Archives for posts with tag: Tiger Woods

We’ve seen this before- haven’t we?  The Yankees are dominating the American League and Washington DC is hoping for a winner.  The team with plenty of heart is having an inconsistent season when all of a sudden a player drops in the district from out of nowhere and starts to produce immediately.  Sound familiar?  The musical “Damn Yankees” was a broadway musical in 1955 and a movie in 1958, and today’s version of Joe Hardy (aka “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO”) is Juan Soto (“beardless Juan from the Dominican”?).  Has anybody checked to see if a middle-aged local real estate agent named Juan Boyd has disappeared?  Is there anybody resembling Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” hanging out around the ballpark?  Has anyone spotted a petal-pusher wearing temptress named Lola in the seats?  Does manager Davey Martinez spontaneously break out in song?  You gotta have hope…

Dissecting the Division- Atlanta despite dropping two of three to the Orioles own a three game lead over the Nationals in the NL East.  The Braves are getting a big boost from former Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki (.400 last week–and .282 with 8 HR and 26 RBI for the year).  Philadelphia moved a half game ahead of the Nats by taking four of six games, including two of three against the Nats.  Maikel Franco (.556 with 2 HR and 4BI) and Carlos Santana (3 HR with 7 RBI) have been crushing Nats’ pitching in the six games they’ve played this year.  The Mets are chasing Miami for last place–and their six game losing streak puts them within a game and a half of the cellar.  The Marlins are 11-11 this month…which is better than the Nats (who are 8-12 in June).

O’s Woes- don’t look now, but the Birds actually had a non-losing week at 3-3.  At 23-53, they now need to only go 40-46 to avoid a 100-loss campaign.  Chris Davis and Colby Rasmus each homered upon their respective returns to the lineup, which is a good sign as the weather gets warmer.  This O’s team was built to blast homers, and their lack of early production was more unexpected than the rotation regression.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon hit .444 with 3 HR and 7 RBI.  Michael A. Taylor now owns the hottest bat in the outfield after batting .438 with 2 runs and 4 RBI.  Juan Soto remains unexplainable as the 19-year old holds his own at the plate (an OBP of .500).  Sean Doolittle notched 3 saves and Max Scherzer struck out 9 in his only start of the week.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Tanner Roark allowed 6 runs over 4 and a third innings and now has an ERA of 7.40 this month.  Right now he’s 3-8 and has never had more than 11 losses over a full season in his major league career.  Mark Reynolds went hitless in 12 at bats…even more of an issue with Matt Adams on the DL.  Pedro Severino hit 1-for-19…and although it’s his defense the team is paying for that’s a gaping hole deep in the lineup to deal with.

Game to Watch- Monday night the team visits Tampa Bay to play a bad team in a worse stadium.  But it’s the best pitching matchup we’ll see all week with Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA) facing Brad Snell (9-4, 2.48).  Plus we get to see the DH in play.  If you’re too tired from the late Sunday game…rest up for next Sunday’s series finale in Philadelphia when Gio squares off with a slumping Jake Arrietta.

Game to Miss- normally I’d shy away from a non-divisional game, but Max Scherzer pitches Tuesday so I’m tuned into Nats- Tampa Bay bigtime.  Saturday Jefry Rodriguez is slated to pitch in Philadelphia at 6:05 while many of us will be out on the course at TPC Avanel following or covering the Quicken Loans National.  This is probably the last year the PGA will have an event in this area, and what began with such promise will likely end with a quiet exit to the midwest.  It’s a shame the tournament didn’t get a better week with regards to the calendar from a placement or weather standpoint. Fore!

Yes, the Nationals are in the midst of the early middle part of their season (not to be confused with the middle early part of their year).  But this week, month, season and year have been swiped away by the Washington Capitals and their first ever NHL championship.  Last Thursday, the Caps captured the Stanley Cup by rallying on the road at Vegas.  And downtown Washington, DC came alive in an incredible melting pot of fans from all over the metropolitan area.  So while the Nats make their charge towards a potential fifth postseason in seven years, let’s marvel at the force of nature that was the Caps since April 12.  And sit back as these guys celebrate.  A championship in the major professional sports (sorry Kastles and United) hasn’t happened in DC since 1992, when the Redskins were the only local pro team to actually play its games in the District.  Amazing how things change as the ‘Skins are the ones who are now outside city limits.  And this is the FIRST in franchise history.  Before Philadelphia won the 1974 Stanley Cup, Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote on the dressing room chalkboard: “Win today and we walk together forever.”  Whatever happens this summer with player exits or next season as the Caps mount a title defense, this team will walk together forever.  So let’s celebrate was one magical spring.  Rock the Red…

Max Factor- according to ESPN.COM, the next home start for Max Scherzer falls on Thursday, June 21 against the Orioles. Plan accordingly.

You Can’t Spell Revolving Door with out “DL”- the Nats could be getting help at the plate with Daniel Murphy potentially returning this week as the DH at the New York Yankees.  Adam Eaton returned to the field Saturday and scored a pair of runs while batting 1-for-4.  But the DL taketh just as it giveth away, as Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler join the wounded.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats and Atlanta are tied after the Braves dropped four of six on their west coast swing.  Just like the Mets plateaued and then cratered could we be seeing Atlanta ebb a little?  It’s unlikely as the Braves’ next 14 games are coming against clubs with losing records.  Philadelphia has lost seven of nine to slide three games off the pace…and 15 of their next 18 games are against foes with winning marks.  The Mets and Marlins are a combined 4-13 this month to bring up the rear.

O’s Woes- pick your poison in the sweep at Toronto. Would you rather lose in extra innings on a bases loaded walk after stranding 13 on base like the Birds did Saturday?  Or get the drama out of the way early in a 13-3 loss Sunday when Alex Cobb coughed up nine runs and left in the fourth inning?  The O’s are a big league worst 19-45…and need to go 44-54 (.449 winning percentage for a team that’s winning 29.7% of the time so far this year) to avoid the dreaded 100-loss campaign.

Last Week’s Heroes- Anthony Rendon celebrated his birthday in style Wednesday by going 4-5 with 3 RBI.  Juan Soto continues to mandate playing time by going .333 with five runs scored.  Max Scherzer went 1-1 while striking out 22 and walking three.  Tanner Roark tossed a solid outing. Sean Doolittle notched two saves in two opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Kintzler both land on the disabled list after short outings.  Pedro Severino went 0-for-12 at the plate.  Bryce Harper hit .190 with one walk and 7 strikeouts.  Trea Turner hit 4 for 21 with the bulk of his at-bats near or at the top of the order.

Game to Watch- We didn’t get any resolution in last month’s DC series with the New York Yankees, so here’s hoping there aren’t any rainouts this week.  Tuesday Tanner Roark is coming off of a solid outing and is actually better on the road (3.29 ERA) than at home (3.86) this year.  Ageless C.C. Sabathia might not be on pace to equal last year’s 14 wins, but has an ERA lower than any he’s finished with since 2012.

Game to Miss- Sunday Roark pitches in Toronto as the Nats wrap up their roadtrip.  But golf’s US Open takes center stage.  Sorry, Tanner.

Something about the air in June.  Schools are getting out and the pools are open (although the water remains frigid).  After a May where the weather made one want to listen to “Baker Street”, June has us rocking to Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend”- which after Memorial Day often begins on Thursday.  At noon.  The endless summer ahead has the Nats’ bats blowing up as well this month:  2nd in the majors in batting and runs scored.  The lineup that took a while to gel is finally finding itself and getting hot as the weather does likewise.  Break out the sunglasses and sunscreen.  

Digesting the Division- the sweep of Philadelphia gives the Nats a 39-24 record (tied for second best in the majors) and a four and a half game lead over the Mets.  New York is the only other NL East team not to have a losing record over its last ten games (5-5).  Their pitching alone (second in the majors in staff ERA) gives them sticking power throughout the summer months, while their bats (28th in runs scored) leave a lot to be desired.  The other three clubs?  Miami’s dropped two straight and 6 of 10, Philadelphia’s lost four straight and 7 of 10 and Atlanta just completed another 2-8 lurch.  Although let the record show that after taking 37 games to post nine victories under Fredi Gonzalez, they’ve only taken 25 games to notch 9 games under interim skipper Brian Snitker (who sounds like a minor character from the latter seasons of 90210).

Division to Watch- the team the Nats are tied with for the second best record in the bigs?  Your former Washington Senators, the Texas Rangers.  Ranking 7th in the majors in runs scored and 10th in ERA, the defending division champs are beginning to pull away.  Their five game lead over second place Seattle is the largest in the American League;  for comparison both fourth place teams in the AL East and Central are within six games of the leaders.  Houston, the Angels and Oakland are all under five hundred and resemble swimmers with anvils tied to their bellies.  While Nomar Mazara leads the club in hitting and home runs, it’s former National Ian Desmond who paces the Rangers with 42 RBI.  When Ian and the Nats parted ways it was a tough but necessary break…and there are many of those in and around the beltway happy for his safe landing.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson werth hit .500 with a homer and 8 RBI, jumpstarted Friday’s rally with a 2-run double and drove in the game-winning run Sunday.  He also had a sweet catch in left field Friday night to avoid more bleeding for what was a staggering Stephen Strasburg at that moment.  Danny Espinosa hit .429 with 3 HR. Prime pitching performances came in the form of Tanner Roark (7 strikeouts over 7 innings Saturday in the heat) and Max Scherzer (6 K in 7 scoreless against the White Sox Wednesday).  Some weeks you almost run out of gold stars and smiley faces.

Last Week’s Humbled- Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos have been hitting 5th and 6th lately, with the two occasionally being flip-flopped.  Last week was not awesome for either:  Zim hit .111 while Ramos batted .176 in prime RBI spots.  Joe Ross (5.09 ERA in two no-decisions) had two rough outings after winning his two previous starts.  Felipe Rivero (allowing a 2-run HR Friday against the Phils) and Shawn Kelley (16.20 ERA in two appearances) were less than stellar over the last seven days.  Blame the heat.

Game to Watch- Wednesday it’s the series finale for the duel of division leaders:  Stephen Strasburg pitches against the Cubs against Jason Hammel (7-2, 2.36 ERA).  After getting broomed in the windy city earlier this month, will the Nats have the necessary answers this time in DC?  Can Strasburg continue his incredible start and turn his record up to 11-0?  And will Bryce Harper see a pitch within five feet of the strike zone?

Game to Miss- Sunday Gio Gonzalez (four straight losses) and the Nats wrap up a series in Milwaukee against Drew Pomeranz (one win in his last five starts).  As if that wasn’t inspirational enough, the 4:40 gametime also seriously conflicts with the final round of the US Open.  In the one major championship that Tiger Woods was never able to successfully defend, can Jordan Spieth win back to back titles?  On the five year anniversary of his tear through Congressional, will Rory McIlroy return to reclaim his crown?  Or will 2016 be the year we finally see Phil Mickelson celebrate a Father’s Day triumph?  Sorry, Gio…

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…

Let’s be honest– the PGA Championship is the Ringo of Golf Majors.  Much like the Australian Open in tennis– the PGA is a Grand Slam event because you NEED four to have a grand slam (unlike the Champions/Senior Tour that has 5 grand slam events).  But even though Richard Starkey was not as talented as John, Paul or George he remains a Beatle for life.  Likewise–the winner of the PGA Championship gets to count that towards his major title total.  The Players Championship claims “fifth major” status–but really they’re just the Pete Best/Stu Sutcliffe/George Martin.  Close to greatness but not in the Fab Four.  Speaking of Fab Four–Rory McIlroy wins his fourth career major by one shot at 16 under par.  Other thoughts relating to Rory and Ringo…:

 

Boys— Rory’s win comes on a weekend dominated by youth:  he’s 25 as is Ricky Fowler who tied for third (after consecutive runner-up finishes at the US and British Opens).  Victor Dubuisson (24 years old) tied for seventh while Brooks Koepka (24) and Jason Day (26) tied for 15th.  Was this weekend the first page of a new chapter?

 

I Wanna Be Your Man— McIlroy’s victory was his second PGA Championship.  He joins notables like Lee Trevino and Gary Player in the group ahead of one-time winners but behind Jack Nicklaus (5) and Tiger Woods (4) in the stroke-play era (the PGA Championship used to be decided in match-play until the late 1950’s).  Rory also wins two majors in the same calendar year– a feat last accomplished by Padraig Harrington in 2008.  He also moves up the ladder with four majors–only 27 men have accomplished that feat (including both Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris from the 19th century).  The top ranked player in the world has every reason to believe there will be more majors.

 

Honey Don’t— despite not being as desirable a tournament as the Masters (tradition!), US Open (it’s our national championship!) or British Open (the birthplace of golf!)– the PGA is one tough tournament to win.  Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer never won the PGA.  Likewise for multiple-major winners Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.  While many think Rickie Fowler will eventually break through at the major championship level–many were saying the same thing when a 19-year old Sergio Garcia finished second to Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship.  And we’re still waiting…

 

Act Naturally— McIlroy shot 66, 67, 67 and 68 en route to victory.  His back nine dominance helped him regain the lead Sunday after Mickelson and Fowler surged ahead…starting with an eagle on 10 (the same hole he double-bogeyed in the first round).  McIlroy finished 12 under par on the back nine (-4 on the front nine) for the tournament– taking a two shot lead with a birdie putt on 17.  It still wasn’t over though…

 

What Goes On— Phil Mickelson was THIS CLOSE to stealing the spotlight on what was the Rory Coronation Party (after two days of the Will Tiger Make the Cut Mystery)…barely missing a pair of shots on the 16th and 18th holes.  His chip on 16 holed out-robbing him of a birdie before Mickelson missed the par putt.  Phil’s chip on 18 almost went in–if it had he’d have carded an eagle and there would have been a playoff.  Which probably would have meant we would have finished the tournament Monday– just like in 2005 when lefty triumphed.

 

Yellow Submarine—  skies of blue they weren’t Sunday afternoon…as rain interrupted the final day of play and forced a semi-furious finish where McIlroy was battling darkness as well as Mickelson and Fowler.  (Beatle aside– Ringo always said the best drumming he ever did was on “Rain”–the B-side to “Paperback Writer”).  On the 18th Rory hit his approach shot while the duo had yet to putt.  Thank goodness nobody was hurt.  It did feel uncomfortable watching Rory watch Phil and Rickie before he could proceed with his round.  Made for solid TV…except for those complaining about the pre-emption of 60 Minutes.

 

With a Little Help from My Friends— Chris Wood had one memorable Thursday…and it wasn’t his first round 66.  The Englishman split the seat of his pants early in his round…and had to wear a pair of his playing partner’s rain pants.  But the pants didn’t fit well… so Wood got his own rain pants from his locker.  The water-repellent pants didn’t exactly breathe well in the Louisville heat…but before Wood melted in the August sun his manager showed up with a fresh pair.  Wood finished his first round with 5 birdies while wearing 4 different pairs of trousers.  After carding the 66, Wood shot 73, 70 and 74 in rounds he didn’t have to change his pants.  I’m not suggesting he should have torn his pants on purpose, but when it’s working…

 

Don’t Pass Me By— it appears as though Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major Championships appears safe.  Tiger Woods misses the cut by five shots after shooting consecutive 74’s.  It’s now been six years since his US Open title–and while he’s at the same age as Nicklaus was when he won his 15th major (1978 British Open) the odds of Woods enjoying the same sort of sunset Jack did (4 majors after turning 38) aren’t encouraging.  Whether it’s injuries, bad luck, off the course distractions or just getting old– some guys just simply stop winning majors after reaching their mid-30’s (Arnold Palmer was 34 when he won his last Masters and Tom Watson was 33 when he won his last British Open).  If Tiger shuts it down for the rest of the year– perhaps he comes back stronger in 2015.  Will his back issues ever go away?

 

Good Night— 2014 began with a Bubba bang– as Watson won his second green jacket in three years (and enjoyed another trip to a Waffle House).  Martin Kaymer conquered the US Open before the tournament really began…and then Rory McIlroy after ending an engagement over the phone dialed in one incredible summer.  Now every April the “can he win the Masters to complete the career grand slam” question will be asked.  After spending much of the last few years focusing on Tiger’s travails, it’s nice to think about what might be as opposed to what won’t be.

 

Octopus’ Garden— other storylines going to seed after Labor Day include the manufactured excitement surrounding the Fed Ex Cup Challenge Playoff… Tom Watson’s tough decisions regarding his Ryder Cup roster…the Rickie Fowler breakthrough question…will Phil Mickelson finally win a US Open?…Tom Watson’s last time playing the British Open (at St. Andrews–where none of his 5 wins came at)…who’s affected the most in the belly-putter’s final year?…and how many times will the Players Championship refer to itself as “golf’s fifth major”?  Sorry, Pete Best–your drums are taken.

July begins with a BANG! as the “sports offseason” is rather busy on multiple fronts.  What to do as I try to get my poolside summer reading done…

 

It’s almost fitting that it took until the 82nd game (one after the midpoint) that the Nationals Opening Day Eight finally played a full nine together.  Big Red Machine, they’re not…but you need healthy components to be successful in the NL East race.  Bryce Harper’s return (1-3 with 1 run and an RBI) provided some pop and extends the lineup (Desmond hitting 7th is always nice) while providing manager Matt Williams options against tough lefties (Zim to 1st while LaRoche rests his legs), righties (Harper to CF while Span takes a seat), American League parks (Zim DH’s) and tough pitchers in general (Rendon to 2B while Espinosa slows down his 186 strikeout pace).  Hopefully Jordan Zimmermann can keep up what was an incredible June (six starts, a 1.43 ERA with opponents batting .192).  Will Harper’s attitude in wanting to play CF and bat higher than sixth hurt the club?  I’m happy to see a player of his potential want to hit higher and play a more demanding defensive position…but the key is playing his way into both spots.

 

Despite a Tigerless weekend after Mr. Woods was unable to shake three months rust and a Friday where the notables weren’t on the leaderboard but below the cut-line (Major winners Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Keegan Bradley and  Jason Dufner)…at least Sunday at Congressional Country Club began with a former US Amateur Champ atop the leaderboard.  But Ricky Barnes bogeyed consecutive holes on the front nine…and after getting back to 6 under par carded consecutive double-bogeys on the back nine.  Opening the window for Justin Rose…who somehow bounced back from a Thursday 74 (same score as Tiger) to shoot 65, 71 and 70.  That final round placed him one shot ahead of Shawn Stefani (sounds like a designer accessory, but he’s actually a 2-time winner on the web.com Tour) before Rose bogeyed 18.  Stefani’s missed birdie putt on 18 set up a playoff that was rather drama-free when Stefani’s second shot landed in the water hazard.  All in all a nice weekend in Bethesda– and it’s a shame there’s not a course inside the beltway that will embrace this tournament as much as the PGA will embrace said course.  For many in the area:  Gainesville, Virginia may as well be Gainesville, Florida.  The biggest problem for Tiger’s tournament isn’t the place but the timing:  next year the Quicken Loans National takes place during Redskins Training Camp…and the following year it moves to late May.  The bigger a tournament is…the less it moves on the calendar.

 

Americans to the Exits–so much for the US hopefuls at Wimbledon.  John Isner’s loss in the mens’ third round and Madison Keys retiring from her third round match mean that for the first time since 1911– no American man or woman is in the Round of 16.  Make that gentleman or lady.  It’s a shame there are no American elites excelling on the major tournament level…because both games are exciting in completely different ways.  The mens’ game is a full-fledged Fab Four Era where Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and Federer take turns trying to one-up each other (sorry, Stanislas Wawrinka–you’re the Pete Best of the bunch).  Federer may be the lion in winter, but grass is his surface.  Nadal may have Federer’s number, but he’s never been as good on grass as he has been on clay.  Djokovic may be the top seed, but he’s reached the finals here only twice in his storied career.  And Murray may be the only Brit in the bunch, but when he loses he becomes just a Scot.  Barring an upset, there will be compelling fireworks on July 4th.  Speaking of upsets, that’s what makes the womens’ game so interesting to follow come Grand Slam time– witness last year’s carnage at Wimbledon where most of the top seeds were gone by the end of the first week, followed by more blood-letting this year.  Where are OUR underdog women that are shocking the world?  Where’s our elite man that makes the Fab Four a Fab Five?  Sadly the absence of both drains the American rooting interest.  So much for “Breakfast at Wimbledon”;  for years its been the omelet of sports viewing…while for most Americans this year it’ll have the significance of a pop-tart.

 

Speaking of breakfast, according to Wikipedia “the Belgian waffle is identified by its larger size, lighter batter, larger squares, and a higher grid pattern that forms deep pockets.” For those eating today– beware.  As  World Cup Fever reaches a potential apex this afternoon the US National Team faces Belgium in the Knockout Stage.  While Belgium went 3-0 in Group H, let’s remind ourselves that Russia’s ranked #19, Algeria’s 22nd and South Korea currently ranks 57th.  Team USA’s Group (OF DEATH) G path that finished 1-1-1?  A 2-1 victory over #37 Ghana, a 2-2 tie with 4th ranked Portugal and a 1-0 loss to 2nd rated Germany.  So the RPI thing (to go college hoops on you) favors the Americans.  Jozy Altidore’s hamstring remains a question and a concern…and goaltender Tim Howard can only stand on his head so many times this tournament between the pipes, right?  Just like I was rooting for the US not to be subject to the casting of lots (the final tie-breaker in group play)…I’m hoping for no penalty kicks this afternoon.  I accept that penalty kicks is the way of the world…but it seems as arbitrary as free throws.  Instead, I’d rather see the two 15 minute periods followed by 15 minute “sudden victory” periods.  Recalibrate the substitutions after regulation and then if 90 more minutes are played, recalibrate them again.  The World Cup should decide the better/best team– not the better/best shooters & goaltender.

Say what you will about the Washington Nationals breaking out the brooms against everybody not wearing an A on their cap– they’re simply tenants in the subdivision currently run by the landlords known as the Atlanta Braves.  The Nats may very well be the team to beat for the second straight season… but the Braves are the team that’s beating them.  The pounding over the first two weekends of the 2014 season (losing 5 of 6 by the composite score of 32-16) reminds the DC faithful that they remain the bug and Atlanta remains the windshield of the NL East.

The preseason favorites were outscored (allowing 6+ runs in four of the six games), shut down (held to 1 or 2 runs in four of the six games), squeaked by (a 7-6  extra inning loss Friday) or blown out (a 10-2 thumping Sunday).  Leadoff hitter Denard Span went 1 for 15 against Braves pitching before missing two games with a concussion…and staff ace Stephen Strasburg posted a 6.23 ERA against Atlanta’s lineup that currently ranks 16th in hitting and 22nd in runs scored.  These games have been lost thanks in part to butchered base running (on multiple counts)…instant replay (Ian Desmond’s inside the park home run that became a double)…and faulty fielding (3 errors the first weekend…7 more in the second).  They’ve had one starter get to the seventh inning (Taylor Jordan) in six games…and have hit .164 with runners in scoring position (stranding 7.5 runners a game) against their nemesis to the south.  Tough to find any silver lining in these hurricane clouds.

The good news is they won’t see the Braves for over two months (June 19-22 they host the NL East leaders)…while the bad news is that this bunch will be banged up for some time.  Ryan Zimmerman (broken thumb, 4-6 weeks) joins Wilson Ramos on the disabled list while Denard Span (concussion) and Scott Hairston (sore knee) missed time this past weekend.  So let them get fat against the Marlins…and good luck when St Louis comes to town.  Because even though there are only 19 games against the Braves this year, the Nationals will be chasing Atlanta even if they pass them.

 

Capitals Close Shop– for the first time since 2007… there will be no postseason hockey in the district.  Now this isn’t like most six-year playoff runs:  the Caps never were able to get past the second round/conference semifinal round–twice losing in seven games and the other time getting swept.  Last May’s first round stumble to the NY Rangers (in one of the worst game seven efforts ever-next to the collapse against Pittsburgh in 2009) was the team’s fourth game seven loss at home during the current “run”.  Or should I say stagger.  Alex Ovechkin’s chase of 50 goals while boasting the worst plus-minus in the league was mind-boggling.  Hands-down the the most hollow DC-area stat since Bruce Smith notched the career sack record (at least the Caps didn’t sell Ovie coins).  Will GM George McPhee and/or coach Adam Oates survive the April evaluations?  This team doesn’t need new leadership as much as it needs quality defensemen.  The blue line was a sore spot the entire season…and for a team that has a preponderance of potential line combinations the fact that the goaltender du jour didn’t have consistent quality in front of him can’t be ignored.

 

Masters remains a “tradition unlike any other”.  Especially with Jim Nantz’s “overused catchphrase unlike any other”.  Was anyone else hoping for Jimmy Walker to make a run at the green jacket just to see if Nantz would be tempted to say “Dy-no-mite”?  As if he would.  Veteran Bubba Watson outdueled 20-year old Jordan Spieth (who shined for the first two rounds last June at the AT&T National) for his second green jacket in three years.  What next?  We often project the run a major champion will have (Mark O’Meara in 1998, Padraig Harrington in 2007-08).  But often they end up like Jim Furyk…still searching for their second major almost to the point that we forget their first.  Watson’s won just four PGA tournaments in his pro career.  Same as José María Olazábal when he won at Augusta National in 1994 and ’99.  Including his run at the Masters, Bubba has just four top ten finishes in Majors (Masters wins in 2012 & 14, 2nd PGA 2010, T5 US Open 2007).  Just like Sandy Lyle.  Will Spieth become the next great thing?  Sergio Garcia finished second in a major at 19–and we’re still waiting on the now 34-year old.  Unfortunately the mixed cocktail of no Tiger, Phil missing the cut and sunny skies on the east coast resulted in the lowest TV ratings in a decade.  Just like the NBA never really got ready for the post-Jordan boom…golf doesn’t have that next big magnet that brings in non-golf fans.  But on the bright side…Bubba celebrated his Masters win by eating at Waffle House and tweeted a picture with the hashtag “hashbrowns”.  Now those are traditions unlike any other.

 

Another year gone…another calendar to purchase…another month of writing the wrong year on our checks.  How did we get here?  And will we have to come up with 14 notables next January?

The baker’s dozen around the beltway–

1–Instead of the start of something special…the beginning of the end–January began with the sun shining all over Landover as a new era was beginning to bloom…one that would feature the indestructible Robert Griffin III fulfilling the vision of coach Mike Shanahan.  Fresh off a season-ending seven game winning streak, the NFC East champion Redskins hosted its first playoff game since the 1990’s.  RG3’s injury with the team up 14-0 in the first half turned a game and a regime around for the worse.  Things would never be so good again.

2–A Purple and Black world–How did the Ravens manage to beat the Broncos in Denver?  Nothing like a slipping safety to jumpstart an incredible run by an aging team that had staggered into the postseason.  After avenging their loss the year before in New England…and avoiding a power outage fallout at the Super Bowl, Baltimore’s New Colts/Cleveland’s Original Browns had their second world title in 13 seasons.  And even though they fell back to .500 this year…the owner/GM/coach system in the Charm City is working in a way others nearby should take note. 

3–Mere Madness–the NCAA Tournament provided multiple thrills, chills and spills.  The Maryland women running into a UConn buzzsaw in the Sweet Sixteen at “neutral” Bridgeport?  At least Alyssa Thomas has another year to post triple doubles in College Park.  Georgetown losing to FGCU?  Book it.  Gonzaga complaining about a lack of respect and then getting bounced in the round of 32?  Done.  A Syracuse team scoring 37 point at Verizon the first Saturday of March–only to wrap up its run to the Final Four in the same building three weeks later?  So did not see that happening.  Michigan bench player Spike Albrecht shooting the lights out and then tweeting Kate Upton?  Only in America.  Louisville winning the national title while the very state they play in remains in mourning for Big Blue’s loss to Robert Morris in the NIT?  Here’s to this March.

4–Flat Nats and O’s Woes prevent a BW Parkway Series–Strasburg and Harper adorning national magazine covers…looking to build off a 98-win season.  Oriole Magic fresh off its first playoff appearance since the late-90’s.  Nobody could stop the Nats on their way to a second straight NL East title– except themselves.  An error-filled April…followed by injuries that included running into walls…and market-correction seasons for players with big 2012’s relegated the team to pretender status until a September surge that came up short.  The apparent power vacuum in the AL East would not be filled by the O’s–but by a Boston squad pieced together by the most intriguing collection of beards possible.

5–Caps return to roots–after the lockout the Capitals took a while to find themselves under new coach Adam Oates, finally hitting their stride in April.  Alex Ovechkin returned to MVP form.  But cruising through the Southleast Division left the banner-hangers ill prepared for playoff hockey…and a blowout loss in game seven to the New York Rangers began another long summer.  At least now they’re back in the same division with the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Islanders…even though they’re now in a division called the “Metropolitan”.

6–Horse Senseless–The Triple Crown drought continues…almost to the surprise of no one.  Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont while a DC area sportscaster claims that with the new era of horses they should gap the races 4 weeks to a month apart:   The horse cannot be at peak performance and safely compete in all three races.  Why not move the Preakness to Memorial Day weekend and the Belmont to the Saturday before July 4th?  Tradition’s chains continue to marginalize a niche sport.

7–Wizards working their way into winning?–when Bradley Beal and John Wall were healthy last season, this was a decent team.  Even during Beal’s absence this fall, coach Randy Wittman’s club played well.  After a 2-7 start the team won 7 of 9 over 14 days…salvaging what could have been a crater of an early season.  And Otto Porter hasn’t even gotten up to speed.  Fifth place in the Eastern Conference and 14-14?  Who’s ready for April?

8–Sweet Serena…and the best era nobody’s paying attention to– Serena Williams dominated tennis again, taking 78 of 82 matches while winning the French and US Opens.  Giving her 17 Grand Slam titles.  Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray traded shots…and with Roger Federer officially in the sunset portion of his career, the mens’ game awaits a name with no Americans on the horizon.

9–Grand Slam in Golf achieved by Nottiger–Have you heard of him?  For the fifth consecutive year, Tiger Woods remains at 14 Majors.  A longer drought than anything Jack Nicklaus experienced during his run to 18.  He’s contended here and there, but so did Arnold Palmer in the late 60’s…as did Tom Watson two decades later when he was done winning.  Instead, first time winners Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner joined history while Phil Mickelson inched one step closer to a career Grand Slam nobody thought possible ten years ago.  Lefty’s not going to catch Tiger…but his second act is one Woods could wind up being envious of.

10–Super Bowl or Bust!  What could go wrong?–Were those the actual words in August?  Did we not learn anything from the Nats backslide?  Is the knee not an important joint?  The offseason focus was all about RG3hab…instead of where it should have been.  Defense and special teams were eyesores in the Shanahan era…and both fell flat on their faces this past fall.  And after an offseason of rehab, the franchise quarterback did not have a fantastic sophomore campaign.  A very long and steep fall ensued…

11–New sheriff in Natstown–the team goes from older player’s manager to a hard-charging intense skipper.  That’s usually the case when there’s a change at the top…and Matt Williams looks every bit as intense as when he was a player.  Perhaps he’s just what the young nucleus needs to get to the next level…if not, we’ll be here in another year or two breaking down what went wrong as always.  Isn’t hindsight great?

12–Bowling Baby!–Maryland after a 4-0 start scraped its way to the Terps’ first bowl since 2010…a nice effort for a team that had dealt with more than its share of injury issues over the last few years.  Virginia Tech looked like it was on its usual road to the ACC Championship game…until the Hokies lost 3 of 4 by a combined 13 points.  At least they were able to beat Virginia for a tenth straight year– as the Cavaliers lose nine straight to conclude the year.  Having covered 10-loss teams in college football more than once…it’s not a happy holiday season in Charlottesville.

13–Mike Shanahan gone–after blowing a 13 point second half lead to 1-7 Minnesota, the Redskins embarked on an eight game season ending swoon that turned ugly on multiple occasions (Kansas City in particular).  The benching of Robert Griffin III was a story unto itself.  And the swirling winds in and around Ashburn over the last month finally ended with the coach out after a 24-41 record.  A 3-13 mark that was the team’s worst in 19 years.  An eight game losing streak that was the team’s longest since 1961 (the year RFK opened as “DC Stadium”) and the team was still segregated.  Now owner Dan Snyder faces his sixth coaching hire in 13 years…as we look for the splash and wonder what will change.  Do we really have to do this all over again?

 

Summer often means the great disconnect– vacation, pool and beach come and go while one meets up with friends, family and food in variable amounts. What to make sense of last week as I fly back to DC with the Athlon College Football Preview magazine? Outside of the realization that I need to get on a salad-only diet for a few days, quite a bit.

Lefty Looms Large– Phil Mickelson‘s Sunday charge at the British Open to win his fifth major puts him higher up golf’s greatness mountain: in a group that includes Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros…and one more Masters win isn’t out of the question for a man who’s captured all five of his titles in the last ten years. We always thought that a fit Tiger would have the late career push instead of the chubby Mickelson–not so. Now Phil just needs to overcome his US Open demons to notch a career Grand Slam that eluded the likes of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. A far cry from a guy who looked like he’d be the Greg Norman of his generation in 2003.

Nats Summer Slide– Dropping six straight is no way to come back after the All Star break…and although the Nationals took three of four from the New York Mets, they took three of four from the New York Mets. Dropping Denard Span in the order seems the right decision; the centerfielder has the look of a leadoff hitter but not the production (even Cesar Geronimo had one .300 season). It’s always tempting to place an outfielder or second baseman atop the order no matter how effective they might be in that spot. As the trading deadline looms and the team remains under .500…do the Nats become buyers or sellers?

Redskins Diminishing Defense– Remember last year when the Skins D seemingly went down in flames with Bryan Orakpo and Adam Carriker’s season ending injuries? It’s not that dire…but having Carriker out for training camp, Brandon Merriweather still trying to get back on the field, DeAngelo Hall rolling an ankle, Keenan Robinson done for the season and Jarvis Jenkins suspended for the first four regular season games is less than ideal for a unit that may have to take the lead as Robert Griffin III won’t be taking any meaningful snaps until September. The big news regarding RG3 is the non-news that he’ll have to wear the knee brace all season. Bring on August and preseason.

Signalcaller shuffle– Two area quarterbacks land at Division II schools…after a transfer led to less success than they had hoped. Things didn’t work out for Phillip Sims at Alabama…and after not having to sit out a year at Virginia things didn’t work for him with the Cavaliers. Sims now takes his upside to Winston-Salem State. But that’s not the most befuddling final destination of the summer: I’m sure two years ago nobody thought that Danny O’Brien would wind up at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C. this fall. From 2010 ACC Rookie of the Year to breaking his arm after losing his starting job in 2011 to transferring and then getting benched at Wisconsin in 2012…it’s been one mindboggling descent. One theory bandied about has been that O’Brien overcompensated for any deficiencies in ability by learning the Friedgen/Franklin offense as a high school senior, so by the time he was a redshirt freshman he knew the system better than the coaches themselves. Given a new system in 2011…and a new offense plus different personnel in 2012 O’Brien’s weaknesses were exposed. Two quarterbacks who thought they’d be deciding whether or not to go pro this offseason…not which D-II school would be their last gasp.

Golf is more about the competing against the course than other competitors.  But the course is not fixed…it’s a living, breathing organism.  Conditions are fair but not equal.  Wind can sometimes turn on a dime. The sun at 10am is different from the sun at 6pm. Rain can extend a round into the next day…with a tight turnaround for those finishing late.  And a full day of tread can wear down a fairway or green…for better or worse. And those are only the physical conditions.

Golf exists on multiple planes–including the now, the future and the forever. While everyone in this past weekend’s field was competing towards this year…a handfull were fighting two-front wars. And for some, the results won’t be known for a while. Because although everyone was playing the same course at Merion Golf Club–there were many courses competed upon.

Justin Rose was competing against a course of possibilities. Although the thirtysomething had built up a mild resume of sporadic victories plus occasional top five major finishes, his Sunday 71 secured him a spot as a Major Champion. Despite the stigma of “one over par”…Rose has his major.  He doesn’t have to retire wondering what he could have done differently…and anything else he accomplishes is gravy.

Meanwhile, the likes of Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel and Jim Furyk plus all the other one-time major champs were competing for gravy this past weekend.  Nobody who has a #1 hit wants to remain a one-hit wonder… just ask Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  Now instead of leaving the club-they have to welcome a new member.

Rory Mcilroy was competing against the course of rollercoaster expectations.  He’s got major wins and major meltdowns on his resume…and an underwhelming 2013 where things just don’t seem to be clicking.  And he’s still getting used to those new Nike clubs.  Remember after his US Open win at Congressional how silly the world was getting over him?  Since then it’s been one feast and more than a few famines:  his 2012 PGA Championship win was by 8 shots (just like his 2011 US Open victory) but he also posted 25th and 60th place finishes at the British Open, 25th and 40th place finishes at the Masters, a 64th place showing at the PGA and last year’s missed cut at the US Open before this year’s 41st place showing.  While nobody thinks he’ll be the next David Duval, you’d think the 2nd ranked golfer in the world would have at least more than one top 20 finish in two years.

Phil Mickelson was competing against a course of ghosts…runner-up finishes in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2011 marking his career as much as his three Masters and one PGA Championship win.  If he had won Sunday it would have been a fitting finish to a career that saw his first serious challenge for a major under the shadow of his wife due to give birth…because that child became the 14-year-old whose 8th grade graduation speech he caught before flying overnight to make his first round tee time.  Can you imagine if he had won?  Rumors of David Stern leaving the NBA for the USGA would certainly gain traction.  If Phil had held on Sunday he would have won on his birthday as well as Father’s Day.  Instead he continues down the final fairways of his career (this is just the 3rd time in 12 majors he’s posted a top 10 finish–a far cry from his peak period of 2004-06 when he notched 8 top 10’s and 3 wins over 10 majors) with the great prize eluding him.  

Tiger Woods was competing against a course of history…while fighting off a narrowing window.  A few years ago it appeared as though reaching Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships would be a cinch…but now his drought has reached 5 years and counting.   And every tournament he doesn’t win gives one cause to think that 2008 wasn’t the most recent one…but the last one.  Tiger was 32 that day at Torrey Pines…and while Jack Nicklaus won 9 of his 18 after turning 32, there’s no guarantee of continued greatness.  Arnold Palmer was only 34 when he notched his last major victory at the 1964 Masters.  Tom Watson’s run to double-digit titles was derailed in the early 80’s–his last win coming at age 33 in the 1983 British Open.  I know Tiger’s in great shape and is extremely focused on his game-and you’d think his winning window would last up to around age 50-but nobody thought Palmer and Watson would stop winning when they did.  And now with a strained elbow Tiger tries to get healthy for the British Open.  Jack Nicklaus had two distinct eras of dominance (1962-67 and 1970-75) where he won 7 majors;  followed by 4 victories in the sunset of his career (1978-86).  Tiger’s enjoyed two peak eras (8 major wins from 1997-2002 and 6 from 2005-08)…and one wonders not when the next run will occur but if we’ve missed the sunset somehow.