants skipper’s MO.

Game to Watch– starters are not announced yet, but if one gives Max Scherzer his normal rest he’s back on the hill Friday in DC against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Do they bring Greinke or Kershaw (providing he pitches Tuesday) on two days rest?  Or do we get one of the staff Zeppos?  Regardless… it’s the Dodgers on a Friday night.

Game to Miss–  Sunday afternoon instead of being focused on the series finale with LA (and potentially either Greinke or Kershaw), I’ll be focused on golf’s British Open.  Spieth shooting for history and the “Hogan Slam” 62 years after Ben won back-to-back-to-back majors.  Is there a better place for a new generation’s Jordan to try to fly than St. Andrews?