Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Masters in Augusta Presents Schwartzel's First Major; Announces Tiger's Second Coming

The roars from the final round of The 75th Masters in Augusta, Georgia heralded a long overdue rebirth of energy, enthusiasm, and renewed level of interest in professional golf not seen since the beginning of Tiger Woods' precipitous fall from grace that began 18 months ago. In a tournament whose final round represented a flurry of fury of effort from both recognized and unfamiliar names to casual and hardcore fans alike, the tradition of excellence was uninterrupted, even if a comeback in particular left you feeling as incomplete as the spelling of the eventual champion's first name.

Charl Schwartzel slipped on the green jacket for the first time as he reigned in the first Major of his career. Despite a revolving door of would-be competitors threatening to take the lead, for only the second time in 21 years the eventual champion would not come from the day's final pairing of McIlroy and Cabrera. McIlroy, at just 21, was heading into Sunday after his improbable lead of the entire tournament. He faltered as many predicted would absolutely happen, and finished with a score of 80 to leave him tied for 15th. Despite having played the first three days at -12, his final day effort of +8 left the door wide open for players who still had good golf left in them for Sunday.

And come to play they did! Not since Alfred Hitchcock tapped Tippy Hedren have you seen so many birdies! But it was the two that eluded Tiger Woods on the back 9 that prevented his triumphant return to the top of the golf world. Despite coming from -5 to finish at 10 under for the tournament with a final day score of 67, it was Schwartzel's tournament record first ever 4 birdies on the final four holes to put him at 14 under to secure the victory ahead of the steady Scott and Day who tied for second at -12.

As unlikely as Rori McIlroy continuing to hold court among the sport's lords was the expectation that Tiger would have what it took to mount a successful charge. But Tiger's failure was not based on playing or putting poorly, but instead because of leaving a couple literally on the lip of the cup. Despite finishing 4th, this signals the end of the Tiger-less era of golf, and the only temporarily returned status as immortal and bullet-proof Jack Nicklaus' record 18 career majors.

And for the first time in a year and a half, golf is interesting again. From this corner, "Amen!"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

UConn Marches Beyond the Madness of Butler's Poor Shooting

UConn persevered over Brad Stevens-coached Butler 53-41 at Reliant Stadium to take the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, Coach Jim Calhoun's third since 1999.

The scrappy #8 seed Butler from the heart of Basketball City, USA mustered a mere 18% shooting from the floor, eventually allowing the 34% of their opponents the margin necessary for victory. Kemba Walker (5-19, 16 points) has been the star of this tournament since his team's historic run commencing with their improbable 5 wins in 5 days to take the Big East Basketball Championship and earn an automatic berth to the Big Dance as a #3 seed.

Conventional wisdom spoke of the advantage of the contest leaning towards the front court of Butler's Matt Howard and Andrew Smith, as well as the maturity and depth of the bench of the Bulldogs. Allowing for the dominant play of the Huskies' Walker, the game was shaping up to be a battle between the "bigs" of Butler and the "quicks" of Connecticut's back court.

But it was UConn's front court of Tyler Olander, Roscoe Smith, and Alex Oriakhi (5-6, 11 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks) who intimidated, out-muscled, and out-hustled the blue-collar tandem of Butler's Howard (1-13, 6 points, 7 rebounds) and Smith (2-9, 5 points, 9 rebounds.) With the worst shooting performance in the tournament's championship game history, the Bulldogs would not have what it took, despite holding UConn to two separate five minute scoring droughts in the first half to lead 22 - 19 at intermission.

Butler opened up the first half with a Chase Stigall 3-pointer giving his team a 25 - 19 advantage. This bucket, together with the one by Shelvin Mack from long range to close out the first half as time expired, represented greater than 25% of the Bulldog's total offense for the game at that point. The Huskies scored the next seven straight points, and a Lamb steal punctuated with a fast-break dunk to make it 31 - 26 highlighted the dire straits of a Butler team that would suffer being outscored 14 - 1 during a dry-spell that saw them go in excess of seven minutes before making a field goal, and not another one before an additional six minutes!

In the end, it was the poise and leadership of UConn's Walker, the intimidation and defense by Oriakhi and Olander, and the X-factor of Lamb that proved to be too much for the deflated play and poor execution of what one can only charitably refer to as the offense of Butler.