Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The AT&T Preview

"They gave me a two man scramble
tournament in mid-November.
That means they like me. Right?
The Tour returns to the FGR's backyard for Tiger's AT&T National at Congressional this week. Golf fans will remember that the AT&T National came into being with much fanfare in 2007 merging the superstardom of Tiger, the corporate might of AT&T and the mission of recognizing members of the military by playing it in the vicinity of the Pentagon around the 4th of July. What the event really signified was that Tiger had reached that echelon of golf where he got a tournament to call his own a la Bay Hill for Arnie, The Memorial for Jack and the Shark Shootout for Greg Norman.*

So you had a tournament hosted by one of the most popular athletes in the world that was (a) backed by an A-List sponsor and (b) devoted to honoring the one cause that has 100% bipartisan support in this country. What could go wrong? Well apparently Tiger decided to start reading himself some Oscar Wilde and came across the line, "the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it"** and the AT&T's run of purity came to a crashing halt in November of 2009 for reasons with which we are all too familiar. Then it hit another bump when it had to move to Aronimink for the last two years because Congressional was hosting the 2011 U.S. Open. (Aronimink is a fantastic golf course but it's never hosted a major so it does not have quite the cache as Congressional).

Now we're back to Washington, Tiger has regained some of his buzz and we've got a solid B+ field. I'm going with a redemption pick this week and hoping that Jim Furyk has had enough time to rid himself of the demons from Olympic. I'm also hoping they don't move one of the tee boxes up a 100 yards on Sunday which would make the hole easier for most guys but somehow causes Furyk to hit wicked pull hooks with the tournament on the line.
Temptation . . . thy name is Uchitel.

The AT&T Top 5

1. Jim Furyk
2. Martin Laird
3. Dustin Johnson
4. Bo Van Pelt
5. Davis Love, III

Last Week's Report Card: B+

1. Ryan Moore - T47th
2. John Rollins - T5th
3. Brian Davis - T5th
4. Bubba Watson - T2nd
5. Andres Romero - W/D

That would have been a banner week if (a) Ryan Moore didn't play like Ryan Moope***, (b) Brian Davis or John Rollins could close and (c) Andres Romero had actually shown-up. We probably should've expected a final round gag fest considering the back nine leaderboard was jammed with guys like Charlie Hoffman, Tim Clark and Davis who rarely finish the job on Sunday. Let's rank their meltdowns:

3rd Place: Brian Davis (who I had recently taken a financial interest in) was 3 shots back standing in the middle of the par-5 13th fairway and he was clearly struggling with his club selection, shot type or both which was understandable because he had about a 230 yard carry over water guarding the front left of the green. After about five minutes of confidence draining analysis, his caddie inexplicably handed him a fairway wood instead of dropping a 9-iron on the ground and then running away with the rest of his clubs. As soon as he made contact Davis' shoulders slumped and I thought, "ok he blew it right - away from the water . . . up and down for a birdie." But no. He pull hooked it into the water about 25 yards short of the green. It was Jim Furyk's 3-wood on the 16th hole at Olympic without the U.S. Open pressure. It was also one of the worst shots I've seen a pro hit this year and it only made 3rd place on this list.

"Back of the cup baby!!!"
2nd Place: Tim Clark was one shot back and had a two footer for par on the 17th hole. He pulled it and, just to make sure it wouldn't trickle in the left edge, he hit it with what D-Day would call "ramming speed." I assume he left his ten foot birdie putt on 18 short to make himself feel better because it would have gotten him into a playoff if not for the missed two footer on the previous hole. At least that's what I would have done.

Winner: Charlie Hoffman stood on the 17th tee with a two shot lead and water on the right. Apparently CBS was busy pimping How I Big Banged Your Mother because we didn't actually see Hoffman hit his tee shot straight into the water but at least they made up for it by keeping the camera on him almost the entire ten minutes he spent trying to figure out where to drop. (Nothing like a guy with a blond mullet wandering around with a golf ball in his hand to keep the audience riveted). That led to a double bogey and a tie for the lead. He then blew his drive on 18 to the right, hit his second shot into the bunker, blasted out and then left his putt to make it into a playoff short ultimately handing the title to Marc Leishman who was sitting in the clubhouse trying to figure out ways not to pump his fist every time one of these guys stepped out of his way.

Endnotes

* That's an inside golf joke even by FGR standards as the Shark Shootout is not a real tour event but more like an event that you'd play at your local course where you draw partners out of a hat and play for shop credit. Imagine Greg Norman making his case to the tour for a tournament of his own like Eddie Murphy making his case in 48 Hours for why he deserved a nice meal in a nice place. If you'll recall, that scene ended with Nick Nolte handing him a candy bar from a vending machine and saying, "there's your goddamned dinner." (If you're having trouble keeping-up, the Shark Shootout is the candy bar).

** Wilde also gave us, "I can resist everything except temptation." That's why the guys in his car club called him "The Cruiser."**** 

*** "Oh noooo . . . I'm so sorry it's the Moops, the correct answer is the Moops."

"You know, consistency is the
last refuge of the unimaginative." 
**** Here's a bonus Wilde quote while I'm already showing-off my ability to find stuff on the internet that makes me appear well read . . . "Do you really think ... that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one's life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure, I care not -- there is no weakness in that." Amen brother.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The NBA Finals Mea Culpa

"Nobody puts Shane Battier
in a corner." (Sorry but that
joke never gets old for me).
Like the late great Jerry Orbach, "when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong" and when it came to the Thunder- Heat series, I was LOUD wrong.* At least I wasn't alone lunging for the back of the Thunder bandwagon after they took LeBron and Co. to the woodshed in the second half of Game 1. All of the signs pointed to another LeBron laydown leading to the start of a Thunder dynasy with a win in five or maybe six games. In addition to the evidence we had from Game 1, we also had the fact that the Heat had just struggled to get past a decrepit Boston Celtics team and an Indiana Pacers team that would have finished 13th in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Thunder had just rolled through the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs like they were Chuck Norris dispensing with the first wave of bumbling Ninjas before his real nemesis stepped out of the shadows wearing a cooler Ninja suit.

Let's break down the deciding factors (in no particular order except the last one) and see if we can figure-out how the Thunder lost the initiative and never got it back:

"What can I say brother . . . it's
just not as cool when you're
making 20% of your shots."
1. James Harden: He had 5 points in Game 1 on 2 of 6 shooting but no one really noticed because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went off and the role players did enough to get the win. Harden then threw us off the scent with a 21 point Game 2. After that, it was as if he looked in the mirror and had the epiphany, "why didn't someone tell me this beard started looking ridiculous three months ago?" because he was an anchor in Game 3 (2 of 10 for 9 points) and Game 4 (2 of 10 for 8 points). His Game 5 stats were better (3 of 8 for 19 points) but most of those were after the game got out of hand towards the end of the 3rd quarter and the Heat knew that all they had to do was put two guys each on Durant and Westbrook with their fifth guy under the basket and they were home free. Harden's garbage time three pointers only served to make his overall performance look worse which I didn't think was possible.

2. The Refs: That had to be a 2001 ACC officiating crew who took one look at Shane Battier and then nodded at each other knowingly. (I'm pretty sure they were given special contact lenses to make the Heat's uniforms look blue but I can't prove that). In Game 4, Russell Westbrook took 32 shots (more on that in a minute) and at least half of them were on kamikaze drives down the lane. If that had been Dwayne Wade, he would have gotten at least twelve trips to the free throw line. Westbrook shot three. I'm not saying the refs decided the series, I'm just sayin'.
"Who told you to pass the ball
Russell? More dribbling dammit!"

3. Scotty Brooks: It kills me to knock a 5' 11", 165 lb. white guy who was able to grind-out ten seasons as a player in the NBA with six different teams and even pick-up a ring with the '94 Rockets but let's face it, Scotty was Rich Kotite to Erik Spoelstra's Bill Walsh in that series.*** It's never a good thing as a coach when the move you are most praised for is the concession speech you made to your team before the last game was over.

4. Russell Westbrook: He went back to being the guy no one wants on his team in a pick-up game. The play at the end of the first half said it all as he pounded the ball into the floor for 15 seconds as the NBA's leading scorer stood 20 feet away begging for it until Westbrook decided to dribble through three guys and then plead for a foul that did not occur. I don't understand why a bigger point has not been made of the fact that, after Eric Maynor blew-out his knee in January, the Thunder were left without a true point guard which is ok if, like the Heat, you have the modern version of Magic Johnson with Rob Gronkowski's body. The Thunder don't have that. What they do have is three pure scorers and a bunch of hustle players which is a great nucleus if you have someone to dribble the ball down the court and tell them all where to go. If only there was a guy who fit that description available in free agency this year.****

5. Heat Role Players: So while James Harden was shooting with both hands around his neck and every other member of the Thunder decided to take a scoring sabbatical during the Finals, Shane Battier had 17 points each in Games 1 and 2, Mario Chalmers had 25 points in Game 4 and Mike Miller's corpse had 23 points in Game 5. Do you know what those first two guys have in common? They both came up huge in the National Championship Game and Chalmers hit one of the most clutch shots in college basketball history (Chalmers Shot). You'd think NBA teams would rank those attributes up there with wingspan and upside more often when drafting and signing free agents. You'd think.    
Somehow no one 
noticed that she 
couldn't act . . . at all.

6. LeBron: Sticking with the martial arts theme, back in 1985 one of the best/worst movies of that genre called the The Last Dragon was released. I'll let Wikipedia handle the plot description with a few FGR parantheticals: "Set in New York City (Cleveland), the plot follows a teenage martial arts student named Leroy Green a/k/a Bruce Leroy with dreams of becoming a great martial artist like his idol Bruce Lee (Michael Jordan). Leroy goes on a quest to achieve the highest level of martial arts accomplishment, known as "The Final Level". Martial artists who reach this "Final Level" are said to possess "The Glow", a mystical energy that can only be attained by a true martial arts master. When a fighter's hands glow, he is one of the best in the world and when his entire body glows, he is the greatest fighter alive. On his journey to becoming the "Last Dragon" and wielding the power of "The Glow," Leroy must confront villains such as a crooked arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert) and the evil Sho'nuff, the "Shogun of Harlem" (Kevin Garnett), from whom he must also protect his love interest, TV music video host Laura Charles (played by 80's super hottie Vanity).

"If you send that many,
don't forget one thing...a
good supply of body bags."
Sound like anyone else we know? I know the final hurdle was the Thunder but what we didn't fully realize at the start of that series was that at some point before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, LeBron discovered "The Glow." The parallels in this climactic scene are really incredible right down to the Sho'nuff/Garnett resemblence and the creepy Eddie Arkadian/Dan Gilbert character standing off to the side rooting for Leroy/LeBron's demise - (The Last Dragon). The scary part is that now that LeBron has discovered "The Glow", it doesn't matter who he plays with as he just proved in the Finals. All he needs is another decent scorer, a few 3-point shooters, one tall guy and he can take care of the rest. He has the ability to guard, out-rebound and out-assist any player in the league. You can't guard him with less than two people and, if you'll indulge me one more 80's movie segue....

Endnotes

* Dirty Dancing is the rare chick-flick that's ok for guys to quote . . . right?

** I always wondered if real Ninjas watched Chuck Norris movies and debated whether they should swim across the Pacific Ocean and kick his ass for making them look bad.

*** I had to go football reference here because if I named a horrendous basketball coach instead of Rich Kotite, no one would have any idea who in the hell I was talking about.

**** How would you like to see a rematch of this year's Finals with the Thunder fielding this starting line-up: Steve Nash at the point with Westbrook at shooting guard, Durant at small forward, Nick Collison at power forward and Serge Ibaka at center. Steve Nash running fast breaks with Durant and Westbrook flying down the wings. I just got a chill.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The U.S. Open Update/Travelers Preview

"Hi, I'm Roger but you
can call me the walking
sexual harassment suit."
There are some weeks when writing the FGR is a ten foot uphill putt for birdie on a par 4 after you've given your opponent his bogey. Other times it's more like a 30 yard pitch shot to a back pin with plenty of green to work with - not easy, but certainly manageable. And then there are those weeks when it's like a 20 yard bunker shot off the downslope to a tight pin with the green running away where if you just get it on the green, you're going to be rewarded with the double-edged, "best you could do from there" call. This has been one of those weeks. We're going to merge a U.S. Open follow-up with a preview of the Travelers this week only because the Open is a major and I feel compelled to write about it even though it created about as many lasting memories as a night spent at your spouse's office Christmas party.

I actually sat down Sunday evening with the intention of writing a timeline of the events for the final round along the lines of The Masters Update I did back in April. It became quickly apparent, however, that this endeavor was doomed to fail for a variety of reasons:

 (1) A final round timeline of the Masters is easy to write because everyone is so familiar with the setting that it's like doing color by numbers. When a player hits his ball into the water on the 12th hole, I don't have to add that "it's a 160 yard par 3 with a shallow green and swirling winds" because everyone in my target demographic knows that. In other words, to paraphrase George Costanza when he offered what could be the FGR's mission statement - "I don't have to dumb it down for some bonehead mass audience"*;

(2) With all of its birdie, eagle and double bogey possibilities, Augusta National is the perfect stage for the final round of a major. Five minutes after I turned on the Masters this year, Louis Oostuizen made a double eagle and I spent the next five hours on the edge of my seat. They at least tried to create that with a reachable par 4 and a reachable par 5 at the U.S. Open but, other than Ernie Els who eagled No. 7, no player in contention was able to take advantage of them. Webb Simpson had a nice birdie run in the middle of the round but then made par on the last 8 holes to hang on for the win like a cyclist who raced out to a lead and then had to withstand a late charge by the peloton. Only in the case of the U.S. Open, it was a guy who worked his way to the middle of the pack and then stayed upright while all of the riders in front of him crashed. That would make for a thrilling bike race but I think by the time Graeme McDowell's putt missed by a foot on 18, most golf fans were just relieved that they could finally go to bed which put this year's U.S. Open in the same category as cleaning-up after a dinner party (and that's not a good thing);

I'm pretty sure no one has
ever won a golf tournament
after striking this pose.
(3) I screwed-up my picks for the week. After spending the better part of the last month writing about what a great fit Olympic was for Jim Furyk's game, I did what I always do and over thought it which somehow led me to picking Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood instead. This left me in the position of rooting for Furyk to butcher the final round so I didn't have to spend the following week banging my forehead on a variety of hard surfaces. (A position made slightly easier due to the fact that Furyk is a Steelers fan). The Mickelson pick was a classic gambling error. I had subbed Tiger for him at the Masters at the last minute so I was going to make-up for that by using Phil at the U.S. Open even though the course was a terrible fit for his game. The Westwood over Furyk pick was actually looking good early as Westwood started strong but then his ball literally got stuck in the top of a tree along with my hopes of enjoying the final round. Ironically, the exact same thing happened to Lee Janzen when he won at Olympic in 1998 but, after about five minutes, his ball fell. After showing the 1998 highlights, Dan Hicks excitedly pointed out that both players are named "Lee." You can always count on Hicks to find the true essence of the story but at least it reminded me that I had several hours of the always entertaining NBC crew ahead of me so maybe this wouldn't be a lost cause after all;

(4) At about 7:30 p.m. I realized that Peter Jacobson hadn't said anything worth mocking yet and, unless it happened before I tuned in, it appeared that NBC was not going to cheese-up a major with an always hilarious edition of Jake's Takes.** At that point, I gave-up my search for inspiration and shut the laptop;

(5) To be fair to NBC, the USGA and Olympic Club, none of the foregoing factors were the primary reasons why I couldn't generate any momentum on Sunday evening. You see when I wrote the Masters timeline I wasn't coming off of three days away from the FGW and the FGK's (think about it) at an out of town tournament with fully stocked bars on the course tended by dead ringers for Alyssa Milano and Minka Kelly. Let's just say that if I was a swimming pool, I got a little over chlorinated on Saturday. Combine that with a 7:00 a.m. flight home on Sunday morning and you have the writing version of a downed power line (more on that whole experience later).

THE TRAVELERS PREVIEW

We've got a pretty strong field for the Travelers including a lot of guys who made the cross-country trip from San Francisco like Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan but last weekend looked so grueling that I'm going with four guys who didn't play and one guy who appeared to show-up just so he could be announced on the tee as "2012 Masters Champion" before taking Saturday and Sunday off. I don't know what it means that I'm putting Ryan Moore at the top of my list after I wrote the following about him after this tournament last year, "Ryan Moore just made the list of players who I will never draft again under any circumstances along with guys like Sergio Garcia (I used to be the best player never to win a major), Paul Casey (I almost got close to being the best player never to win a major but no one actually thought I was going to win a major) and Geoff Ogilvy (Phil Mickelson gave me a major and then I kind of stopped trying)." Then again, that was back on the 6th day of the FGR (someone's got a birthday coming-up) when I would write three paragraphs in twenty minutes and hadn't really mastered the art of screwing-up a well thought out gambling strategy but, after about a year, I'm almost an expert on that so here you go.


"A double Ketel One Transfusion and
a pack of cheese boobies please."
The Travelers Top Five

1. Ryan Moore
2. John Rollins
3. Brian Davis
4. Bubba Watson
5. Andres Romero

Last Week's Report Card: B

1. Lee Westwood - T10th
2. Phil Mickelson - T65
3. Tiger Woods - T21
4. Jim Furyk - T4th
5. Jason Dufner - T4th
6. Peter Hanson - M/C
7. Justin Rose - T21st
8. Luke Donald - M/C
9. Matt Kuchar - T27
10. Dustin Johnson - M/C

I really like the way Mickelson came out on Sunday and removed any doubt as to whether he was going to try to make a miracle run into contention. I know he was 8 over at the time but there was always the chance that +4 could have won it which means he could have shot 66 and been right in the mix (there was a 67 and three 68's so it was doable). Instead, he opened with a par and then alternated pars and bogeys for the next eleven holes dropping 23 spots on the leaderboard in the process. I guess the only good thing about his performance is that he did exactly what I expected him to do. Honorable mention to Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy who combined to shoot 16 over par in the first round taking the tournament (and the cut for that matter) out of play. I'm really starting to miss the days when the best players in the world actually played like the best players in the world and didn't pull hook 3-woods with the U.S. Open in the bag. (Yeah I went there. Like I said, he's a Steelers fan so the normal rules of decorum don't apply).  

Endnotes

* The full epic line came in response to Elaine's criticism of the jerk store zinger when she said, "see, there are no jerk stores. It's just a little confusing is all" to which George replied, "[I]t's smart. It's a smart line, and a smart crowd will appreciate it and I'm not gonna dumb it down for some bonehead mass audience!" That was Seinfeld at its absolute zenith.

** Speaking of bonehead mass audiences, I offer you Jake's Takes, David Feherty's wardrobe and Chris Berman being allowed anywhere near a microphone during a golf tournament. I now live in mortal fear of hearing following words come out of my TV, "Welcome to Fox's live coverage of the British Open from St. Andrews . . . I am Ryan Seacrest and, along with my partner in crime Brian Billick, we will be with you for the next five hours of . . . ." Aaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The U.S. Open Preview

We have what could be a memorable week unfolding with the U.S. Open, the NBA Finals and a three day road trip looming for the FGR. Rarely do we get this many powerful forces colliding and I can practically hear Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio screaming into the radio, "What the hell are you doing? For Christ sake! You're steaming into a bomb! Turn around for Christ sake! You're headed right for the middle of the monster!" as weatherman Christopher McDonald orgasmically murmurs, "you could be a meteorologist all your life and never see something like this . . . it could be a disaster of epic proportions."

Let's break these three events down in order of importance (to me).

THE MEMBER-GUEST
This could just as easily be the
FGW screaming into an iPhone.

This is the last event of my early season trifecta and let's just say I have some unfinished business to attend to. If you've never had the opportunity to play in a multi-day tournament and the Member-Guest Preview wasn't enough to make it one of your goals in life, let me sweeten the deal with a description of what one of these golfing free-for-alls looks like. Here is my itinerary for Thursday-Sunday*:

Thursday

8:20 a.m. - Depart Baltimore via Southwest Airlines. Resist the urge to order a beer.

9:45 a.m. - Arrive in Greenville, S.C. Resist the urge to order a beer on the way to baggage claim.

10:50 a.m. - Tee off for practice round. (The beer resistance movement will definitely have been crushed by this point).

3:00 p.m. - Cocktails while planted in a leather chair watching the U.S. Open. Hopefully everyone within earshot will be in the mood to listen to a know-it-all stranger babble on endlessly about golf.

6:00 p.m. - Auction style tournament Calcutta. This is going to be a new experience for me. Expect a follow-up report on this next week. Especially if I win money.

OK, OK, I'll have
a Bloody Mary.
8:00 p.m. - More U.S. Open viewing. I know I've said this before but primetime U.S. Open golf is one of the most underrated viewing experiences in sports. There's just something about watching golf live when it's dark outside. It's kind of like the Bizzaro version of going to a strip club for lunch . . . or so I've heard.

9:00 p.m. - Tip-off for Game 2 of the NBA Finals (more on that below whether you want it or not).

Friday

8:30 a.m. - 27 holes of matchplay. My typical Friday 9-hole scoring pattern goes like this 42-40-37. I've never quite figured-out why my scores go down as the day goes on. Maybe it's the tides.

5:00 p.m. - Post round banter and more U.S. Open. I will probably spend close to 14 hours this Friday playing and watching golf. That's either really sad or really cool depending on your view of the game.

Saturday

9:00 a.m. - 18 holes of matchplay followed by a playoff for the flight winners. I've played in twelve tournaments that had a playoff at the end and made it that far in three of them including the last two.** These things are probably the closest that most of us will get to the feeling of playing in a tour event because there is generally a pretty good sized crowd following the action. By the time you get to that point, however, you've played a lot of good golf (by your standards) so you don't feel that nervous . . . until you stand over a putt. And that's when you consider Tom Watson at the British Open, Scott Hoch at the Masters and Stewart Cink at the PGA Championship and think, "ahhhh now I get it."

Sunday

6:00 a.m. - Wake-up call for my 7:50 a.m. flight so I can get home for Father's Day. I'm pretty sure there's a special place in hell for the person who invented Father's Day (it's right around the corner from the spot for the people who invented toll booths and little league "travel" teams***). I love being a dad and I don't need a new set of Craftsman tools to tell me I'm doing a good job at it. Besides, one of the perks of being the dad is if that I want some new tools, I'll buy them whenever the hell I want.****    

THE U.S. OPEN PREVIEW

The U.S. Open returns to Olympic Club for the third time in the past 25 years ('87 and '98). The winners those years were Lee Janzen and Scott Simpson, two guys whose style of play has the same effect on viewers as Seann William Scott's tranquilizer dart had on Will Ferrell. If you're looking for modern versions of Janzen and Simpson, think Jason Dufner and Luke Donald. Those comparisons earn them the 5th and 8th spots on this week's list. Here's how the rest shakes-out:
"Look at that. Another 250 yard drive
right down the middle. Awesome."

1. Lee Westwood
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Tiger Woods
4. Jim Furyk
5. Jason Dufner
6. Peter Hanson
7. Justin Rose
8. Luke Donald
9. Matt Kuchar
10. Dustin Johnson

You could make a case for any of those ten guys to win plus a few past major winners like Louis Oosuizen, Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell but I think one of two things is going to happen: Either (a) Westwood finally gets off the schneid, or (b) we get back to Tiger or Phil putting some spice back into major championship golf. We haven't had a truly big time winner since Mickelson at the Masters in 2010 and before that it was Woods at the U.S. Open in 2008. Sure we've had some exciting finishes and intriguing winners (this year's Masters gave us both) but this first timer thing is getting tired.

I like Mickelson because he has devoted this year solely to winning majors and he would already have one if not for a horrible ricochet off the grandstand at Augusta. His withdrawal from the Memorial had far less to do with people taking pictures with their cell phones than it did with the fact that he was off his game and at some point in the first round he thought to himself, "what in the hell am I doing playing a tournament in Ohio when I should be practicing in California?" Once that thought crept into his head, he had the psyche of a guy who blew-off his daughter's dance recital to tee it up which then magnified all of the other distractions. If anything, that withdrawal strengthens his case at Olympic.

Westwood's credentials for this week are so obvious that I almost went the other way. He's finished in the top 3 in six of the last ten majors and he won the Nordea Masters last week by 5 strokes. Players who suffer that many near misses usually break before they break through (think Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia) but Westwood is different. He doesn't agonize over the missed opportunities and expose his wounds to the media. Instead, he just politely says that he didn't quite get it done that week and then moves on to the next one. If he was going to crack, he would have done it by now so he's my pick.

Last Week's Report Card: D

1. David Toms - M/C
2. Zach Johnson - M/C
3. Padraig Harrington - T13th
4. Ryan Palmer - T3rd
5. John Rollins - M/C

I hadn't had one of my personal picks miss a cut all year until David Toms' half-ass fly-by in Memphis. My picks sucked last week. How's that for a report card? Let's just move on.

THE NBA FINALS PREVIEW

"Hey, I got a better idea. 
Why don't YOU try 
guarding Durant!"
I just watched the Thunder flip the switch in the second half and run the Heat off the court to win game 1 with a B+ effort. The Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs and Heat have won 11 of the last 13 NBA championships and the Thunder are on their way to beating all four of them on the way to this year's title. The average age of their four best players is 22.5 years old. The other teams in the league must be watching this and mumbling every Bill Paxton line from Aliens . . . "Well that's great, that's just fuckin' great, man. Now what the fuck are we supposed to do? We're in some real pretty shit now" . . . "What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?" . . . "Hey, maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!". . . "Game over man! Game's over!". . .  (Paxton's character has to be the second worst Marine in movie history, narrowly edged by Vincent D'Onofio's Private Leonard Lawrence from Full Metal Jacket).

My preseason prediction was the Thunder over the Heat in six games (and yes I am going to keep repeating that until it can't happen . . . and if it does happen I will find a way to reference it every week until the end of time). As I was watching the Heat dominate the first 20 minutes last night, a six game series actually seemed possible because they needed to take advantage of the Thunder's lack of Finals experience and steal the first game to avoid a potential sweep. Then Dwayne Wade spent the second half launching three pointers and flapping his arms like he was trying to fly every time a Thunder player looked at him funny and he didn't get a call. (Sorry Dwayne, this isn't the 2006 Finals when the refs still liked you). Now this series may go five games but it's game over man . . . game's over.

Endnotes

* Make no mistake. This is bragging in its purest form. You may want to cut this with a little baking soda.

** My .250 success rate is actually better than it sounds considering how many guys win their flight and make it to the playoff every year leaving only so many spots for those of us who don't manipulate the handicap computer like Matthew Broderick in War Games. Some are sandbaggers and others just don't give a crap until they're playing in a tournament. Either way, the system fails in these cases and I'll never understand why tournaments don't just take two strokes off the handicap of anyone who wins their flight two years in a row. And yes I am still bitter about a loss from five years ago.

*** Sorry about all of the ranting but do you think we might be heading in the wrong direction when we have the NCAA limiting the number of hours college kids can practice but at the same time we've got second grade soccer players taking road trips? I knew it was bad when we were checking into a hotel and my 8 year old son said, "don't use my real name."

**** I love the Craftsman commercial with the dad under the car. The only time you'd find me under a car is if a brand new Pro V1 fell out of my golf bag and rolled under it.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mickelson's Winged Foot Blog

We all know that Phil Mickelson has had multiple close calls at the U.S. Open. His best chance was at Winged Foot in 2006 when he stood on the 18th tee needing a par to win and then inexplicably hit driver with predictable results handing the title to the golfer formerly known as Geoff Ogilvy. The following week, D.J. Gallo of ESPN's Page 2 detailed what a blog written by Mickelson during that final round would have sounded like. To this day it still makes me laugh out loud when I read it. So in honor of what I think could be Phil's year of redemption and a story that was one of the inspirations for the FGR, I have reprinted D.J.'s masterpiece below (infused with a little FGR picture magic).

PHIL MICKELSON'S FINAL ROUND BLOG   

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban updated his blog during the opening games of the NBA Finals last week. He would get up from his seat at halftime and post his thoughts on the first half, and then do the same again after the game ended.

Phil Mickelson took notice.

No less a "man of the people" than Cuban, Mickelson waddled into the fray Sunday and took fan interaction to a whole new level by making numerous blog posts of his own during his final round at the U.S. Open. After almost every hole he'd type a few thoughts on his Blackberry, and within moments they'd be up on his blog, allowing his ever-supportive fans to know what their hero was thinking in near real-time.

Here's a sampling of what he wrote:

Posted 6/18/06, 2:52 PM ET

I'm about to head out to the first tee to begin my round. I'm feeling confident. There are some good golfers on the leaderboard, but I don't think they're ready for this jelly.



Posted 3:15 PM ET
"How do you like my
new shirt? It doubles as
a cover for a Taurus."

Saved par on the first hole, but I'm already feeling the heat -- it's in the 90's today. Most people don't realize how tiring it is to play in the final round of a major. There's three days of pressure built up on you and then, on a day like this, there's the heat, too. But what tires me out the most is pasting on a fake smile every time I stroll past the gallery. It's exhausting.

Posted 3:27 PM ET

Another par save on No. 2. By the way, I just realized there's some random guy playing along with me named Kenneth Ferrie. Never heard of him, but I can imagine he must be pretty excited to play with me, Phil Mickelson. If I have time while beating him, I'll try to give him some pointers.

Posted 3:36 PM ET

Parred the third hole. I rule. Before I get too far into my round, I want to thank all of my sponsors. First of all, the companies with logos on all of my shirts: Ford, manufacturer of great automobiles; and Callaway, who makes my clubs and balls. And secondly, I want to mention the company on my hat, Bearing Point, who makes … uh, well … I have no idea what it is they do. Outside of being on my hat I've never heard of them. Perhaps they're in the golfer hat sponsoring industry? Who knows. But whatever it is they do, I thank them for all the money they've given me. I spend it on fudge.

Posted 3:48 PM ET

Just birdied No. 4 to take sole possession of the lead, sending the gallery into an uproar. They love me. And that reminds me -- I'm asked by people a lot: "Phil, give me something simple I can do to be as popular and cool as you." And it's a good question. So let me share what I always tell them: "Wear a watch when you play golf." Not only does it remind people what a physically demanding sport golf is -- watch bands serve as great wrist protectors in case someone hits an errant shot and it strikes you square in the wrist -- but it helps you keep track of time so you can finish your round in time to catch the dinner special back at the clubhouse.

Posted 4:26 PM ET
Keep smilin'
Keep shinin'

Sorry, I haven't posted for a little because I'm struggling a bit -- 2-over on the past three holes, and now I'm two strokes behind Geoff Ogilvy. I hit perfect shots, of course -- I always do -- but the wind kicked up and I got some bad bounces and a camera lens clicked in my backswing and I got a flier lie and a squirrel ran into my line of sight, et cetera, et cetera.

Posted 4:47 PM ET

Looks like Colin Montgomerie is making a run and is now tied with me for second. Good for him, but I just can't respect a guy who doesn't keep himself in top shape. I mean, come on, Colin! We're highly paid professional athletes, for crying out loud. Would it be that hard to do a push-up or sit-up once in a while? Have some respect for the sport and your body, pal.

Posted 5:27 PM ET

Good news: I'm back in the lead thanks to a birdie. I have to say, it's amazing what kinds of things go through your head when you're playing golf, even in the fourth round of a major. For instance, I was just thinking if I'm overdue for a mammogram. I think I might be.

Posted 6:03 PM ET

Sweet. Another birdie, and now I'm up two strokes with just four to play. I can taste it. I'm going to win my third major in a row and my fourth overall. I'm in cruise mode. I can't wait until I win on the 18th green and my wife sends my kids to spontaneously run out to greet me. It's so spontaneous, each and every time. Spontaneity makes for great TV, and corporate sponsors just lap it up.

Posted 6:32 PM ET

So I bogeyed my last hole and am now only up by one -- no biggie. Two holes left and I've got my fourth major. I wonder what Tiger Woods is doing right now? Not winning the U.S. Open, I know that.

Posted 6:50 PM ET

Here it is. I'm going to tee off on No. 18 in a minute or two. This is so easy for me, it's not even funny. There's not a single person who is any good on the leaderboard near me who I have to worry about. Colin Montgomerie? That guy is such a choker. Geoff Ogilvy? Same thing -- if he's anything like his countryman Greg Norman, at least.
"This is not happening."



And I know I'm not going to choke. Those days are long over for me . . .

I'm about to win my fourth major. That's why I'm going to wale away with my driver here. Sure, I haven't hit it anywhere near the fairway all day, but there's a reason they say: "Drive for show, putt for dough." I'm going to show people how awesome I am when I crush this drive right down the middle. And then I'll leave it to my putting which, like dough, is delicious.

OK, I'm going to hit now.

Posted 6:58 PM ET

Oh, sweet mercy. I hit it off the corporate hospitality tent. No worries. It's good to get close to the sponsors -- I can show them that smile I practice in the mirror all the time. Plus, now they'll see up close how awesome I am when I rip this next shot 200-plus yards out of the trees and onto the green. I'm the only one who could pull this shot off, as I am great and they'll want to give me big endorsement contracts.

Posted 7:01 PM ET

Frick! Why did that tree branch jump out and hit my ball? OK, OK -- no problem. Breathe, Phil, breathe. Go to a happy place. You are in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. You are swimming naked through a river of chocolate -- milk chocolate, made from fresh, clean milk suckled by the Wonkas from your very own … cartons.

OK. I'm back. Now the pressure is really on. I have to hit this shot directly over this enormous tree in front of me and land it on the green and one-putt for the win. No problem. With the Wonkas cheering me on in my head, I can't fail.

Post 7:12 PM ET

Son of a … I failed! Stupid Wonkas. They chanted in my backswing. But I can't believe I got a double bogey on 18. Why would I go and do that? That is so stupid. What am I, stupid? I am so stupid. Sometimes I think I'm just a perky set of breasts with no brains to speak of whatsoever. I just want to go home, rest my head on my chest and cry.
"Nice watch."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The FedEx St. Jude Preview

At various points at the end of last year, I made the following three predictions:

1. The Thunder would beat the Heat in six games for the NBA title (was looking pretty good until about fifteen minutes ago);

2. Lane Pryce would be dead or in jail by the end of the current season of Mad Men (he hanged himself in the last episode*);

3. Jason Day would be the best player on the PGA Tour this season (hmmm).

None of this really has much to do with this week's tournament but in light of (1) the Louden Swain-esque** reversal the Thunder just put on the Spurs, (2) Mr. Pryce's inevitable demise, (3) Jason Day's second missed cut in his last three tournaments and (4) the fact that the FedEx St. Jude Classic represents a big stretch in the use of the word "classic", I thought it might be a good week to explore the studio space instead of boring you with the full analysis on why I picked David Toms over Zach Johnson this week (and that represents a big stretch in the use of the word "full").

"No I don't want her to move in.
How am I supposed to train in my
space suit with a perpetual boner?"
Last season Jason Day had ten Top 10 finishes in the twenty-one tournaments he played including a tie for 2nd at the Masters and a solo 2nd at the U.S. Open. He also finished 4th at the Bridgestone, 6th at the Players, 6th at the Tour Championship and 9th at the Match Play. This followed a 2010 season in which he finished 8th in the FedEx Cup standings. He was clearly trending-up and he always struck me as one of those guys who would carom a shot of his mother's shinbone if that's what it took to win.

This season he's played in nine tournaments and his highest finishes are two ties for 9th to go along with a missed cut at the Players and a withdrawal from the Masters with an ankle injury. (I think he sprained it while kicking my fantasy golf season into oncoming traffic). As usual, I don't really have a point here other than to illustrate how unpredictable this sport can be unless you're making calls like "there's no way Spencer Levin is holding onto that one shot lead on Sunday." (I started looking away on the back nine because I was afraid watching his swing was going to screw-up mine). It's well-documented that I love Spencer's game but at some point he's going to have to have to pull his emotions off of the Kingda Ka*** and move them over to the Tea Cups.

On to the picks.

The FedEx Top Five
"Um David, we know she's hot but
could you just stop practicing your
putting grip for a few minutes?"

1. David Toms
2. Zach Johnson
3. Padraig Harrington
4. Ryan Palmer
5. John Rollins

Let's face it. Some random guy not gearing-up for the U.S. Open is probably going to win this thing so you may want to take a flyer on a tour grinder who is playing well like John Rollins or Chris Kirk but if you want to play it safe, Toms is the way to go. Then again, Rory McIlroy could also have a strong week. An exhausting win in Memphis would give him a great excuse for being flat at the Open next week.

Last Week's Report Card:

1. Jim Furyk - T13th
2. Rickie Fowler - T52
3. Justin Rose - 8th
4. Ernie Els - T58
5. Ben Curtis - M/C

I can live with my number one pick shooting 75-73 on the weekend and I can live with my sleeper pick shooting 79 on Friday to miss the cut. What I can't live with is MY personal pick for the week shooting 84 on Sunday to drop from 3rd to a tie for 52nd. Rickie said after the round that, by the back nine, he was just trying to stay out of Tiger's way. Mission accomplished dude. Let's look at a few stats from a meltdown that would be drawing a lot more attention if (a) Tiger hadn't stolen the spotlight and (b) golf writers weren't a gaggle of twelve year old girls to Fowler's Justin Bieber.

  • Rickie lost to Tiger by 17 strokes heads-up.
  • Rickie's 84 was the worst score of the day by 4 strokes.
  • Rickie didn't make a double bogey all week until Sunday when he made three.
  • By the back nine, Rickie looked like an orange traffic cone that someone kept moving around the green while we waited forever for Tiger to putt (ok, that's not technically a "stat").

"I really didn't make that many bad swings," said Fowler. Really? I find that somewhat unconvincing considering he only hit five greens in regulation but it's hard to say because CBS shut down the coverage on him so early. I'm assuming there was a call from Puma to the control booth and the point was made that showing Rickie shoot 44 on the back nine was not going to sell many orange hats. You know if the roles had been reversed and that had been Tiger going down the tubes, we would have seen every shot and a highlight package every 45 minutes. In a bizarre way I guess that's a sign of respect earned by winning 14 majors and not by dressing like an Austrian garbage man with a porn stache.

Endnotes

* My early money was actually on him going down in a "do you mind if we dance with your dates" situation by trying to win a Harlem street fight while still abiding by the Marquess of Queensberry rules but the downward spiral of the last few episodes made it clear that it was not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when" and "how." By the way, you're not watching Mad Men to your full potential unless you're reading this after each episode - Mad Men Power Rankings.

"I'm actually from a little town
near London called Cookham.
From whence do you hail?"
** Louden Swain was the main character in a 1985 movie called Vision Quest in which Mathew Modine played a high school wrestler who decided that he was going to make his mark against Shute, one of the most intimidating high school characters to grace the screen since Carrie. To complicate matters, his father lets a bra-less drifter played by Linda Fiorentino move in and, after teasing all of us sixteen year olds for most of the movie, they finally get it on (Thanks Dad!). Oh yeah, Madonna was the singer at the local bar where the high school kids hung-out with the teachers. Throw-in a little Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider, and you had all of the ingredients for a mid 80's "classic."  

*** At 456 feet, it's the world's highest roller coaster and is located in Jackson Township, New Jersey. I have no idea why anyone would get on it other than to get 456 feet away from Jackson Township, New Jersey for a few seconds.