Tiger has one priority: beating Nicklaus

Tiger pulled out two weeks ago. Haha.

When Woods opted out of The Players Championship two Sundays ago, criticism came flying towards him like a 330-yard drive.

Why would a guy who has won with a broken leg and torn ligaments withdraw in the final round with what turned out to be a stiff neck?

The answer is simple, Tiger only cares about winning majors.

The guy probably has 10 years left of legitimately contending for major championships. If you count this year, that’s 39 majors left in that span.

The reason he was able to grind it out in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was because it was the U-S-freaking-Open. If you had the clubhouse lead through 54 holes, or tied for the lead after four rounds, would you say “you know what, it’s not that big of a deal,”? No, you wouldn’t, and neither would a guy trailing Jack Nicklaus by five major victories for the all-time record.

When Tiger called it quits on the seventh hole at Sawgrass, he had no idea what was wrong with him. He speculated it could be a bulging disk in his neck. Had that been the case, he could have missed a couple months…a.k.a the U.S. and British Open.

It makes perfect sense why Tiger didn’t want to jeopardize two major tournaments for the chance to finish 25th at The Players.

He only cares about majors. It’s not that complicated. He’s reached a point in his career that he’s won so many times and earned so much money that any more of either is nearly meaningless.

He entered The Open Championship today, which will be played at St. Andrews, site of the 2000 Championship when Tiger won the second of the four-part Tiger Slam.

Don’t call him a wuss for not wanting to finish his round, or second guess his toughness. It’s not about playing through the pain. It is about making sure he is in the absolute best shape possible for a run at Nicklaus and major win number 19.


Tebow in the Steel City? Makes Sense to Me

To all the haters out there, I have to do it. I think I’ve found a way Tim Tebow sneaks into the first round.

Roger Goodell laid down perhaps the most compelling suspension of his short tenure as NFL commissioner Wednesday when he banned Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of 2010.

The Steelers anticipated the move and signed veteran Byron Leftwich earlier in the week as an insurance policy.

Rumors are now swirling that Roethlisberger may be on the trading block if the right offer comes their way.

I don’t know who’d be willing to trade for the guy, considering he’s an elite level talent, which would warrant giving up a heck of a lot to get him, when he is only eligible for 10 games next season.

So I offer up a solution to the Steelers’ predicament.

What quarterback in this year’s draft is big, with somewhat unorthodox mechanics but an uncanny knack for winning just like Big Ben?

Yes, it is Tebow.

And he comes with a bonus!

Unlike Roethlisberger who, between motorcycle escapades, strip club extravaganzas and sports bar bathroom run-ins, has found his way into trouble much too frequently, Tebow comes with a No Baggage Guaranteed plan.

There’s no need to give the Tebow character lecture here; we all know what he brings to the table besides a strong left arm.

But seriously, ever since last year, I’ve drawn the on-field comparisons between Tebow and Roethlisberger.

Both weigh more than 230 lbs., though Tebow’s build is a bit more defined.

Both make a career by making throws on the run – neither could ever disguise for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but that’s not what makes them tick.

And lastly – most importantly – no matter how ugly it may look at times, they both win games at an alarming rate.

Tebow’s two national titles in college were a sign of his leadership (he was an integral part of the 2007 title even if he didn’t start, they wouldn’t have won it without him).

Roethlisberger already owns two Super Bowl rings in his career.

I’ve said all along that Tebow belongs with a franchise that plays destructive defense, relies on a power running game and short to mid-level passes. In other words, he belongs in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers own the 18th pick in the draft, which is dangerously high to take Tebow.

If they could somehow trade Roethlisberger and either move down in the first round or get a late first-rounder in return, it would provide the perfect opportunity to take Tebow.

Even if they don’t make a deal involving the suspended star, they can still move around some picks to take Tebow at a more appropriate place in the draft.

They just better be careful, because something tells me some team that covets Tebow is going to freak out that he could go off the board before it’s their turn to take him, and trade up to get him earlier than anticipated.

If Pittsburgh does snatch Tebow up, he could learn quite a bit from the veteran Roethlisberger.

Come to think of it, Roethlisberger could learn a lot about character from Tebow.

Taking the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida would also send a message from Steelers brass that they truly are serious about a cleaner image than what Roethlisberger has given them in recent months.

The Steelers do have more pressing needs than quarterback, obviously. Leftwich would do a fine job in the first six games of the year; Pittsburgh would likely be no worse than 3-3 with Big Ben returned.

But the dynamic of Roethlisberger and Tebow in Pittsburgh might just be what the Steelers need at the moment.


Finding this year's surefire top 5 pick

Which draft slot is best?

In less than 24 hours, war rooms across the country will be jam packed with the anointed “greatest minds” in all of football, conglomerating to choose a player they think will alter the fortunes of their respective franchise.

More specifically, management in St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington and Kansas City are in the prime slots to take a player that will rejuvenate such moribund enterprises as themselves.

Or are they?

By breaking down the top five picks from the past 10 drafts, not every top pick was created equally.

I’m on a mission to find out the perfect top five draft pick.

Every year, starting the day after the draft concludes, people begin looking for who will be next year’s Golden Boy franchise quarterback.

It’s quarterbacks that draw ESPN such high ratings to watch Chris Berman, Keyshawn Johnson and Mel Kiper, among others, talk about 40-yard dash times and “upside” for eight hours straight.

Some of those top-five quarterbacks include Joey Harrington, David Carr, Alex Smith and JaMarcus Russell.

Others include Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer.

The reality of the matter is that 12 quarterbacks have been taken in the top five since 2000. Of those 12, seven have never made a pro bowl, and none have ever been named all-pro.

Only one has even played in a Super Bowl – Eli Manning, who won Super Bowl XLII with the Giants.

Most quarterbacks that get drafted highly typically sit on the bench at least half of their rookie season, if not the entire first year.

Coaches are scared to throw their $50 million investment into the fire too early and never see them blossom into stars. This thinking may not be all too far off.

Of the seven number one overall picks that were quarterbacks, only three have ever made a pro bowl, and just four are still starters in the league today.

The three that no longer start, all started games their rookie season. JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, and Michael Vick were forced to save their franchises in a hurry.

To be fair, Vick had quite a bit of early success, taking the Falcons to the playoffs twice before he turned into a jailbird.

Other teams may wish to take cornerstone tackle to protect a young quarterback.

All in all, it is a bit of a safer bet. Of the eight players taken in the top five since 2000, four have played in a Pro Bowl, and two have been named all-pro.

A couple picks have been home runs. Jake Long has made the Pro Bowl both years in the league, as has Joe Thomas in his three seasons. Chris Samuels made four Pro Bowls in his ten-year career.

The second overall pick in the draft is usually a good place to take non-skill players. In fact, no quarterback has gone number two since Donovan McNabb in 1999.

Only one player taken second overall has paid serious dividends, and that was Julius Peppers in 2002.

Other names under the “2nd overall pick” category include Leonard Davis, Charles Rogers, Robert Gallery, and Reggie Bush (let’s face it- he had megastar written all over him, and it hasn’t happened).

If I had one piece of advice for general managers, it would be to stay the hell away from the fourth pick. That selection has produced zero all-pros, no rookie of the years, and only two pro bowl appearances since 2000.

The only good pick in that spot is Philip Rivers, who was traded from New York for Eli Manning on draft day.

Some (less than) notable names taken fourth include Peter Warrick, Justin Smith, Mike Williams, Dewayne Robertson and Cedric Benson.

Couple that trend with the fact that the traditionally pathetic drafters, the Washington Redskins, have that pick, and it could spell bad news for the nation’s capital.

The fifth pick has also been unforgiving, save for one future hall-of-famer.

LaDanian Tomlinson accounts for four of the six all-pro selections from fifth picks, and five of the nine all-pro selections.

Carnell Williams did earn Rookie of the Year honors with Tampa Bay in 2006.

Jamal Lewis also had a banner year when he topped the 2,000-yard mark in 2003.

Two of the highest-rated players in this year’s draft are defensive tackles. Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy are expected to be both taken within the first four picks at worst.

Here are the names of the other three defensive tackles to go top-five in the last decade. Gerard Warren, Dewayne Robertson and Glenn Dorsey.

Dorsey is still young, but clearly using such a high pick on this position does not pay dividends.

Understandably, this draft class is relatively weak at the top, and there are not too many other options with the top picks other than Suh and McCoy, but this is a warning that neither may turn out as great as they were cracked up to be.

The money pick is lucky number three. Only three players have been taken third and not earned some sort of honors in their careers thus far.

Names in that group of third picks include Samuels, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Braylon Edwards, Vince Young, Joe Thomas and Matt Ryan.

Players picked first, second, fourth or fifth have accumulated 31 Pro Bowl appearances in their careers. The third pick has provided 17 appearances by itself in the past decade.

Though Johnson and Fitzgerald were both home runs at no. 3, taking wideouts this high is a risky business. The other receivers to go top five include Peter Warrick, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams among others.

Reflecting on all this list of 50 players, more than half of them struggled to live up to anywhere near expectations as pros.

The safest pick seems to be the third spot, and of all the positions traditionally selected early, offensive linemen have had the most success.

Using this logic, the best player to come out of this draft would be if the Buccaneers took Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung with the third pick.

How likely is this? Not very, considering most everyone believes the Rams will take Sam Bradford, then the Lions will take Suh, leaving the Bucs to take McCoy.

However, a little look back at recent history could give the Bucs some greater insight on how to get a much greater return on a franchise-altering decision.


Red Sox Spirit Lives On

So much for being defensive-minded, eh Red Sox?

Take your pick from any of the adjectives you’d like that people used to describe the 2010 Red Sox. New-look, reinvented, refocused – whatever.

Runs weren’t hard to come by in the Sox’s 9-7 win over the Yankees on opening night Sunday.

After C.C. Sabathia gave up two runs through 5 1/3 innings, Boston hit its stride, torching the Yankee bullpen for seven runs to take the game.

This game had just about everything a season opener could handle.

Curtis Granderson, the centerpiece of New York’s off-season acquisitions, homered in his first at-bat in the second inning. The Yankees held a commanding lead, and the grumbles of a much weaker Boston offense than usual began to circumvent Fenway Park.

Beginning in the bottom of the fifth inning, Boston proved that while the make-up might be different, they are still the same old Sox.

In typical Sox fashion, Boston erased a four-run deficit over two innings to even the score at five runs apiece. If that was not enough, the Yankees responded with two runs in the seventh inning.

*Pause – during the seventh-inning stretch, Boston had a “very special” guest sing God Bless America. Steven Tyler, the lead singer for Aerosmith, wailed the song like someone was holding an electric leash around his crotch.

In what will surely soon be YouTube famous, Tyler clearly glanced off-camera for every next line of the song. All the while, he was quite affectionate with what I can only hope is his 18-year-old (at least) daughter, who I wouldn’t argue about if Maxim gave her a call.

In recap, so far we have: Red Sox comeback turned choke, followed by a screeching, drunken rendition of God Bless America with a rather tasty brunette just off-center in the frame.

Back to the game…

Boston’s favorite son and 2007 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia made chop suey of a Chan Ho Park change-up, blasting a 2-run shot over the Green Monster to tie the game.

The runner he drove in was Marco Scutaro, who has assumed the shortstop duties for the Sox in 2010, in spite of the fact the position seems to come with less job security than teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Joe Girardi then inserted Damaso Marte on the mound, which led to one wild pitch and another passed ball. That allowed Boston’s Michelin Man, Kevin Youkilis, to advance to home easily.

An inning after the debacle that was Tyler’s act, whoever schedules the musicians at Fenway got it right when Neil Diamond himself led Sox Nation in singing Sweet Caroline.

With the comeback in full swing and the moist crowd swaying away to the old Sox classic, it felt good to be a Sox fan again.

Another Pedroia RBI in the eighth inning should have sealed the deal.

The only thing left was Jonathan Papelbon to close the game with a save. Sox fans had not forgotten his destructive, three-run catastrophe in game three of the ALDS last year against the Angels.

It was the first time he ever allowed a run in the postseason, and Sox fans needed to see a rejuvenated Papelbon to know everything was okay.

Save for a Jorge Posada single to right field, and Paplebon made quick work of the Yanks in the ninth.

Everything just fit. The night was electric, the mood was spectacular. Everybody in red and white went home happy.

Whoever thought this Red Sox team was different, for better or for worse, think again.

Some of the players may change, but Red Sox spirit never will.


Albert Pujols: Triple Crown Threat?

Arguably the best player of this era that hasn’t used performance-enhancing drugs, Pujols is this generation’s best threat to win the Triple Crown. Pujols, 30, led the National League with 47 home runs in 2009. He finished third in the league in both batting average (.327) and RBI (135).

There is no hitter in the major leagues pitchers fear more than Pujols right now. With Matt Holliday behind him in the lineup, teams will be forced to pitch to Pujols.

When the third batter in your lineup has the highest on-base percentage on the team, you know he’s an imposing force.

The Cardinals also play in a division that isn’t exactly stocked with aces on the mound. The Reds, Brewers, Pirates and Cubs and Astros all have less than formidable rotations. The NL Central is a hitter’s paradise.

Pujols’ biggest challengers in the home run category will be Prince Fielder, who hit 46 in 2009, the Phillies’ Ryan Howard (45) and the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez (40).

The toughest category for Pujols to win will be RBI. If he bats ahead of Holliday, Pujols will have fewer runners on base to drive home. Howard and Fielder tied for the RBI title last year, and will be at the top again this year.

The batting average title will come down to Pujols and Hanley Ramirez from the Florida Marlins. Those two are the clear-cut favorites for that title; anyone who challenges them will be a mild surprise.

Ramirez won the title in 2009 when he hit .342.

The NL has fewer great hitters than the American League, but Pujols is the best of the bunch. There is no Joe Mauer or Ichiro to steal the hitting title away.

When it comes down to the end of the season, chances are Pujols won’t pull off the rare feat, but watching him chase history will be fun.


Urban Meyer's freak out not his best move

Urban Meyer didn’t scream his age or declare his manhood like Mike Gundy, but the Florida coach certainly made waves when he confronted an Orlando Sentinel reporter earlier this week.

Jeremy Fowler quoted Gators’ wide receiver Deonte Thompson in his blog as saying “You never know with Tim. You can think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With (New quarterback John) Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback.”

Meyer didn’t take too kindly to the story, and during the post-practice confrontation, told Fowler “If (Thompson) was my son, we’d be going at it right now.”

Obviously Thompson has been embarrassed by the remarks, saying he did not mean to take anything away from Tebow.

It’s no secret how close Meyer and Tebow’s relationship became by the end of Tebow’s career, so it’s no surprise that a quote involving the former Heisman winner has Meyer fired up.

Throughout his career, I have been a huge fan of Meyer, dating back to his days as the Bowling Green head coach in 2001.

I even gave him a pass when his retirement-turned-leave of absence-turned-glorified vacation unfolded this winter.

But this time, Meyer may have overstepped his boundaries.

I applaud Meyer for protecting his player, who was obviously disturbed by the situation.

However, Fowler did nothing wrong by using Thompson’s direct quote in perfect context.

Fowler’s blog was supposed to be about Thompson hopefully breaking out after a couple of disappointing seasons in Gainesville.

Where Meyer should have directed his frustration is obviously with the player, and giving the kid a tutorial on word choice.

After Meyer nearly retired due to health concerns stemming from dangerous levels of stress, he doesn’t seem to be pulling any punches already.

This really brings about the question of just how much Urban truly cares about his health.

Whether he admits it or not, getting so frustrated and visibly violent in a situation as petty as this one doesn’t exactly say, “I’m handling my stress issues really well.”

What began as a simple misuse of words by a underachieving junior wide receiver has blown out of proportion, and will turn the eyes of critics far and wide directly to Meyer.


ObaMarch Madness, or the New America's NCAA Tournament

We Americans always seem to be wanting more. More money, more food, more healthcare -- more college basketball.

Debates about whether or not to expand the NCAA Basketball Tournament from its current field of 65 teams have intensified this spring.

Bloggers, fans and anyone else with a laptop computer have poured his or her two cents into the discussion.

The recent bill passed by the United States Congress to provide equitable healthcare to any American signaled a critical shift in the philosophy of lawmakers in this country.

President Barack Obama has endeared himself to the realm of sports fans stretching from Tampa to Spokane. In the past two years, he has made several cameos on ESPN’s “Sportscenter”, attended a number of sporting events (mostly around the nation’s capital), and on the night before he was elected, sharply advocated for a playoff system in college football.

After overseeing the most decisive change to his country’s law in decades, the president has etched his name in the legacy of modern world leaders.

After colluding with the legislative branch to pass such a heavily debated law, it’s only natural he should use his power for a much simpler task: expanding the big dance.

Should it move to 68 teams? Nah.

What about 96? Don’t think so.

124? Why stop there?

If the president wants to be truly consistent –a trait each of his predecessors strived to be, successfully or not – he should make an immediate motion to include all 347 teams.

Rejoice Chicago State University! Your six-win, 22-loss season won’t withhold you from the fruits of the postseason any longer.

Under this new plan, everybody wins.

Before we get ahead of ourselves and sign this bill into law, we should really look at why the tournament is held to only 65 teams today.

By allowing the 31 conference champions to automatically qualify for the dance, we reward the outstanding effort those teams put forth in becoming the absolute best in their respective leagues. If your program recruits good players, keeps them eligible, molds them into a strong team, keeps them out of legal trouble, and graduates them, you have a strong formula for success and an increased likelihood of punching a ticket to the dance.

This also includes the 34 best teams not included in the group of conference champions. By allowing other teams that worked very hard to create a strong team and succeeded, it creates an extremely competitive environment for the three-week spectacle that the tournament is in its current state.

No team that allowed players to join the order of power that is the National Collegiate Athletic Association illegally has the opportunity to play in the postseason.

Pay recruits to come to your school, and you’re toast. Allow your players to fall short of the (insanely lenient) academic requirements, and they are history.

But all that can change with the new era of American justice, which only makes sense to extend to the most entertaining month-long spectacle this country has to offer.

The tournament, which will now quintuple in size, comes with some further stipulations of course.

The non-conference season, including early-season tournaments that reward strong programs with increased revenue and exposure, must be eliminated. With a postseason that will take more than two months to complete, there is not enough time to allow those games to take place. The NCAA, and only the NCAA, will tell every team when and where each game will be played. No more scheduling your own opponents for the benefit of your players, fans, and university – that’s way too much freedom.

In addition, there will be no more sanctions handed down by the NCAA that would bar teams from playing in the tournament. Illegal recruiting will go unpunished, and academic failures will have no impact on a team’s standing with the tournament selection process. As long as you have enough players to suit up on the court, you’re in like Jonny Flynn.

The regular season will take place from mid-November, and conclude at the end of January.

Once that is complete, the field of 347 teams will be arranged based on a set of pre-existing criteria. It’s impossible to assume the Seeding Committee can see every team play. It would be unfair to the less exposed teams when they were put through the seeding process unless there was a list of specific criteria the committee had to follow when placing teams. The phrase “that’s why the games aren’t played on paper” will soon be rendered obsolete. It’s now statistical comparison at its finest.

Once the teams are placed in the field, there will be three weeks of preliminary play, in which the top 64 teams have no games, instead are rewarded with a lengthy idle period.

So, in essence, the teams that would currently be the only ones to make the field would now be forced to wait while other teams who never deserved to make the postseason before are given permission to see what the big dance is all about.

Does it matter that those teams are the only ones that really deserve to be playing? Not at all.

This is not your father’s older brother’s America, after all. This is a nation where the playing field is even, and life’s regular season isn’t that important. The Syracuses and Kentuckys of the world would not have any motivation for winning upwards of 28 games during the year. In the end, everyone will be on the same grounds anyway.

Maybe now Chicago State can brag about winning an NCAA opening round game against Bryant University. At least it’s something more than simply being Kanye West’s (see: West’s multiplatinum album “College Dropout”) former school.

We are in the midst of an era of change in America, and here’s hoping the powers that be leave no stone unturned in revamping a country that has thrived as the world’s most powerful for more than two centuries.

*Ali Farokmanesh 2012!*


Tiger's not out of the Woods yet

Sunday evening, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi did what even Oprah Winfrey could not: be the first person interview Tiger Woods one-on-one since November 2009.

I came away from the five-minute segment with mixed feelings.

As usual, Tiger left me with many questions still about what has transpired in his life in recent months, and even years.

He did, however, give some perhaps unanticipated answers.

This was better than last month for Tiger, when he gave a woefully unemotional speech in front of a room of people he selected with more care than a 5-year-old girl constructs her dollhouse.

I won’t say I saw the “real Tiger,” because quite frankly I don’t know who that is. And neither does anyone else, including Tiger.

“I was living the life of a lie…and stripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly,” Woods said.

Now he’s getting somewhere.

He finally admitted he was a fraud. It’s one thing to say he’s had “multiple transgressions” and admit to any other wrongful acts, but for him to admit his behavior was fraudulent to even those who care about him most, spoke to me about his character now.

But back to his marriage. How the man has been able to keep his wife from abandoning him already is better than any seven-iron shot out of the rough he’s ever made.

When asked to answer specifically what happened on Thanksgiving night last year, when Woods’ car was found crashed into a tree and the media frenzy that was his life ensued, he said that beyond the legal documents it was a private matter.

He wouldn’t describe a single part of that night, including why he lost control of the car before he even left the driveway.

That’s his bad. If he wants to eliminate speculation from the minds of millions, he’d better come clean on what really happened that night. That doesn’t mean he has to give a play-by-play of what happened, but by holding silent it leads us to believe whatever happened could not have been much worse than we can imagine.

Rinaldi concluded the interview by asking Woods “how do you reconcile what you’ve done with (the love with his wife)?

To which Woods replied, “we work at it.”

How much work are we talking here, Tiger?

Clearly the issues between Elin and himself are far from resolved, yet he is already back in the game of golf, set to play in the Masters two weeks from now.

Tiger Woods doesn’t play golf like you and I play golf. He doesn’t slap a few balls around on the range 10 minutes before his tee-time and ride around in a cart with a cooler stocked full of beer in the back for a couple hours once a week.

Tiger Woods spends anywhere from six to ten hours a day on the practice course, refining a skill so rare that it changed the way the very sport was revered.

That’s a hell of a lot of work. Now he says that to repair his marriage and family, it will require work?

It seems to me like the true priorities of Tiger Woods have not changed all that much.

Let’s face it: when Accenture and Gatorade withdrew their sponsorships of Woods, it didn’t exactly put him in the poor house.

You could say playing golf is an escape for Woods, but do you really expect Woods to tee it up at Augusta for the autonomy of it? If he’s playing in any tournament, it’s because he wants to win.

Put yourself in Tiger’s shoes. He’s taking one heck of a risk by playing in this tournament, even if it is within the fortified walls of Augusta National. He’s facing endless ridicule, not to mention constant pinpoint scrutiny for the duration of his stay in the competition.

Of course he plans on winning! If he doesn’t, the week will all in all be a failure for him. He’s returning to a course where he has won four times in his career in convincing fashion.

A win at the Masters would lift the pressure of the world off his shoulders, and serve as a giant “take that!” to all the critics out there that say he’s lost his luster as maybe the greatest golfer ever.

He has something to prove. If he wanted to play golf as an escape from a living hell, he’d call up a buddy or two, and hit the course every now and then to get his mind off things. Don’t expect Tiger to hack around Augusta for four days and finish in 15th, only to hear him say anything akin to “I’m very satisfied with the week I had.” It’s not coming, so don’t hold your breath.

I am glad it was Rinaldi that conducted the interview, but I can’t help but wonder what more there is to know about the nature of Tiger’s rehabilitation, his true standing with Elin, and why he thinks he can compete at the highest level of professional golf and repair a marriage that seems so irreversibly damaged at this point only a miracle would save it.

Then again, he’s made a career out of defying the odds.

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