Tiger is Back

Well, at least as much as one can reasonably expect. His victory at Memorial was very impressive: he birdied three of the last four holes to eke out the win.

THIS is the way Tiger used to win: he kept himself in the hunt, and found ways to “bring it” down the stretch.

Does this mean he’s going to start dominating the majors again? Not sure, but–let’s be honest here–he will be a threat if he plays like this.

Yes, his driving distance has dropped since he blew out his knee and had surgery in 2008. This has taken a lot of his prior advantage away.

Yes, his competition has improved, and no longer fears him. This has made winning more difficult at a time when he is no longer the dominator he once was.

Yes, the aging process is taking its toll on him. He has had knee surgeries; he no longer averages 300+ yards off the tee; his short game has declined; his body is not what it was 15 years ago.

Still, golf is a sport that does not require stellar physical fitness to win.

Tennis requires great fitness, as does professional football and basketball. Golf, not so much. Ray Floyd and Craig Stadler were notorious for their girth, and were always major threats. Even the Golden Bear–Nicklaus–had a gut on him. Tiger no longer has the fitness of a Navy SEAL, but, then again, he doesn’t need that level of fitness either.

And even with his health issues, make no mistake: Tiger is still one of the fittest players on the Tour. Having said that, at this stage of his career, the mental aspects of the game are going to either make it or break it for him.

He can–and will–be a contender in the major tournaments. He proved today–with a very competitive field–that he can win in tough situations. Get him in the 4th round of the U.S. Open, with 5 holes remaining and down by two strokes, and the smart money will be on Tiger.

This year, he now has two victories. While he has not made great runs in the majors this year, days like this will help him gain that confidence he once had.

And in golf, THAT is where tournaments are won and lost.

By Amir on June 3, 2012 | Sports | A comment?

The fall of Bobby Petrino: a long time coming

As promised, I’m continuing with my posts on the Bobby Petrino scandal. This time, I’ll focus on the man himself.

Since his story has been beaten to death throughout the sports media, I won’t go into any great detail. However, as I see it, it’s yet another example of that cautionary saying: character matters.

Pat Forde published a great piece showing just what kind of a fellow Arkansas hired. Now, without further ado… Bobby Petrino’s Greatest Hits!

2003: Petrino is hired by Louisville from Auburn, where he had been offensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville. However, Auburn decided Tuberville wasn’t winning enough for them, especially against Alabama, and started quietly looking for a new coach. Very quietly.

Enter Petrino. Auburn officials take a flight to a small airport across the river from Louisville, where Petrino meets them… while both teams’ seasons are still going on. And two days before Auburn’s biggest game of the season, the Iron Bowl against Alabama.

So, we have Petrino going behind the back of Tom Jurich (U of L athletic director) and Tuberville (his former boss). Not to mention Auburn going behind the back of Tuberville. But wait, it gets better. Petrino continues to deny that he had met with Auburn until two reporters for The Courier-Journal (Louisville’s daily paper), one of them Forde, present him with proof of the flight… and Auburn finally owns up to its role in the affair.

2004: You would think Petrino would have learned a lesson from this. But no… he met with Notre Dame officials during the season, at the same airport, about their coaching job. He also met with Florida and Ole Miss during the season.

At the end of the season, he pledged his loyalty to U of L, and signed a contract extension. The ink was barely dry before he went behind Jurich’s back yet again to interview with LSU. He then made a big show of withdrawing from consideration… after it was obvious LSU would hire Les Miles.

2005: Petrino says he has no interest in the NFL, but interviews with the Oakland Raiders. Do we see a pattern here?

2006: Petrino signs a 10-year contract with U of L, and insists on adding a $1 million buyout clause. Five months later, after one of the greatest seasons in the school’s football history, he leaves for the Atlanta Falcons.

2007: Petrino leaves the Falcons with three games left in the season without telling his players. He is announced as the new head coach at Arkansas the next day. Sure, his time in Atlanta was during the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal… but running out on a head coaching job during the season is very bad juju.

The pattern appears to be that of a person who’s out mainly for himself, no matter who he steps on along the way. Given that behavior, it should be no surprise that Petrino admitted to an extramarital affair—or that he was found to be communicating with at least one other woman. Lest we forget, both women are about the age of his oldest children.

I don’t have any personal animosity toward Petrino. I hope he can work out his issues, preferably away from the public eye. But, his fall from grace should be a warning to all of us—and a reminder that, to borrow a phrase from Amir, the Law of Sowing and Reaping shall not be up for repeal any time soon.

By Cubbie on April 18, 2012 | News/Opinion, Sports | 2 comments

Common sense out of Arkansas

I’ll have more to say on the firing of Bobby Petrino, but I’ll start by saying that I’m pleasantly surprised that Jeff Long showed he was an athletic director, not just an athletic supporter (to shamelessly steal a past line of Amir’s).

Then again, Long didn’t have much choice in the matter. Arkansas was staring right down the barrel of some hard-core litigation. When you’re the highest-paid public employee in the state, hiring your mistress is very bad juju… not to mention a sexual harassment suit (or two or three) in the making. Add to that lying about her being present when you wrecked your motorcycle, and effectively making the university complicit in your lie… and only coming clean when her name is about to be released in the police report.

Yes, regardless of wins and losses, and Petrino’s deserved reputation as one of the best offensive minds in football, Long absolutely did the right thing, even if it was the only thing he could do.

By Cubbie on April 11, 2012 | News/Opinion, Sports | 1 comment

Tiger Woods Still Struggles

While Tiger Woods had seemed to be on the rebound of late, his performance at the 2012 Masters was a major setback.

He appeared to be on the rise, going into a tournament that he once dominated, on a course where he is a perennial threat. He fell. Hard.

It’s the same sad story: Tiger Woods is so close to, but so far from, having the game that once put fear in his competitors.

This is not about a sex scandal anymore. Given his moral and religious inclinations, I see no reason why that should be dragging his golf game down at this point. If he were a Christian, it would be the end of his game. But he’s a Buddhist with otherwise secular leanings.

This is not about money. Even after the divorce–which left him much lighter in the wallet–he’s not lacking in money.

No…this is about timing. The scandal was a major setback–it took him out of the game for several months.

That alone, however, would not have sunk him.

This is about the hard realities of the aging process.

Had the scandal broke when he was 25, he would be dominating right now.

But now, his competition has caught up to him. He may be the most physically-fit player on the Tour, but he’s had knee surgeries.

He does not get the same driving distance that he once did. His 2006 driving distance (306.4) was almost 12 yards greater than it is this season (294.7).

That may not sound like a great deal, but that dropoff in yardage puts greater pressure on other parts of his game. When you’re 12 yards shorter off the tee, it turns an eagle/birdie on a par 5 into a birdie/par situation. It forces you to go for longer irons–that carry a lower margin for error–where you once relied on easier-to-hit shorter irons. You end up in more bunkers. If you end up in the rough, you’ll have a harder time hitting out of it.

And that yardage dropoff has been sustained.

Year Yards
2006 306.4
2007 302.4
2008 294.3
2009 298.4
2010 295.8
2011 293.7
2012 294.7

His driving distance hasn’t been in the 300s since 2007. And he’s only won a single major (the 2008 U.S. Open) since then. He had knee surgery in 2008, and does not appear to have been the same off the tee since then.

I won’t bet against Tiger. He still is putting up impressive numbers, and his mechanics are sound. He is strong enough to compete in any given tournament. He is capable of winning more majors, and even challenging Nicklaus.

But he is going to have a very hard fight against Father Time. The scandal cost him two years. If that were ten years ago, it might not have been as big a deal. But he is no longer in his prime. He is going to have to compete as his body is declining–and as his competition no longer fears him.

When your opponents believe they can beat you, and your skills are waning, then competition gets harder.

Nothing succeeds like success, but nothing fails like failure.

By Amir on April 10, 2012 | Sports | A comment?

Treat Danica Patrick

like one of the guys. She earned it.

To her credit, she has chosen to compete in the same field as the men, playing by the same rules, getting no special favors. Whereas golf courses move the women’s tees closer to the hole, neither NASCAR nor IRL spots woman drivers any leads over their male opponents.

So, as for Danica Patrick, I say it’s long past time to give her credit where it is due. In my assessment, she was not a great driver in the IRL circuit, but she was respectable nonetheless.

How will she fare in the NASCAR world? We shall see.

That said, sportscasters can lay off the sexually perjorative terms.

In a related note, she is not off to a good start at Daytona: she wrecked on lap 2.

By Amir on February 27, 2012 | Sports | 4 comments

Phil Destroys Tiger at Pebble Beach

I thought for sure that I would be blogging about Tiger’s return to victory. It was not to be.

It would be very difficult for Tiger Woods to be encouraged from his latest PGA showing, this time at Pebble Beach. Phil Mickelson absolutely destroyed him in the final round.

To be fair, Tiger has regained most of the mechanics of his game. When he plays, he is usually one of the contenders, at least for three rounds. This time, he was only three strokes back with 18 holes to go. The leader had never won before, and Mickelson–his old nemesis–was 6 strokes behind the lead and 3 strokes behind Tiger, all on a course on which Tiger has made history in the past.

This time, Mickelson–at 41 years of age–had the round of his life while Tiger played more like Greg Norman. Mickelson hit the key putts when he needed them, whereas Tiger couldn’t sink a motorboat with a nuclear missile. In the end, Mickelson took the title and Tiger finished in a tie for 15th place.

What does this say for Tiger?

On one hand, he is not far from where he needs to be. His mechanics are plenty good enough. While he is no longer the super hitter of old, Tiger is sufficiently capable off the tee and in the fairway. He is very capable on approach shots. He is not the same threat for making eagles on par 5s as he used to be, but he can still get close enough for birdies.

His putting is erratic, but that part of the game is almost 100% mental.

Unfortunately, that is Tiger’s biggest problem right now. In his prime, he would be making a charge in the final round. Tiger was always sure to “bring it” when the title was on the line. If he was down by 3 strokes, it was no big deal, and his opponents had that pressure to perform. Even with severe injuries, he could beat anyone in the game.

Even though his body is in decline due to the aging process, that alone does not account for his failure to win. After all, he is still one of the most physically-fit players on the Tour. It’s not like Mickelson is in better physical shape than Tiger: in such a contest, Tiger would easily eat Phil’s lunch.

Now, Tiger’s problems are mental: he no longer has the killer instinct. He no longer has the confidence. If he’s down by three strokes with 18 holes to go, he is more likely to hit three bogeys than he is to hit three birdies. Where you once could count on him to slam a 300-yard drive with ease–and land in the fairway–he is now just as likely to hit a shorter drive that lands in the rough.

This is why he is so close to being a winner, and yet so far away.

At the same time, the Masters is not far away. Augusta National is one of Tiger’s sacred courses. He has set records there before. If his mechanics are good, he will easily be a contender. If he is leading after 54 holes, it will be tough to bet against him.

But the issue is what he does in that final 18 holes. If he can get his mental game back, he will–once again–be the man to beat on the Tour.

That said, his opposition no longer fears him.

By Amir on February 13, 2012 | Sports | 2 comments

Tebow Delivers One More Time

Yesterday’s Steelers-Broncos game was unbelievable.

Tebow had been worse than mediocre in his last three starts, and–going against the hardcore Pittsburgh defense–the prognosis did not look particularly encouraging. While the Steelers were without some key players, it’s not like Tebow had been lighting up the world of late. There had even been some reports that the Broncos were looking to yank Tebow in favor of Brady Quinn if he started out too badly.

At the end of Q1, the Steelers were up 6-0. This was shaping up to be another long day for the Broncos.

Then, out of nowhere, Tebow proceeded to light up the Steelers. Two excellent passes, 80 yards, and a touchdown.

Then, on his next drive, he did it again. A really nice bomb to set up his own touchdown run. At halftime, the Broncos led 20-6.

The second half did not go so well for the Broncos. A fumble, a very bad call that led to a Steelers touchdown, a blown pass on 3rd and 8.

But the Broncos defense stopped Big Ben when they needed to. Two sacks kept them out of field goal range and sent the game into overtime.

Then, Tebow did what he does best in overtime.

Now, Tebow and the Broncos have to go to New England to face the Patriots. This is a team that beat the Broncos a few weeks ago, and they will be heavy favorites against a Denver team that is obviously outgunned and whose defense has yet to find a way to stop a high-caliber passing game. Tebow must find a way to control the football and keep their defense well-rested. This will be a monumental order.

But I didn’t think the Broncos has much of a chance against the Steelers. The Steelers know how to win, they have a QB that has delivered two Super Bowl rings, and–injuries or not–have a stellar defense. But the Broncos found a way to score against them, make the stops when they needed to, and deliver the big play on offense.

They’ll need to do it again on the road. I’m betting it will end there, as the Patriots are just too strong.

But–then again–as the saying goes, “that’s why they play the game.”

By Amir on January 9, 2012 | Sports | 18 comments

Hope This Isn’t True

Former Chicago Bears wide receiver and track and field star Willie Gault has been accused of securities fraud by the SEC.

I remember Gault. He was not a great receiver, but had blinding speed which always made him a threat in long pass situations.

He was not an insignificant part of Super Bowl XX–in which the Bears destroyed the New England Patriots 46-10–as he caught four passes for 129 yards, including a 60-yarder.

By Amir on December 29, 2011 | Sports | A comment?

The Anti-Tebow Brigade

Broncos QB and former NCAA standout Tim Tebow is a divisive figure. Most people either love him or hate him.

Among his admirers: religious conservatives, Broncos fans, Tebow’s teammates, and folks like myself who admire hard-working, clean-cut, no BS professionals who walk the talk.

Among his detractors: washed-up quarterbacks who want to be relevant (Jake Plummer), his boss (John Elway), anti-religious bigots, and a community of sports analysts who wishes he would go away so they wouldn’t have to deal with his God talk.

(After all, what is more marketable? Tim Tebow thanking God for various things, or an NFL player brawling it out at a bar at 2AM?)

OTOH, Tebow is not the first high-profile athlete to give lots of attention to his Christian faith. Julius Erving, Kurt Warner, Tony Dungy, Michael Chang, David Robinson, and Orel Hershiser were all outspoken about their Christian faith during their playing days.

Nor is Tebow the high end of the ostentatious side. Those who remember Tyson-Holyfield I will remember Holyfield throwing the admonitions of Matthew 6 completely to the wind after he TKOd Mike Tyson in their first bout.

Still, none of the aforementioned athletes received the clobbering that Tebow does. I can’t recall any athlete–before Tebow–getting mocked by an opposing player in a religious gesture.

Jen Engle asks a very relevant question: What if Tebow were Muslim? That’s an easy one: Stephen Tulloch would be hiding out with Salman Rushdie, hoping to avoid one or more fatwas from various clerics.

I would suggest that the anti-Tebow movement is driven by several factors:

(1) A sea of skepticism. Many athletes have proclaimed a Christian faith, while–on further inspection–having egregious moral deficiencies. A recent biography of Walter Payton had some scandalous accounts; Evander Holyfield fathered nine children, most of them outside marriage; Julius Erving was a serial adulterer who initially attempted to deny his outing as the father of tennis player Alexandra Stevenson. Eugene Robinson–right after receiving the Bart Starr Award from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes–got busted for soliciting a prostitute.

Recently, Kurt Warner admonished Tebow about this dynamic: fairly or unfairly, he is getting viewed through the lens of others who have seen no small number of hypocrites. Toward that end, Tebow can earn their respect as he keeps walking the talk.

(2) Tebow is not the “right kind” of Christian. If he were an Episcopalian who believed in ordaining gays–or a member of Ebenezer/HerChurch–there would be no controversy. Heck, he would be celebrated as a great humanitarian. If he were gay, he’d be the poster child for the Left.

But Tebow is a conservative Christian who has appeared in pro-life commercials. A gutsy move on his part, as that act has landed him in the permanent doghouse of at least half the mainstream media.

(3) Tebow has not yet achieved indisputable All Pro status. If Tebow were passing for 400 yards per game, his critics would be somewhat muted. If Tebow had Cam Newton’s numbers, at least half the rancor would go away.

To be fair, those who question his viability as a QB–that includes me–have merit. Elway does not yet have complete confidence in Tebow, and that is understandable.

As a passer, he has ranged from shaky to good. In his last two games, he has put up good numbers–including a 10-15/202 yards/2 TD/0 INT performance against Minnesota. Against Detroit, he got hammered in a blowout loss. In those performances, one can see what he wants to see: he is either a dud, or a promising prospect who is steadily improving.

Even if Tebow gets his team into the playoffs, the critics will not go away. After all, even Trent Dilfer has a Super Bowl ring. At the end of the day, it’s all about consistent performance.

In Tebow’s defense, he makes few mistakes as a passer.

His completion rate isn’t high, but he has only thrown ONE interception this season. He has only fumbled twice all year.

He runs a good ball-control offense that keeps his defense well-rested. By committing few turnovers, his offense has maximized their opportunities while keeping the pressure off his defense.

He is a hard worker and a hard competitor. If he has a chance to run hard or jog out of bounds, he’s not afraid to go balls-out to get the extra yardage. Even a skeptical coach–like his own–will respect that work ethic and competitive spirit.

But that begs the questions: (a) Is Tebow enduring a parade of scoffers? (b) Does he have legitimate critics? (c) Are there aspects of his practice of the Christian faith that he can adjust, without compromising his principles?

To answer those questions: (a) yes, (b) yes, and (c) yes.

(c) The admonitions of Matthew 6 are there for a reason. While Tebow is no Pharisee, some of his youthful exuberance can smack of Pharisaical show. Praying during games is ok–arguably part of the admonition of Paul to his fellow Christians–but doing that without making a show of it is a learned skill.

Toward that end, he can consult other Christian athletes–like NBA great David Robinson and former NFL greats Roger Staubach and Kurt Warner–about how to flesh that out. I would recommend that he develop an inner circle of accountability if he has not done this. If he wishes to get married, he should build a robust network and start that search sooner rather than later.

(b) On the other hand, he needs to embrace certain criticisms, if he has not already done this. Many folks will demonize John Elway, but–in fairness to Elway–Tebow still has to prove his viability as an NFL quarterback. He has made great improvements, but it is on him to keep working hard and making adjustments.

So far, Tebow has been hard-working and humble. He needs to keep that attitude and keep fighting the good fight. There is plenty of room in the NFL for folks who are good citizens who work hard. Will Tebow become a great QB? I dunno; maybe…maybe not. But he could become a very good player who will never lack a roster spot. If he keeps doing what he is doing, he will be a hero in Denver for many years to come.

(a) As for the scoffers, they’ll always be out there. Some will go on to eventually respect him; he may win a few over to his camp; still, others are going to hate him even if he wins 10 Super Bowl rings, gives 99% of his money to orphans in Haiti, and has a long, monogamous marriage to one woman until he croaks.

But if he were a Muslim, his critics would be in constant fear of bombs.

As it stands now, they only risk getting embarrassed on Sundays.

By Amir on December 8, 2011 | Sports | 9 comments

Random Thoughts

(1) Tim Tebow was impressive yesterday.

I’ve long maintained–and still do–that Tim Tebow is not a good passer. He’s a hard worker, a great competitor, and has a great attitude. There is plenty of room for him in the NFL in the long run, but his longevity as a QB is probably going to be short-lived. He’d make an excellent running back, tight end, linebacker, or free safety.

But if he keeps playing like he did yesterday, my outlook may change.

When he came back against the Dolphins, the critics said, “Well yeah, but that was the Dolphins. They suck.” When the Detroit Lions destroyed him, the critics were validated.

But since then, he has managed to come back against the Raiders. He came back against the Chiefs. He came back against the Jets. He came back against the Chargers. Yesterday, he passed for 202 yards–without throwing an interception–in a comeback victory against the Minnesota Vikings.

Granted, none of these teams are lighting up the world this year, but they aren’t pushovers either. And, in his last two games, Tebow’s passing numbers have been respectable. He makes few mistakes, and–when he does (such as yesterday’s fumble before halftime), the penalty has been minimal. He has only thrown one interception, whereas his counterpart on the Vikings threw two costly interceptions, including a Pick 6.

He may very well have a future as a QB. I still think he should switch positions, though.

(2) Tiger Woods may be back.

Critics will point out that Tiger’s victory yesterday was at a small event that didn’t feature the game’s top players. While that is true, Tiger’s biggest problems are psychological right now. He needs to regain the feel for what it is like to win a close tournament. He needs to regain the feel for what it is like to play four solid rounds of golf. Yesterday was a step in the right direction for him. Tiger’s competition was light, but he won nonetheless.

He may not be back to being the top competitor on the PGA Tour, but–if he gets that confidence back–he’ll be back in the top 5 pretty soon.

Once Tiger gets his game and confidence back, he still has to face Father Time. Tiger’s body is breaking down on him; he has been remarkable in the fitness department, but the aging process is still doing its number. His competition is younger, fitter, and does not fear him like they once would have. His time window for challenging Nicklaus is closing. The last 2 years has cost him dearly, and–at this point–it’s not about money.

Still, don’t count out Tiger just yet.

(3) Penn State’s football program is going to get the death penalty.

And it should. The “lack of institutional control”–which brings down devastating sanctions from the NCAA–has extended well into the worst aspects of the criminal realm. While I feel badly for the student-athletes who are getting hurt in this, Sandusky’s victims are the real sufferers here. If the pimping allegations are true, the impact may extend well beyond the athletic departments at PSU.

The university–as we know it now–may well cease to exist. This may seem unthinkable, as Penn State has a very large campus that has some very reputable departments. Their engineering schools are top-notch.

But the impact of Sanduskygate will tarnish every department of the university.

(4) Good riddance to Herman Cain.

When I first saw the picture of Ginger Adams–the most recent accuser–MrsLarijani and I looked at each other ans said, “No way!” If I was single, and Ginger Adams was the only woman left on earth, I’d take a vow of celibacy. If the only two women on earth were Ginger Adams and a crack whore with AIDS–and God commanded that I choose one of them–I would take my chances on a cure for AIDS. Ergo, I had serious doubts about Ginger Adams’ story.

But when Cain’s attorney–Lin Wood–attempted a coy dismissal of the story, rather than a hard denial of the allegations, I about choked on my coffee. That Cain did not fire his attorney immediately spoke volumes. Al Mohler–with whom I have a share of differences–had about the same reaction I did.

Whether or not Adams was telling the truth, Herman Cain was in a tough position: if he had ever cheated on his wife, he was done.

Whether he is innocent or not, that he would quit now–even as the top two candidates in the polls are very weak–does not seem to be the action of an innocent man.

Oh, and don’t buy the line that he is merely “suspending” his campaign. He’s done.

(5) The GOP field is now as wide open as it ever has been. Newt Gingrich is the new Flavor of the Month for Republicans. While many are going goo-goo over his intellectual abilities, in fact Newt is the John Kerry of the GOP: he is better at talking about issues than he is about doing much about them. You name the issue–Medicare, Social Security, our role in the world, illegal immigration, taxes, spending, the role of government in our lives–and Newt is lacking in substance.

Whereas Rick Perry is a complete dunce who cannot name three agencies he’d eliminate, Newt is the bloviating policy wonk who will give us Big Government fascism, even as he talks a conservative game.

Ron Paul is definitely short of the glory on foreign policy, although, as jobs become increasingly scarce, Americans are going to be less enthusiastic about our forays into 100+ countries. If Paul can frame the issue in economic terms, he might be the next one standing after Newt and Mitt kill each other.

My prediction: Jon Huntsman–not Ron Paul–is going to be the next GOP flavor. Once he fizzles, the GOP will be in total disarray. Things will get mighty interesting when that happens.

By Amir on December 5, 2011 | Politics, Sports | 4 comments