By now, Tiger Woods should have had a chance to defend his Masters title. By now, there should be an answer for his rabid fans about just how much time they should devote to cheering him on in the U.S. Open.
But in a year where answers are hard to come from anywhere, there isn’t a simple one about his chances of winning a fourth Open championship.
It’s so complicated that even Woods seems to be having problems figuring it out.
“This year I really haven’t putted as well as I wanted to, and the times I did make a few swing mistakes, I missed it in the wrong spots,’’ Woods said Tuesday. ”Consequently, I just didn’t have the right looks at it. I’ve compounded mistakes here and there that ended up not making me able to make pars or a birdie run, and consequently I haven’t put myself in contention to win events.’’
Don’t feel bad if that seemed difficult to follow. With Woods we’ve been guessing at things for years.
Is his back OK? Is he rusty from not playing enough? How about the putter?
And add this one into the mix for this tournament: At the age of 44 will he be able to match players two decades younger when it comes to hacking out of the rough and steadying himself on the 6-footers for par?
We’ll know soon enough, with Woods teeing off early Thursday at Winged Foot in a pairing that includes two players who, unlike Woods, have a lot more professional golf in their future than they do in their past. One of them, newly crowned PGA champion Collin Morikawa, wasn’t even born when Woods won his first PGA tournament in 1996, while Justin Thomas, until last month, was officially the best player in golf.
Oddsmakers don’t exactly fancy his chances, making Woods a 35-1 shot to edge closer to the biggest record he doesn’t hold in golf — the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus. Woods himself doesn’t sound terribly confident, even if he’s not quite ready yet to take his place as an elder statesman of golf.
“I think it gets harder to win as we all age,’’ he said.
Compounding the issue for Woods this week isn’t necessarily the length of Winged Foot, which stretches nearly 7,500 yards with a par of 70. He’s plenty long to still be competitive with players like Thomas and Morikawa, even if they will likely be outdriving him in the opening rounds.
It’s what happens when he can’t find the fairway and needs to scramble that will be the toughest part. By all accounts, the rough at Winged Foot is brutal, which means Woods will need to overcome mistakes off the tee with the kind of short game that has won him 15 majors.
Unfortunately, the putts under 10 feet that used to be automatic for Woods are automatic no longer. It doesn’t help that he missed the FedEx playoffs and hasn’t played competitively in three weeks.
There’s also the fact that in six rounds in two major championships at Winged Foot, Woods is a combined 18-over-par. That includes the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, where Woods shot 76-76 and missed the cut.
Still, as his magical win at the Masters last year reminded everyone, it would be a mistake to sell him short.
“When I won the Masters last year I was not feeling particularly well prior to that,’’ Woods said. ”My neck was bothering me. I didn’t play in Bay Hill. For some reason I felt physically better and my training sessions felt good. I changed shafts in my driver right before the event, and I was able to start turning the ball over. Then all of a sudden I put myself in contention and I wasn’t really — I wasn’t leading but I was near the lead, and each day I progressively got a little bit better, and come Sunday, I put all the pieces together.’’
Could that happen again at Winged Foot, a course that doesn’t have the wide fairways of Augusta National and is lined with deep rough? A course that Woods doesn’t know nearly as well and hasn’t had previous success?
Woods isn’t making predictions, and anyone else is simply guessing. Things tend to happen in golf that can’t be predicted, as evidenced by Morikawa’s win at the PGA Championship last month in his first major as a professional.
One thing is clear: Time is running out on Woods if he is to add four more major titles to break the record he wants the most. And snagging one during a pandemic would be a perfect springboard heading into the Masters in November, where he will be the defending champion.
Meanwhile, don’t forget. He is Tiger Woods.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http:twitter.com/timdahlberg
Andújar off; Ford, Montgomery on
CLEVELAND (AP) — Miguel Andújar was left off the New York Yankees’ roster Tuesday for their first-round playoff series against Cleveland.
First baseman Mike Ford made the 28-man roster, as did left-hander Jordan Montgomery.
Andújar hurt a shoulder last year and lost the third-base job to Gio Urshela, then returned from surgery and hit .242 with one homer and five RBIs in 62 at-bats. He last played Sept. 13 and was optioned to the alternate training site two days later.
He batted .297 in 2018 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs.
Montgomery is not expected to start against the Indians and will be a bullpen option, likely as a long reliever. New York’s rotation includes Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and either J.A. Happ or rookie Deivi García.
Ford is a left-handed option off the bench for the heavily right-handed Yankees’ lineup and a backup at first to Luke Voit, who has played through a foot injury,
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said left-hander James Paxton could be a possibility late in the postseason. Paxton has not pitched in a game since Aug. 20 because of a strained flexor tendon in his pitching arm and was transferred to the 45-day injured list Sept. 16.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Relitigating the LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan GOAT discussion … again
In the midst of a global pandemic, Michael Jordan’s “Last Dance” documentary put a period on the GOAT discussion, reinforcing the lasting image we have of him as this undeniable force, the perfect amalgamation of athleticism, skill and competitiveness, a champion with an unblemished record in the NBA Finals. Yet, here we are, four months later, and LeBron James is once again punctuating that narrative with an ellipsis.
At what point do we concede that Jordan’s GOAT status can be threatened? Is it merely the six rings and six Finals MVPs in six title shots? If that were the case, then Bill Russell should be undisputed. It has to be the totality of Jordan’s career, the championships, the awards, the scoring titles, the testimony of his peers, the eye test, the feeling we got watching him, the inevitability of his greatness when a moment called for it.
And James is threatening it all with each unprecedented accomplishment, each defeat of Father Time.
All time did not stand still in 1998. We must accept that there is a tipping point, where a successor unmasks the Jordan mystique to reveal a higher order, one that can then be challenged by the next anointed. James continues to push the limits of that point, and to deny that now is to believe eclipsing Jordan is impossible.
James will make his 10th Finals appearance when the series opens on Wednesday, matching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with four more than Jordan and two fewer than Russell. He is the favorite to become the first player in history to lead three different franchises to championships. We can agree anything less, including Anthony Davis winning Finals MVP, would be another strike against his legacy by comparison to Jordan, in addition to his 2011 Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks and the willingness to jump ship for a better crew.
Should James win a fourth title and fourth Finals MVP, there will be those who will refuse to accept anything less than two more rings and two more trophies before entertaining the thought that he may be greater than Jordan. Even that would not be enough for some people. The arc of Jordan’s career is so fantastical, right down to The Last Shot, that we crop his failures upon returning from retirements out of the picture entirely.
The story of James’ career is still being written, and it requires far more nuance to tell. It is easier to cast his six Finals losses in the shadow of Jordan’s victories than to appreciate the accomplishment of reaching so many at a time when the depth of talent in the league has never been greater. James’ first Finals loss came at age 22, five years earlier than Jordan made his Finals debut. Three more came opposite the Golden State Warriors, arguably the greatest team in NBA history, and a fifth came against a San Antonio Spurs dynasty.
If you want to equate the Finals histories of Jordan and James, then all basketball analysis is pointless. The Warriors were no better than the Utah Jazz, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry no better than Karl Malone and John Stockton, and to bring the debate to its logical end, Klay Thompson no better than Jeff Hornacek.
It is the 2011 loss that will always haunt James. He was a 26-year-old two-time MVP, and he wilted against Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavericks, ill-prepared to assume the reins as a pantheon-level player. We accept that Jordan’s Eastern Conference finals loss at age 26 was merely another obstacle to overcome on his path to immortality, because what came after was a much cleaner storyline to follow, especially once you frame the second-round loss in 1995 and the dissolution of the Chicago Bulls three years later as beyond his control.
As much as 2011 was a stain, 2016 is the standard. No Jordan championship compares to what James accomplished against the 73-win Warriors. A ring with the Los Angeles Lakers at age 35 will match what Jordan did with the Bulls in ‘98. Everything after will be fodder for a conversation about the importance of longevity that does not fit neatly into a documentary. What came before is the stuff of sports radio dreams.
The narrative of James’ “Decision” to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat is easily dismissed as a ring-chasing pursuit of shared superstar responsibility. His return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and departure for the Los Angeles Lakers can be written into the same script. It is far harder to consider that Bulls history could not be told without Scottie Pippen, an all-time great, or that Jordan failed to reach the Finals in his one season between having Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman as a third star.
James has long since passed Jordan’s statistical marks, both regular season and playoffs, and he could unseat Abdul-Jabbar as the game’s all-time leading scorer with two more seasons like the one he just had. It is practically inevitable for James to conclude his career with more than 40,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 10,000 assists, 2,000 steals and 1,000 blocks, inarguably the greatest statistical résumé in the sport. But numbers are contextual, unless you are talking about championships, in which case they are absolute.
It is the only argument left against James as the greatest player to ever live, and he is peeling layers from that facade with each passing season. How many rings does he need to make everything else he has done matter? Does a fourth get him closer than two shy of Jordan? There was a point in the GOAT discussion where we accepted that the totality of Jordan’s career was greater than Russell’s 11 titles or Abdul-Jabbar’s six. James is fast approaching that same milestone, and there is no reason to believe this is his last dance.
– – – – – – –
Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Sports Grind Entertainment. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach
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5 Mets offseason storylines to watch, including futures of Seth Lugo and Steven Matz
After failing to meet their lofty expectations during the 2020 season, the Mets are entering what could be one of the most interesting offseasons in the history of the franchise.
The team is in the process of being sold to Steve Cohen (pending MLB owner approval), there is tons of money coming off the payroll, huge decisions to make on current members of the roster, and a plan to put in place regarding the offseason approach for a team that is still in win-now mode.
Here are five of the biggest questions facing the Mets as their offseason begins…
Is Seth Lugo a starter or reliever?
Lugo, who has been clear for the last few years that he wants to be a starter, finally got another crack at the rotation this past season. The results were not great, with Lugo posting a 6.15 ERA in 26.1 IP as a starter after having a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 IP as a reliever.
The sample was small and Lugo’s ERA as a starter was inflated a bit due to a very rough start in Philadelphia where he may have been tipping pitches. But he was also rocked in his final start of the season, when he allowed six runs in just 1.1 IP.
During his career, Lugo has been an average starter and a dominant reliever, and the Mets are going to have to decide where he provides more value.
Things are made more complicated since the state of the bullpen is not great and the Mets currently have only two reliable starting pitchers heading into 2021 — Jacob deGrom and David Peterson.
What is the offseason plan to improve?
Things will understandably be up in the air until the ownership situation is resolved and Sandy Alderson takes over as team president (pending the approval of Cohen). But it’s fair to believe that the Mets will be going for it again in 2021.
In order to go for it, the Mets need to fix their starting rotation, bolster the bullpen, find a new catcher, and add an everyday center fielder who can handle the position defensively.
When it comes to fixing the rotation and addressing the hole behind the plate, Trevor Bauer and J.T. Realmuto would be perfect fits. But even if the Mets land one or both of them, they will have plenty of additional work to do.
Does Steven Matz get non-tendered?
Entering the 2020 season, Matz was a reliable mid-rotation starter who had shown flashes of being more. His career ERA was 3.98 and he was being counted on as the glue that would help hold New York’s rotation together.
Then this happened: 9.68 ERA and 1.69 WHIP with 14 home runs allowed in 30.2 IP between the rotation and bullpen in 2020.
What went wrong with Matz this past season was so alarming that it’s impossible to count on him heading into 2021.
Matz is entering his final season of arbitration, and it shouldn’t be a slam dunk that he’ll be tendered a contract after making $5 million in 2020.
Will Luis Rojas be the manager in 2021?
Much of the focus on managers from the fan perspective is on what they do during games, which is understandable. Pitching moves are dissected (and Rojas had some questionable ones), and the sloppiness of the team and/or defensive miscues are often blamed on the manager (though they often shouldn’t be).
That the Mets finished 26-34 was bad. And Rojas had some hiccups in his first year at the helm. But he was not responsible for the roster he was handed and was largely solid when it came to X’s and O’s.
Beyond the above, Rojas — who entered his first year as manager with a reputation of being a terrific communicator — continued to communicate incredibly well with his players. He was also impressive as the face of the franchise to the media on a daily basis, and was forthcoming with detailed explanations of what went wrong when things went haywire on the field (as they sometimes did for the Mets in 2020).
There is often change when new regimes take over, so nothing is set in stone for Rojas. But he has a strong case to return and manage the Mets in 2021.
What about Brodie Van Wagenen?
The situation with Van Wagenen (who is under contract through 2022) is arguably trickier than the one with Rojas.
With Alderson set to take over as team president if Cohen is approved, Van Wagenen’s job would at the very least be impacted in a major way.
There have already been rumors trying Alderson to potential GM candidates, such as Oakland Athletics executive Billy Owens.
In addition to any possible ripple effect on Van Wagenen due to an ownership change and the potential addition of Alderson, it’s also fair to question whether the job he’s done the last two years merits him returning.
Van Wagenen’s future with the Mets should come into focus right around the time the ownership situation is settled.
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