Friday, June 20, 2008

The Goose Is Loose

Retief Goosen is a two-time U.S. Open champion and one of the best golfers in the world. But apprently he's not the brightest golfer in the world.

Goosen claimed he was be "light-hearted" when he accused Tiger Woods of exaggerating his knee injury on his way to the U.S. Open title last week, but I'm not buying it.

When asked if Tiger could have been faking it, Goosen responded, "I think so. It just seemed that when he hit a bad shot his knee was in pain and on his good shots he wasn’t in pain.

“You see when he made the putts and he went down on his knees and was shouting ‘Yeah’ his knee wasn’t sore. Nobody really knows if he was just showing off or if he was really injured. I believe if he was really injured he would not have played.”

OK, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here in that if you only saw the highlights of Woods' win you might get the impression that only his bad shots were followed by painful grimaces.

Goosen clearly however failed to see Tiger nearly falling over in pain on several drives that split the middle of the fairway or watched him limp around the greens using his putter as a cane.

The fact of the matter is that Woods had multiple stress fractures in his left leg as well as a ruptured ACL. The injuries will cost him the rest of the season, so clearly they are serious.

“No one but Tiger knows how badly hurt he was," said Goosen. "But if he was really badly hurt, he would have withdrawn, wouldn’t he?”

The answer is no Retief. Maybe you would have pulled out, and most likely just about anyone else would have too, but that's why he's Tiger Woods and you're not.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Human Than Human

So I've spent the better part of the last few days trying to first digest what was truly one of the best U.S. Open's ever played and second how in the world a man with one leg could have won the damn thing.

The revelation that Tiger Woods prevailed after five days of grueling, pressure-packed golf while at the same time suffering from a ruptured ACL AND two stress fractures in his left leg has left myself and the sporting world as a whole in awe of his major triumph.

What can you really say, other than Woods is the greatest competitor in sports today and probably one of the five greatest athletes to ever live?

Woods' U.S. Open performance makes the comeback stories of Willis Reed and Kirk Gibson look downright weak, and I mean that with all due respect. Those two limped onto the field of play for a matter of mere minutes, while Woods endured five days of the highest level of competition the game of golf has to offer.

Even Woods' close friend Michael Jordan, who famously took the court with the flu in the NBA Finals and led his team to a crucial win, never went through the type of physical and mental anguish that Woods did.

Knowing what we know now of the severity of Woods' injuries, that performance was quite simply one of the three or four best of all time, in any sport.

The fact that he won ten times, came in second twice and fifth once in 13 events since rupturing his ACL running at home in Orlando makes him one of the toughest SOB's anyone has ever seen.

Don't believe me? Go tear your ACL, then walk 15-20 miles over the span of four days for 13 weeks, all the while every 300 or so yards planting your bad leg in the ground and twisting it with as much force as you can. Go ahead and try it, it'll be fun, trust me.

The larger question of course is whether or not it was worth it. Was it worth missing the remainder of the 2008 season and possibly compromising the rest of a career to limp onto Torrey Pines and gut out a 91-hole win?

Only Woods truly can answer that question, and from all that we've heard it obviously was worth the risk. That of course should surprise no one given Woods' track record of success on the biggest stage.

Woods also has a track record of being able to bounce back from surgery and rehab to play at his abnormally high level. I would not be surprised at all to see him right back at Torrey Pines in late January of 2009, hoisting the trophy for the Buick Invitational, a tournament he's won six times before.

So if your name is Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Luke Donald or any other non-major winning star, the time is now. The time is now for you to step up and win that elusive big prize because if you don't you're going to have to deal with a healthy Tiger Woods and who knows what could happen if he is able to play on two good legs.

I've joked in the past that Woods is not human. Well the truth is that he's very human, he just might be a little more human than the rest of us. Get well soon Tiger, we can't wait to see what you do next.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Great Scott

Adam Scott is one of the best golfers on the planet. He's young, good-looking and along with Sergio Garcia is probably the best player who has yet to win a major championship.

He's long off the tee (8th in driving distance), can be a clutch putter down the stretch (see: 2008 Byron Nelson, 2006 TOUR Championship, 2004 Players Championship) and it would seem only a matter of time before he wins the big one.

He's the third ranked player in the world, and when he tees it up in the first two rounds of next week's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines he could very well be the most insignificant player in the field.

How is that possible, you ask?

Simple. His playing partners on Thursday and Friday will be none other than Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. If you're keeping score at home that's Tiger 13, Phil 3 and Adam zero when it comes to majors won. Yikes.

You have to wonder who with the USGA did Scott piss off to find himself in what can only be regarded as the group of death? Did he play "hide the pitching wedge" with a tournament officials daughter? In a fit of rage did he bury a 9-iron in the door of someones Mercedes?

Whatever he did, it clearly wasn't good as the powers that be have decided that this year's U.S. Open sacrificial lamb will be sporting a Burberry polo.

Scott, who is known for his very attractive galleries, will have to hope that the stone-cold SoCal hotties who come out to see him strut around Torrey's fairways have their stilts handy because they'll be lucky to catch a glimpse of his Titleist hat let alone a full on view of the Australian star.

Now there are two ways to look at this if you're Scott.

The first way is to simply pack it in and try to stay out of the way as the games two biggest stars trade shots. Enjoy the gorgeous San Diego weather, focus on making the cut and cash a nice little check.

The second way however is to take the USGA's decision to insert you in this pairing as a vote of confidence in your game, then go out there and show the world that you're a force to reckoned with.

True golf fans everwhere will of course hope that Scott will choose the latter and make it a true battle of the games elite players and not just a week long two-man show which the media seems to want to make every major.

For Scott this is (pardon the pun) a major opportunity to take the next step in what has already been a very good career. This is his opportunity to make his good career great.

Armed with one of the most technically sound swings you'll ever see and all the bubbling star power we want in our big time athletes, if ever there was a time for the 27-year-old Scott to turn the corner, I think it's safe to say that the time is now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Power Of Expectation

The year is 2003 and expectations are high.

The San Francisco Giants, fresh off a heart-breaking loss in the World Series the year before, finish the regular season by winning the NL West by 15.5 games and with 100 wins overall.

They boast the best hitter on the planet in Barry Bonds who wins his sixth MVP at season's end and Cy Young runner-up Jason Schmidt who rips off 17 wins and an ERA under 2.40.

Without question this is a team with their sites set on a return trip to the World Series and a chance at redemption.

Things seem to be going to plan after game one of the Divisional Series with the Wild Card-winning Florida Marlins after Schmidt tosses a three-hit shutout to give the Giants a lead in the five game series.

Then, seemingly without warning, the Giants begin to fall apart. Game two sees the Giants cough up two separate leads and commit two costly errors, a theme that would ultimately be their undoing.

Game three is more of the same as Giants right fielder Jose Cruz Jr., winner of a Gold Glove in 2003, commits a terrible error in the bottom of the 11th inning with the Giants leading 3-2. His muffed fly ball leads to a Marlins rally on Giants closer Tim Worrell and makes the series 2-1 in favor of the Marlins.

As if written in some sort of sick script it's 2002 World Series goat Felix Rodriguez on the hill for the Giants when the Marlins score twice in the bottom of the 8th inning of game four which ultimately propels them to a win in the game and the series.

The Marlins will go on to win the World Series over the Yankees, making it two years in a row that the Giants will lose to the champions of baseball. A small consolation to Giants fans.

The series loss precipitates one of the worst trades in baseball history as the Giants trade relief pitcher Joe Nathan and starting pitching prospects Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano to the Twins in exchange for catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Nathan, who was coming off two appearances in the series with the Marlins in which he gave up four hits and three earned runs in a third of an inning, goes on to become one of the most dominant closers in baseball for the Twins.

Bonser earns a starting job for one of the better teams in baseball, while Liriano becomes one of the most electric starters in all of baseball before succumbing to an injury the next year.

Pierzynski meanwhile plays one very average season for the Giants, becomes a locker room cancer and bails the very next year.

The Giants haven't sniffed the playoffs since and have suffered through several seasons of management trying to recreate the 2002-2003 magic with aging veterans and larger-than-necessary contracts.

The reason for the fall is simple of course, and the answer is expectation. So painfully close were the Giants to a World Series ring that GM Brian Sabean and the rest of the team's brain trust were basically suckered into trying to win now at any cost.

Along with the Pierzynski trade, another byproduct of the expectations was the signing of past-his-prime closer Armando Benitez and the subsequent loss of their first round draft pick in 2005.

That pick could have been used on any number of big time talents from that draft including Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Matt Garza and Colby Rasmus, all of whom were drafted after the Giants would have picked at #22 overall.

How did the Giants do in the 2005 draft? Only one of their picks, left-hander Alex Hinshaw who made his debut this year, has even made it to the major leagues. Ellsbury meanwhile is the starting center fielder in Boston, Buchholz has a big league no-hitter to his credit, Garza is proving to be a big time pickup for the first place Rays and Rasmus ranks as one of Baseball America's top 10 prospects in all of baseball.

Fast forward to today, June 4, 2008, my 28th birthday.

The Giants find themselves nine games under .500 and in third place in NL West, and all things considered I couldn't be happier. The difference? You guessed it, expectations.

The 2008 season for the Giants brought with it some of the lowest expectations in quite some time thanks to the departure of Bonds and the acknowledged rebuilding efforts of the front office.

Some were calling the Giants the worst team on paper that they had ever seen (ahem, Buster Olney), and here they sit in third place and with the fifth pick in the upcoming draft. Things are looking up if you ask me.

They have a true ace and one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game in Tim Lincecum. Solid starters behind him in Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. Hell, even that terrible contract they gave Barry Zito doesn't bother me so much right now.

It's been a lot of fun to watch the Giants finally give some young players a shot to prove they can play in the big leagues. Players like Fred Lewis, Emmanuel Burriss, John Bowker and Brian Wilson have all been pleasant surprises and more than a breath of fresh air.

Ultimately this team may end up as the worst in baseball record-wise, but honestly I couldn't care less. Watching these kids grow together as a team and seeing them play hard and surprise a lot of people (D-Backs, hello) has made this expectation-less season already one to remember for myself and Giants fans everywhere.