It had come down to this. A nine foot putt that would break a little bit to the left as it got to the hole. It was the kind of putt Tom Watson had been knocking in all week in writing one of the most incredible sports stories of the last decade. Seeking to become the oldest player in PGA history to win a major by a full thirteen years, Watson needed only to drain this short bender to raise the Claret Jug. Seemingly unfazed by the fact that his approach shot had been right at the flag before rolling off the back edge of the green, Watson decided to putt his ball rather than chip up, and failed to get it as close as he wanted. Sadly, his second putt never had a chance and he was off to a four hole playoff against fellow American, Stewart Cink. Somewhere between the eighteenth hole and the first playoff tee, however, Watson seemed to tire, as if suddenly realizing how old he actually is. He bogeyed the first to drop a shot back and drove his ball way left on the third, ensuring Cink’s first victory in a major. And just like that, the Open Championship became that novel we’ve all read; a terrific story with a terrible ending.
I’ve heard the argument many times that golf is a game and not a sport. That, while there are athletes that play, athleticism is not required. There are points on both sides with which I agree. But, if anyone tries to tell me that what we all watched on Sunday morning wasn’t sport, I’ll have to check them for a pulse. Tom Watson, an unfailing gentleman and one of the most popular players in the history of the game, gave us a glimpse of the determination and heart of a champion. That, while age may compromise ability and endurance, it can never douse the competitive fire that burns within a great player. That, some times, when things are right, true champions have the ability to reach back and remind us what made them so special. At the British Open, this was the second time in a row where such magic was witnessed. Last year, Greg Norman was on the leader board through Sunday, only to fade on the back nine. Watson, however, just kept coming, unfazed by the attention and seemingly savoring what had to be a completely unexpected result. Until the ending went bad on eighteen.
In 1975, after the Reds and Red Sox had done battle in what may have been the greatest World Series ever, a Boston writer said that the Sox had won the series “three games to four.” Anyone who had witnessed the Game Six heroics of Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk knew exactly what he meant. I thought of that Sunday, as I watched Watson struggle to find his ball in whatever they call that high stuff that passes for rough on the other side of the pond. In my heart, Tom Watson won the Open Championship. Stewart Cink won the trophy.
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With Michael Vick having completed his term of house arrest that was the last part of his prison sentence, the debate about whether or not he should be able to resume his NFL career rages on. Vick will meet soon with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to find out his fate in a meeting that will surely be difficult for the man convicted of operating a dog fighting ring. Two years ago, before Vick pled guilty, he met with Goodell about the charges and lied right to his face, telling the league boss that he was innocent. Not much of a chance that Goodell will forget that one.
I’m both amused and saddened by various aspects of this controversy. It’s almost comical to hear the experts theorize that franchises are worried about taking a public relations hit for signing Vick. Rest assured that the decision to ink the troubled QB will come down to one point: Can he help our team? If he can, he’ll be signed. If he can’t, he won’t. The sadder issue is the indignation that many feel toward Vick for his horrible crimes. Now, I’ll be the first to say that his offenses were horrendous, despicable and inhuman. His abuse of the animals knew no bounds; not even murder. However, he’s served his sentence, paid fines and lost two years of compensation. He can’t legally be prevented from pursuing a career. But, even if he could be, where are the groups outraged by the current professional athletes that have abused women? Michael Vick is the first sports figure I can recall that’s been convicted of animal abuse while, each month, we learn about another player that smacked around his wife or girlfriend. Isn’t it a shame that dogs seem to have more advocates than women?
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For those Knicks fans waiting for the free agent class of 2010 to return a championship banner to Madison Square Garden, it’s been a tough summer. First, the NBA announced that it was lowering the salary cap by a million dollars. Then Trevor Ariza, who eventually signed with Houston, revealed that while Cleveland was recruiting him, he was assured by LeBron James that the Cavs’ superstar would resign with his hometown club. Miami started negotiating a long term contract with Dwyane Wade and Steve Nash re-upped in Phoenix. Unsure about whether to save the cap money or re sign David Lee, the Knicks have let their best player twist in the wind all summer. Fans had better hope that Lee returns, Danilo Galinari recovers from back surgery and that draft picks Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas can actually play as it’s looking more and more likely that they and not any of the potential free agents, will be the team’s core going forward.
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If the reports that Omar Minaya turned down an offer for Toronto ace Roy Halladay that would have sent Jonathan Niese to the Jays are true, then let’s get Niese up to the big leagues. You can’t tell your fans that you’re not giving up on the season and then trot Livan Hernandez out to the mound every five days. There’s a reason this guy’s got a closet full of jerseys.