Monday, July 24, 2006

The Open wrapped: Okay, so I was as wrong as could be when it came to Tiger. He really was on another plane from everyone else in the field. One driver in 72 holes, and he still looked like a man among boys. Thank G*d DiMarco played well enough to make it a little interesting at he end. Everyone else played scared and never made Tiger have to work at it.

It was disappointing that the wind never really blew and the rain never came, because watching The Open under those conditions is lot more fun and and brings the field together a little more. Tiger may still have won playing the way he did, but it wouldn't have looked quite so easy. Maybe next year.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Who can save the old girl now? Without the wind and weather, links golf courses can be utterly defenseless, which is wha we're seeing right now. 83 degrees and hard fast fairways are gonna lead to low scores when these guys tee it up, no doubt. I'm a bit of a bastard, so I'm rooting for at least one day of nasty weather to cool down the birdie barage.

Overall, I'm pleased with my predictions, even though Tiger looks like he's set to put it in the bank. There's still time for that to change (okay, not likely). The rest of the leaderboard is about what I imagined - not many Americans (good playing DiMarco, and where the hell have you been for the past year), a healthy dose of who-dats, and some foreign powerhouses looking strong in Els and Goosen. And Adam Scott fills the role of my Aussie rising star.

I agree that McDowell will fade, Eno, and in fact the 73 he shot today may as well have been 78 with the low scoring around the course. Of course, he'll always remember the night he slept on the lead at The Open, and a couple decent rounds this weekend could land him a nice finish.

The cut is projected at -1 I believe, but if you finish today worse than -7 you better hope for ridiculous weather and then play a couple career rounds. Clearly Tiger is the favorite now, but we can hope for a battle, perhaps a long awaited Tiger/Ernie down-the-stretch-they-come finish. We'll see.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

British Links: Thanks, Flyer. I always enjoy reading your thoughts about golf -- often more than watching the game itself. Here's my take following a look at the day one scores.

Gut feeling: McDowell blows up tomorrow. He's only made the cut four times this year when facing the pressure of PGA opponents like Tiger and Phil and Vijay. Today was a great round for him, but unlikely to be duplicated.

As for Tiger, he seems at home here. He's one of the few American players who seems totally unfazed by what the British think of a golf -- i.e., brown, coarse, salt-burnt grass growing in stone-hard dirt, surrounded by high winds and chance of rain every 30 seconds. (As several commentators have noted, American golf is like much of American football: played on an artificial surface.)

In addition, he shook off early mistakes and made up ground with his short game. I mean, he's five under in spite of finding the rough, doubling the bunker, plugging his ball, and finding various other obstacles. Imagine what he'll do if he has a good day!

One other thing worth noting. Weather in the North of England is not like this very often. What happens on that front is definitely a factor.
By popular demand: I've been eagerly anticipating the Open Championship this year, maybe more than before, and I think I know why. This year's tournament is the most mysterious major championship we've seen in golf for quite some time, like going on a blind date, set up by someone you've never met.

First, there's the golf course. When asked what he thought of the site for this year's Open, Tiger Woods replied, "I know it's in Liverpool." Brilliant insight, that, since the course's name is Royal Liverpool (not Hoylake, as you may have heard - that's the name of the train stop nearest the course which is how Brits used to refer to their favorite links, i.e Sandwich for Royal St. George's). The greatest player in the world, and a pretty knowledgeable golf historian, Tiger claimed never to have seen a picture of it before this month. It last hosted the Open in 1967, won by Roberto de Vincenzo, who is better known for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters a year later, causing him to lose that major to Bob (who?) Goalby. Royal Liverpool, I'm afraid, was forgotten a little more after that. After all, if de Vincenzo goes on to become a multiple major winner, old Hoylake's story changes a little, I'd say.

Add to that the fact that this year's tourny has no clear cut "Story." Or maybe too many stories. Tiger? Is he back. Phil? Can he put Winged Foot behind him? The Europeans? Have they surpassed America in talent? Boy, that's a lot to be decided in one four-day stretch. Add to that the vagueries of links golf and English weather and this week is wide the freak open. But that doesn't mean I won't play Carnac.

Here's how it plays out (bear in mind, it's after 2:00 as I write this and play is probably close to done for the first round and I haven't seen a single shot or even a leaderboard...damn job gets in the way every time). Tiger beats Phil, who really ought to start preparing for next year's U.S. Open now so he can just win it and be done with it. He'll have to satisfy himself, like Sampras, with 3 out of 4 for his career (too bad he won't have that whole most-majors-ever thing to console him). Just not cut out for the links was Phil. But, Tiger doesn't win this week, either. Royal Liverpool is a neat course, but it ain't St. Andrews and Tiger, intentionally or not, saves his best stuff for the best courses. Which means look out Medinah in August at the PGA, which I predict he wins going away.

Really, there's not an American I think is a favorite this week, and neither Ernie Els, Vijay Singh or Retief Goosen is having a banner year, to round out the Big Five. Of those three I'd say Ernie has half a chance, since he has a game that can win on a links (he wins all over the world) and he's had good rounds lately, if not four good ones together. Retief has half a chance, also, since he's one of the best putters in the game and that means he's never out of it. Vijay is sort of like Phil - go get a U.S. Open and forget about across the pond.

That leaves us with a bunch of Brits, Swedes, Aussies, Kiwis and the like who are absolutely taking over the game. I continue to pull for one of the Irishmen who are always in the mix: Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, maybe. But it's always a bridesmaid for those guys. The real killers these days are the Aussies, proving that it's not the alcohol that keeps Irishmen from winning majors. Geoff Ogilvy won't go back to back, but Stuart Appleby has plenty of game and tends to pop up out of nowhere hot as a $5 pistol. A British Open would suit him well.

Of course, it's entirely possible we'll get an unknown or barely known again this year - it's sort of every other year and Tiger won last year, so that's what I'm expecting. And somehow, that would suit this year's event. Unknown course, unknown champion. Fine with me.

I should get bonus points for making it through all that without mentioning The Beatles. But there I go, went and did it. None of them was a golfer, not even later in life like Alice Cooper. Bunch of stiffs.

Now it's off to find out how wrong the Day One results make me look. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Flyer's Well-Timed Appearance: Can't wait to hear about Radley's book. You'll post something about the Open, too, right?
In the mail: A little professor lingo there. Heh.

I've ordered a copy of Radley's new paper/book (98 pages with a cool cover, I'll give him book cred) on paramilitary raids by police forces. I've enjoyed his coverage of the topic on the blog and he deserves some recognition for the work. I don't know if he gets any of the $10.00 that Cato charges for the book version instead of the PDF, but I hope so.

I'll try to post my thoughts on it after I read it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Federer-Nadal, Again: I stand by my statement, post-Roland Garros, that there's a better than even money chance that Nadal will beat Federer on grass before Federer beats Nadal on clay. Sometimes a player just has your number, and you can't do anything about it. Think McEnroe-Conners in 1984. I mean, who the hell whips Jimmy in straight sets? McEnroe did it and made it hurt.

Well, Nadal appears to have Federer's number. Granted, we are now on Roger's preferred surface, and he's still number one (for now); but Rafa has brought his grass game up hugely and is a legitimate threat Sunday, which many had hoped for but almost no one imagined was truly likely.

The only light for Roger, really, is that Nadal struggled significantly against Baghdatis's solid service and variety of winners in the second set. If he comes heavy, Federer can play Marko's game 10 times sharper. But the Federer who showed up for the final in Paris will get his ass whipped.
The dreaded fl*p fl*p: Razor's been telling us this for quite some time, but finally the MSM has caught on to the footwear fashion faux pas. You'd think something like this would come from those brownshirts at Fox, though.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Middle Sunday Blues: No matches today, alas, but a moment to see off Andre. Razor put it well last week. The former Peck's bad boy of the tennis world became an elder statesman with surprising ease and grace, becoming especially popular here in London, a tournament he skipped early in his career.

I really though he still had the grass court moves to take Nadal, more so after Nadal had to fight five sets against a who-dat to get there. But no, the bones creak a bit too much. A young Andre would never have let a clay-court upstart dictate the match's pace like that, but dictate Nadal did. And Andre, despite being a spectacular baseliner and one of the real physical specimens of the game, looked small and slow against the buff Nadal.

Andy vs. Andy was the other big surprise, with Roddick bowing to Murray in straight sets. Famously resiliant British hopes rise once again.

Venus went out with a whimper, complaining that her opponent wasn't giving her enough time between points. Oh, boo-hoo. If tennis players take any more time between points, the game will begin to resemble major league baseball in its pace.

Now, other than Roger, who has a shot at the Mens' trophy? Well, Hewitt, technically. I'm delighted to see doubles specialist Max Mirnyi get this far. But in order to get into the quarters, this big Belorusse has to beat his partner, Jonas Bjorkman (who is nearly as old as Agassi). They may have already worked this out ahead of time. Both are long ahots to do any damage in singles, but they have a great chance to take another doubles title. What would you do? One of them might tank.

And hooray for Andy Murray and all that, but can he get Roddick and Hewitt to choke within days of each other? Well, stranger things have happened. If Hewitt is bringing his A-game, though, a baseline duel with Nadal would be a good match.

On the ladies' side, there seem to be too many seeds floating around Mauresmo's half for her to have a prayer. I've heard her birthday is this week. Maybe, as a birthday gift from the gods, the three Russians between her and the final will choke. Not likely.

Finally, keep an eye on Na Li, who hung on against Kusnetsova to get here. She's young, sharp, and came to the net well against the Kusnetsova.

Update: Tank, schmank -- Jonas and Max went five sets, nearly four hours. They will not be terribly fresh for their third-round doubles match tomorrow, I think.

Moreover, Na Li has now decisively beaten two top-ten players and is into the QF round. Her match against Big Kim will be a good one, I predict. Li (or is it Na?) is quick and powerful, with a strong and accurate serve. However, meeting Clijsters will test her against a real power player. I like her chances, though.