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J.T. wins The Players Championship
[Posted Sun. p.m. …right after NCAA bracket announcements…this year is so f’ed up, in this regard, I’m moving on…got stuff to do….]
March Madness Quiz: 1) Who won the first NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 1939? 2) What year did the tournament expand to 64 teams? 3) Who is the all-time leading scorer in NCAA tournament play with 407 points? 4) Who is the only player to score 60 points in a tournament game? 5) What team has the most appearances? 6) No Ivy League school has ever won the national title. But name the only Ivy team to finish runner-up. Answers below.
The Players Championship
What a final round Sunday we were set up for at golf’s fifth major, The Players, the event with perennially the top field of the year.
For starters, once again, for the second week in a row, the final pairing was a fascinating one…47-year-old Lee Westwood and the game’s rocketship, Bryson DeChambeau.
Justin Thomas -10…after a third-round 64
Doug Ghim -10
Paul Casey -9
Jon Rahm -9
Brian Harman -9
Westwood opened his round with a birdie, but then bogeyed the second while DeChambeau went par, par.
They both parred the par-3 3rd.
And then, out of nowhere, both Westwood and DeChambeau hit the ugliest tee shots on the par-4 4th that you’ll ever see*, both ending up in the water, Bryson having to hit his third from the ladies tee. Westwood salvaged a bogey, DeChambeau needing a nice putt for double-bogey.
*DeChambeau’s tee shot reminded me of a PGA tour event I attended, ages ago, at Nemacolin in western Pennsylvania (the 84 Lumber Classic, which was held there a few years). I was there to watch Carlos Franco, before my trip to Paraguay, and he was paired with Tommy Armour III. Armour hit a tee shot on a par-4 that didn’t get past the ladies’ tee. Thankfully for Armour, I was one of about only 8 people following the group in their first round.
So we had….
DeChambeau then birdied No. 7, Westwood parring it…
Corey Conners -10…but a bad 3-putt par on the par-5 16th.
Seven tied at -9.
Westwood and DeChambeau then bogeyed the 8th, but Westwood birdied the 9th, Bryson with a poor par on the par-5.
Meanwhile, Conners finished up play at -10, while Justin Thomas birdied 9 and 10.
Talor Gooch! -10 thru 14
Bison -9 with six others
So then Thomas eagled No. 11 to take the lead as Westwood continues to struggle with his swing.
Westwood -12 thru 10…awful drive on 11
Gooch -10 thru 15
Harman -10 thru 12
And Thomas birdied No. 12…birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie…and then parred 13…
Thomas -14 thru 13
Westwood -12 thru 12
Gooch -11 thru 17
Harman -11 thru 14
But Westwood finally makes a putt, birdieing 14 to tie Thomas at -13, Thomas parring 15 after bogeying 14…missing a short par putt.
Thomas -13 thru 15
Westwood -13 thru 14
Harman -11 thru 15
Brian Harman birdies 17…Westwood clutch par putt on 15. Thomas on two on the par-5 16th. He gets the birdie.
Thomas -14 thru 16
Westwood -13 thru 15
Harman -12 thru 17
Thomas then with a clutch par putt on No. 17, after Westwood had parred 16, DeChambeau with the eagle on the par-5 to get back into the conversation.
Thomas -14 thru 17
Westwood -13 thru 16
DeChambeau -12 thru 16
Bison and Westwood are then dry on 17, but both with long birdie putts. Thomas has hit a terrific drive on 18, though incredibly lucky that the initial bounce was right, not left into the water.
But Westwood bogeys 17, missing his first par-putt inside 10 feet. What a shame. Thomas’ approach on 18 is just off the green. Bison makes his par-putt to now square second with Westwood (and Harman) at -12.
Thomas, -14, has a short par putt to now win it. He does! A terrific final round 68. 64-68 weekend, after barely making the cut.
Bison and Westwood do not make the needed miracle eagle shots from the fairway, but while Bison lips out his birdie effort, Westwood makes his! Second straight runner-up finish.
Win No. 14 for Justin…and boy, an emotional one, after his ‘hot mic’ issue and losing his grandfather, a key figure in his development.
The sport is in good shape indeed. Just feel very sorry for Westwood. Hope he can continue to play well and win a PGA Tour event this year. He’s won over a ton of fans.
--Once again, Rickie Fowler missed the cut (3 of his last 5 events), as did Rory McIlroy, among others.
McIlroy, the most transparent man in sports, revealed after his round Friday that he screwed up in trying to emulate DeChambeau and his swing speed.
--It is amazing to look back one year, and the Players, Hideki Matsuyama the Thursday, first-round leader with a 63. The Tour’s executive committee had been meeting all day after the NBA and other sports announced they were suspending their seasons and conference tournaments in the prior 24 hours. At first the PGA Tour said the Players would continue, sans fans, and then late Thursday night, they basically said that was stupid and a text message went out to the competitors that the tournament was canceled and the season stopped.
And then upon the restart of the sport, across the country, golf exploded, with equipment sales up 10% in 2020 over 2019, according to Golf Datatech. Getting tee times was at a premium. Rounds were up 13.9 percent in June, 19.7 percent in July, 20.6 percent in August, 25.5 percent in September, 32.2 percent in October, 57.5 percent in November and 37 percent in December. For the year, even with the early shutdown, rounds played soared 13.9 percent.
--Meanwhile, there are more than a few critics of the PGA Tour’s policy of allowing increasing numbers of fans to the events, more than ever this week at Sawgrass. The issue is, many of the spectators are not wearing masks, as they’ve been requested to do, because the tour has been lax in policing the policy.
As in, will this backfire?
For all our success in allowing the sport to continue, we don’t want to help fuel another surge. I am plugged into Ireland and the courses there have been closed longer than anywhere else in the world, which is a tragedy…it’s killing the revenue model, to say the least, i.e., tourists from the U.S., Canada, the UK and elsewhere.
Easing of the Irish lockdown is to take place April 5, but they still have a disturbingly high number of Covid cases. It is hoped courses will nonetheless be allowed to reopen then. What happened last year with the first reopening was a huge flood of local members filling the void of what would have been tourists. The thing is, the locals are paying their annual membership, that’s it, and with many of the club’s pubs and lounges not open, due to social distancing rules, you don’t easily get revenue from that source either.
And today Ireland has joined other European nations in suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of issues cropping up in Norway and elsewhere in terms of severe side effects.
NCAA Basketball Championship
It is really hard to take this season seriously, and that was before the developments of the past week, when both Duke and Virginia had to exit the ACC tournament due to positive Covid tests, and then Kansas had to do the same in the Big 12.
Duke’s exit, after playing two terrific games, killed their dreams of sneaking into the NCAA field.
The issue with Kansas and Virginia was could they have negative tests seven days in a row in time for the NCAAs…the requirement to continue playing.
So, no, I did not follow the major conference tournaments closely…only the mid-major ones.
And we did have some cool moments. Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino is heading back to the tournament for the first time since he lost his job at Louisville amid scandal four years ago.
Pitino piloted Iona (12-5) to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship yesterday, defeating Fairfield 60-51.
Like for so many programs, Covid did a number on the Gaels, who went more than a month without playing (including all of January). Pitino had been one of the most outspoken coaches critical of the NCAA for starting the season in late November amid the height of the pandemic.
So Iona becomes the fifth school the 68-year-old Pitino has led to the NCAA tournament, tying him with Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith. The others are Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville…having guided the last two to national titles.
Iona took a gamble on Pitino and it paid off. Even at his age, he clearly has a lot of energy left and there will be a major program, or two, this offseason taking a look at him, past baggage and all, but I’d love to see him finish out at Iona. If he commits to staying, he’ll get some good local recruits and, more importantly these days, some terrific grad transfers who wouldn’t have to sit out a year. Just my guess. [Phil W., former SID at Wake Forest, and I talk a lot about the grad transfer issue, pros and cons, but it will be even more critical next season for the Demon Deacons.]
Meanwhile, those on the bubble took a big hit Saturday when both Georgetown and Oregon State played spoilers in taking their respective conference tournaments.
Georgetown (13-12, 7-9) won the Big East title, 73-48 over 17 Creighton (20-8, 14-6), to gain a bid to the Big Dance. Good for coach Patrick Ewing.
And the Beavers from Corvalis, Oregon, OSU, are in the NCAAs after beating 23 Colorado (22-8, 14-6) in the Pac-12 title contest, 70-68, Oregon State, at 17-12, 10-10, and otherwise not receiving a bid. Here in the home headquarters of Bar Chat, the Beaverwear is now competing with the Aztecwear in the sports drawer. It’s a bit unruly…San Diego State in fine fettle, winning the Mountain West title over Utah, 68-57, the 19th-ranked Aztecs now 23-4.
But again, Georgetown and Oregon State cost two bubble teams spots in the tourney.
I do have to note that locally, Seton Hall needed to defeat Georgetown in the Big East tournament, after beating St. John’s77-69 in overtime in the quarterfinal, but came up short to the Hoyas in the semis, 66-58. Bye-bye Hall.
Rutgers is goin’ dancin’, on the other hand, incredibly, for the first time since 1990-91. It’s a mercurial team. Seriously, they have the talent to get to the Final Four…or they’ll get blown out in the opener.
4 Michigan, which lost its Big Ten semifinal to 9 Ohio State 68-67, suffered a big loss when its No. 2 scorer, Isaiah Livers, suffered a broken foot in Friday’s win over Maryland in the quarterfinals. It’s a stress fracture and highly unlikely he’ll return for the NCAA tournament.
But today, my new favorite, Pete M.’s Colgate Red Raiders (being ornery) defeated Loyola (Md.) 85-72 for the Patriot League crown and the automatic bid, while St. Bonaventure punched its ticket into the tournament with a 74-65 win over VCU for the A10 title.
Colgate is a 14, playing 3 Arkansas; the Bonnies a 9 vs. 8 LSU.
And the four No. 1 seeds, as just announced….
Gonzaga, Baylor, Illinois and Michigan.
More next time. But I’m putting small coin on the Zags.
--So once the tournament starts, a team must have five cleared players to participate. The NCAA has not said whether it will adjust the schedule for teams with known positive tests or contact tracing concerns to allow them to start on the second day of the first round, of obvious import to Virginia and Kansas.
But, again, as long as five players remain healthy, teams can stay in the tournament.
Should a team selected today suddenly be impacted by Covid in the coming days, there is a contingency plan to quickly replace the school in the bracket. If a school from a one-bid league drops out then it would be replaced by a team from the same league. Should the team withdrawing be from a conference with multiple bids then a selection would be made from at-large teams considered when the field was announced.
The highest-ranked four at-large schools that are not included in the field can be considered replacement teams. The teams will be ordered one through four and be required to continue testing protocols for Covid-19.
There will not be any replacements once the tournament begins. If any team is forced out for medical reasons after the deadline then its opponent would advance via the NCAA’s no-contest rule.
There will also be no seeding changes once the field is released. The incoming team will assume the position in the bracket of the team it replaces.
For example, if No.1 seed Gonzaga is forced out, whoever replaces them takes that No. 1 position.
--With a sizable reduction in the salary cap for the 2021 season due to revenue shortfalls during the pandemic, the cap down $15.7 million from $198.2 million to $182.5 million, teams are having to maneuver the payroll.
So Tom Brady signed a contract extension with the Bucs that is reportedly for four years, thus voiding a one-year extension. The deal ties Brady to Tampa through the 2022 season.
But the move saves the Bucs $19 million against the salary cap this year. The additional voidable years are there to defray the cost.
The Chiefs are going to be doing some similar maneuvering to save cap space when they rework Patrick Mahomes’ contract.
--New England re-signed quarterback Cam Newton for one season at up to $13.6 million, which makes sense. Newton was a bit disappointing, but he did throw for 2,697 yards and eight touchdowns, while picking up 592 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, the Pats going 7-9.
The NFL’s league season begins Wednesday, March 17, which is when free agents can be signed, though you’ll hear lots of chatter the next few days prior as teams can contact them.
--In the biggest non-surprise of the postseason, Drew Brees retired. He will be an analyst on NBC for Sunday Night Football, taking over for Cris Collinsworth after the Super Bowl, next Feb., while Mike Tirico replaces Al Michaels.
Brees does leave behind a sizable salary-cap hit.
--Rick Maese of the Washington Post had a piece on the research being conducted at Boston University for CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with the repeated blows to the head common in football and boxing.
Ann McKee, the renowned neuropathologist from BU, recently studied the brain of the diseased Hall of Famer, Willie Wood, and she informed the family that the former Green Bay Packers star of the 1960s had “all the classic signs” of severe CTE, and was at Stage 4, the most severe form of the disease.
Wood’s family had said that for nearly 15 years, dementia slowly claimed the football great’s memories, his ability to recognize loved ones and his communication skills.
Son Willie Wood Jr. said, “He was so electric in terms of his charisma and personality. My father was an alpha, and every time he walked into the room, you knew he was there. And that’s not how he left.”
Willie Jr. said his father used to call the hits that would result in concussions a “dinger” or “stinger,” before the term concussion was used and Wood Jr. said his father remembered “at least 12 to 15 different times he had something like that.”
Wood started playing football when he was 10 and would retire from the NFL at 35, and as Ann McKee said, “So that is a really long time to play the game. Once you get into that many years of exposure, no matter how resilient you are, your risk is very high for CTE.”
She pointed to a 2019 study that found the risk of CTE doubles for every 2.6 years of playing football.
--There hasn’t been much to talk about on the spring training front and I’m not going to make up stories where there are none. For us fans it’s about staying healthy, period, though the final week before the season starts, I do take a look at batting averages. You don’t want your No. 3 hitter batting .100 after 40 ABs heading into Opening Day. And you have individual cases for a fan base where you want to see encouraging signs even earlier. For example, I’m encouraged that Mets slugger Pete Alonso is hitting the ball with authority in the first few weeks.
You also have the occasional story like Shohei Ohtani, and it’s important to see he’s healthy.
--Speaking of the Angels, both L.A. teams should be allowed to sell 20% of the seats in their ballparks come their season openers, which is a good sign on the Covid front.
And you have the Texas Rangers, who said they are going to be at full capacity come Opening Day.
--Former Dodgers catchers Norm Sherry died. He was 89. Sherry was a part-time player from 1959-63, with 18 home runs and 69 RBIs in 497 at-bats, overall, hitting .215. His last season, ’63, was with the Mets, where in pure early Mets fashion he batted .136.
But it was Sherry’s contributions without a bat that are best remembered, having helped along the career of Sandy Koufax.
In 1961, Koufax was pitching and Sherry was catching against the Minnesota Twins in a spring training game in Florida. Koufax was struggling with his control, something that had plagued the left-hander up to that point.
Koufax walked his first three batters, prompting Sherry to visit the mount. He suggested Koufax take some speed off his fastball to gain better control. The advice helped contribute to Koufax’s turnaround, and he went on to be hailed as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball.
In weekend action, Saturday, Chelsea managed just a 0-0 draw with Leeds (new Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel nonetheless still unbeaten in 10 Premier League matches), while Burnley beat Everton 1-0, and Manchester City handled Fulham 3-0.
Today, Leicester blasted bottom-dweller Sheffield 5-0, Kelechi Iheanacho with a hat trick, while Manchester United, in a biggie, beat West Ham 1-0.
But Tottenham’s Champions League hopes went down in flames, 2-1 losers to Arsenal, despite one of the sweetest goals you’ll ever see by the Spurs’ Erik Lamela…worth YouTubing.
Standings 28/30 of 38…Played – Points…
1. Man City…30 – 71
2. Man U…29 - 57
3. Leicester…29 – 56
4. Chelsea…29 – 51…Champions League line
5. West Ham…28 – 48
6. Everton…28 – 46
7. Tottenham…28 – 45
8. Liverpool…28 – 43
--We note the passing of the great middleweight champion, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. His wife announced his death Saturday at the age of 66.
Hagler was 62-3-2 with 52 knockouts from 1973 to 1987 and was the undisputed middleweight champion from 1980 to his loss to Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesars Palace in Las Vegan on April 6, 1987.
The fierce left-hander had two of his biggest victories at Caesars, unanimously outpointing Roberto Duran in 1983 and knocking out Thomas Hearns in the third round in 1985.
“Marvelous Marvin Hagler was among the greatest athletes that Top Rank ever promoted,” Top Rank Chairman Bob Arum said. “He was a man of honor and a man of his word, and he performed in the ring with unparalleled determination. He was a true athlete and a true man. I will miss him greatly.”
Hagler fought on boxing’s biggest stages against its biggest names, as he, Leonard, Hearns and Duran dominated the middleweight classes during a golden time for boxing in the 1980s. Quiet with a brooding public person, Hagler once said, “If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That’s all I am. I live it.”
Hagler was unmistakable in the ring, fighting out of a southpaw stance with his bald head glistening in the lights. He was relentless and he was vicious, stopping opponent after opponent during an eight-year run that began with an undisputed draw against Vito Antuofermo in 1979 that he later avenged.
He fought with a proverbial chip on his shoulder, convinced that boxing fans and promoters alike didn’t give him his proper due. He was so upset that he wasn’t introduced before a 1982 fight by his nickname of Marvelous that he went to court to legally change his name.
Even though it lasted less than eight minutes, his bout with Hearns on April 15, 1985, outdoors at Caesars Palace is considered among the greatest ever. Hagler won the fight billed as “The War” via technical knockout, but not before the fighters traded blows with impunity in the center of the ring.
The first round still resonates with boxing fans because of its nonstop action. It’s often called the most exhilarating three minutes in boxing history, with Hagler marching forward with purpose from the opening bell and tossing aside his tendency as a slow starter.
Hearns landed a blow that opened a cut over Hagler’s forehead, but Hagler continued to attack, so much so that he revealed after the fight that he had broken his right hand during an exchange but still managed to hurt Hearns toward the end of the round.
“The first round took everything I had, man,” Hearns said in the ring after the fight.
The pace eased in the second round, but Round 3 produced one highlight after another, starting with Hearns reopening the gash Hagler had suffered in the opening round. The fight was stopped briefly as Hagler bled profusely, but referee Richard Steele signaled for it to continue.
Hagler regrouped to land a devastating right hook to the head, sending Hearns stumbling backward into the ropes. Hagler went in for the knockout, connecting with a right to the chin and a pair of uppercuts, sending Hearns crashing to the mat.
Hearns barely made it to his feet at the nine count, and Steele stopped the fight at 1:52.
But that was the apex of Hagler’s career, which ended April 6, 1987, following a controversial split-decision loss to Leonard, who came out of retirement for the fight, the first of his career at middleweight, again at Caesars Palace.
One judge scored the fight in favor of Hagler, 115-113, and another had it the same score for Leonard. JoJo Guerra, however, scored it for Leonard, 118-110.
Hagler retired in June 1988, saying he had given up on waiting for Leonard to grant a rematch.
‘I feel fortunate to get out of the ring with my faculties and my health,” said Hagler.
Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey, and moved with his family to Brockton, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
RIP, Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
*There is a disturbing story that Hagler was in an ICU after severe effects from the Covid vaccine. Thomas Hearns had posted on Instagram that Hagler was fighting for his life prior to the announcement of his death.
Then following his death, Hearns shared: “Allow us to have our peace. Our love and respect to Marvin and his family, this is not an anti-vaccine campaign.”
Unfortunately, this story is likely to continue….
--In FIS World Cup skiing action, as the season winds down, they held two women’s slalom races in Are, Sweden, and Mikaela Shiffrin finished second and third, to Petra Vlhova and Katharina Liensberger, respectively; the two winners being one-two in the overall slalom standings, Shiffrin third…one race to go.
--There are growing calls for the United States to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over China’s rampant human rights abuses.
Others say the U.S. should not boycott, but they want President Biden to use America’s clout to prod the International Olympic Committee to move the Games from China to another host country, but no way the IOC would do that. Needless to say, China would go ballistic.
It is a huge deal, though. Back in 1980, if I had been writing this column then I would have been against the U.S. boycott over the Summer Games in Moscow, but I’m for boycotting the Beijing Games. Sorry athletes, including Mikaela Shiffrin. Just an opinion.
For now, I agree with Florida Republican Rep. Michael Waltz, lead sponsor of a House resolution urging the U.S. to boycott the Games unless they are moved.
“I can’t imagine giving Beijing this global platform to whitewash everything that’s going on. It’s unethical, it’s amoral, it’s just disgusting what’s happening.”
In explosive new revelations, the BBC reported last month that women in the labor camps in Xinjiang have been subjected to systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have declared that China is committing “genocide” in its treatment of the Uighur people.
China has dismissed accounts of Uighur concentration camps as false.
Sorry to mix in politics in this space, but, again, it’s a big deal…and it’s also about sports.
--Prior to Colgate-Loyola today, I caught a little of the snowmobile race on CBSSN; just a tad more dangerous than Demolition Derby or barrel jumping at Lake Placid, for you old “Wide World of Sports” fans. Imagine what the winner of the barrel jumping competition got back then. $150?
--There are conflicting reports on Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez. At first it was reported the two had called off their 2-year-long engagement (and four-year courtship), but today it’s kind of unclear.
Since they never tied the knot, they don’t have to deal with a messy divorce settlement, but there is the issue of the $32.5 million Miami Beach pad they bought together last summer.
Located on upscale Star Island, the waterfront home comes with 10 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.
A-Rod was linked to Madison Lecroy. J-Lo has been seeking the companionship of Lenny Kravitz, according to reports.
And that’s your Bar Chat A-List Celebrity Minute.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/14/64: #1 “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles…seventh week at #1…) #2 “She Loves You” (The Beatles…would take the top spot the next week…) #3 “Please Please Me” (The Beatles…this is where it peaked…)…and…#4 “”Dawn” (The Four Seasons) #5 “Java” (Al Hirt…this is what made the 60s so great…) #6 “Navy Blue” (Diane Renay) #7 “Fun, Fun, Fun” (The Beach Boys) #8 “California Sun” (The Rivieras) #9 “See The Funny Little Clown” (Bobby Goldsboro…clowns aren’t funny…) #10 “I Love You More And More Every Day” (Al Martino…A- week…)
March Madness Quiz Answers: 1) Oregon won the first men’s tournament in 1939, beating Ohio State 46-33. 2) The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (and then added play-in games in 2001, 2011). 3) Christian Laettner is the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 407 points. Only nine have scored more than 300 in March Madness. Elvin Hayes is second at 358. 4) Notre Dame’s Austin Carr holds the single-game scoring record with 61 points in a 1970 game against Ohio. He has also scored 52 twice, the only player with multiple 50-point games. Bill Bradley had 58 for Princeton in 1965 against Wichita State in that year’s consolation game. 5) Kentucky has the most tournament appearances with 58. North Carolina is second with 50, now 51. 6) Dartmouth is the only Ivy League team to finish runner-up, and did so twice, 1942 and 1944.
Next Bar Chat, Tues. p.m. Much more on the NCAA tournament.