Scott, Molinari hot, but Romo is the Safeway surprise

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

NAPA, Calif. — So there’s a Masters champ tied for first place after a round of the Safeway Open, and a British Open winner a shot behind? Those guys, in order, Adam Scott and Francesco Molinari, are pros.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven


Phil and Steph pair up;exactly what golf needed

NAPA—It was exactly what golf needed. Especially at this time of the year, when the majors are months in the future or months in the past; especially with football virtually night (Thursday and Monday)­ and day (Sunday); and the baseball pennant races nearing conclusion.

  Exactly what golf needed, with Tiger out of the headlines and the PGA Tour schedule starting (never mind the calendar; to pro golf it’s already 2020); the rest of us in September tend to think of falling leaves not of falling putts.

  This is the Safeway Open, and what happened in the pro-am Wednesday, Steph Curry pairing up with Phil Mickelson, Tony Romo putting his single-digit handicap on display, very well could be bigger than anything in the tournament that starts Thursday,

     Golf, as tennis, is a sport without home games. But not without favorites. Or personalities. Can you think two larger favorites or personalities, at least in Northern California, than a guy who was a two-time NBA MVP and a guy who won five majors and 40-something other events, including the Pebble Beach AT&T again last February.

  Golf always has been the crossover sport, the one Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays enjoyed as much as baseball, the one a singer like Bing Crosby made almost as popular as “White Christmas.”

  And athletes who dabble at the sport—well, dabble is the improper description—are as much  in admiration of the golfing greats, Phil, Tiger, Justin Thomas, as everyone else. 

   We might stand in the backyard or the gym, throw up jumpers and wonder how we compare with the Warriors’ Curry, arguably the best ever, while Curry powers one off the tee and wonders how he compares with Mickelson. Truth tell he doesn’t have to wonder.

 Mickelson said Curry’s tee shot on the par-5 ninth hole, at Silverado, which measures 557 yards, carried 370 yards. Wow. He had a sand wedge to the green. Wow

   But the way Curry hits a drive should be no more surprising than how he hits—to use a sports colloquialism—a 3-pointer. The qualities which enable him to make the shots beyond the arc, timing, strength, wonderful hand-eye-coordination, are the same qualities which enable him to drive the ball miles off the tee.

  “The thing, I think, about Steph Curry’s game,” said Mickelson, “is his touch, his hands, his chipping, putting. He’s got an incredible touch.”

  As would anyone who rarely misses a free throw and who in practice often makes 35 to 45 consecutive 3-pointers

  Curry grew up in North Carolina, golf country—think Pinehurst—and was almost as adept at that game as hoops when the Warriors made him a first-round draft choice. He’s played in a minor pro tournament, didn’t make the cut but was impressive  
   “He’s also got a ton of speed,” Mickelson said about Curry’s swing. “Dropping all kinds of bombs off the tee. Just hellacious bombs, deep and very accurate. Certainly straighter than I have.”

  Some candor and self-criticism. Mickelson never has been sharp with a driver—one of the reasons he hasn’t won the U.S. Open, the tournament where the fairways are narrow and the rough deep. But in his younger days (Phil now is 49) he could, as the cliché goes, get it up and down out of the ball washer. 

   When Phil was an amateur, Golf Digest  put him on the cover, inside showing a photo sequence of Mickelson hitting backwards over his head and landing the ball in the cup.

  After the round Wednesday someone asked how the twosome would do as a best-ball team. Mickelson either misunderstood or in typical smart-aleck Phil style wanted to needle the questioner.

“Basketball,” Mickelson responded, “no, I can’t run.

  Curry added, “I didn’t know if he said basketball. 

 He didn’t, but being Steph Curry was standing there off the 18the green, why not?

  “His overall game,” Curry said of Mickelson, “I was just in awe of every shot, but I tried to hold my own too. I learned a lot about how to read greens for sure. “

   Said Mickelson, alluding to Curry, “I just enjoy bring around greatness, and his work ethic and what he puts in to be the best in his field is inspiring to me.”

  As to everyone.


Niners turn over the ball but not the game

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The New England Patriots are 3-0. So are the 49ers. This is fact, not an attempt to compare.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019 The Maven 


A’s Bailey: ‘If we get there, we can do something’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — There’s something different about September baseball, something special. If you’re in the pennant race, and the Athletics very much are.

They won another one Wednesday, not easily, even against a team with the second worst record in the American League, Kansas City.

The A’s scored a run in the 11th, the only run of a 1-0 game, another walkoff win, another confidence builder.

There are bad teams in the majors, but in truth there are no underdogs. It’s all in the pitching, and the Royals had that. So did the A’s, which is why Oakland stayed ahead in the wild card scramble.

At the right time they also had the hitting, Mark Canha doubling home Jurickson Profar. That it was also Canha T-shirt giveaway day seemed appropriate.

Tuesday evening the score was 2-1. That was followed by the Wednesday shutout. Two games and only one run allowed.

You’ve heard the axiom that if the other team doesn’t score it’s impossible to lose. And if it scores only one run, your chances of losing are reduced enormously.

Pitching wins, and from starter Homer Bailey, who was replaced in a 0-0 game after 7 innings, through the three relievers who followed him — J.B. Wendelken earning the victory — the A’s had tremendous pitching.

Now they have a sense of what might be accomplished.

“We played really well against New York and Houston,” said Bailey. “We know if we can kind of get to the dance, we can do something.”

Yes, getting to the dance is a phrase normally used in connection with college basketball, the NCAA tournament, but Bailey is excused. After recording a season high 13 strikeouts, he can say almost anything he wishes.

Bailey came to the A’s from the Royals in a July trade. His best pitch is the split-finger fastball that has batters swinging at what they can’t hit.

“Homer’s much more consistent with his split now,” Royals manager Ned Yost told “He doesn’t miss much to lefties. Curveball was good. He spotted his fastball extremely well. I didn’t see him miss a location all day.”

There was morning rain Wednesday at the Coliseum. Batting practice was called off, and because the field was wet the start was delayed for 28 minutes.

When play finally did begin, however, it virtually flew, eight innings requiring only two hours. Of course, with no runs and few runners, a game should move along.

Whether the 16,714 fans cared doesn’t matter, but most still were around at the final out and waving those Canha T-shirts in celebration.

“They played us tough,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said of the Royals. “You could see they were attacking our weak points, but in the end we got the big hit.”

The big hit and the big win. The focus has changed now, for Melvin, for the Athletics.

“The finish line’s in sight,” he said. “You can talk about winning a series early in the season, but now each game is important. Guys step up. It’s a different animal now. Ten games to go. We know our work is cut out for us. We have to try to win every game, not just win a series.”

The A’s won this series from K.C. after a stumble. They came home with six straight wins, a great road trip, very much in control of the wildcard berth. Six straight wins. Then a return to Oakland and a blown ninth-inning lead. Yikes.

But this is a solid Oakland team, one that has beaten the Yankees and Astros. No panic, and lately almost no runs allowed.

The A’s have three games on this last home stand of the regular season, all against the Rangers. Then one more week on the road.

“This is fun,” said Melvin. “I’m even watching scoreboards.”

The rest of us are watching the A’s.


Raiders did what they could; Chiefs did what was needed

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

OAKLAND — That was the real world, the NFL. That was the team that came within an overtime loss of reaching the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs. That was the quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who was the NFL offensive player of the year.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven