Masters: Tiger’s back, Sergio’s shocked

By Art Spander

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Just one of those things. A song title from Cole Porter about a flamed-out romance. An observation from Sergio Garcia about a round of golf so painfully flamed out — he is the defending champion, is he not? — it almost made us forget about the over-hyped return to the Masters of Tiger Woods.


You were aware, certainly, that Mr. Woods, after an absence of three years, is once more in the Masters, literally if not exactly after an opening round 1-over-par 73 Thursday, back in contention — although as he resolutely reminded, “it’s a bunched leader board.”

Is it fair to say that seven shots behind this era’s Tiger, young Jordan Spieth, and in a tie for 29th Tiger is not exactly in the bunch?

No matter. With 54 holes remaining at a tournament he has won four times, and the first major of the year, we can say anything — and Woods can disprove anything and everything.

Except that he failed to take advantage of the par-fives, the holes that in his glory years were responsible for his success because of repetitive birdies. He had nothing but pars on those four holes Thursday.

Garcia could only wish that had been his situation. Alas, on the 15th, the 530-yard hole so many of those at or near the top did birdie — Spieth, Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar, Henrik Stenson, and Rory McIlroy — Garcia made 13.

That was eight over par. That matched the highest score ever on any single hole in any Masters, and this is the 82nd.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Sergio told us. He knocked five balls into the pond in front of the 15th green, the last four hitting the green and then trickling back down a very slippery slope.

“It was just one of those things,” he said. “It’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot.”

Tom Weiskopf made a 13 on the par-3 12th in 1980 (five balls into Rae’s Creek). Tommy Nakajima made a 13 on the par-5 13th (balls behind trees, into Rae’s Creek). When someone that day asked Nakajima if he lost confidence, he responded, “No, I lose count.”

What counted for many was Tiger’s presence.

Sure, he hadn’t played a Masters since 2015. Sure, he holds the Masters scoring record. Sure, there seemed to be more anticipation and excitement for this 2018 Masters than for others of late. But how much publicity is too much?

Tiger was mentioned in 130 pre-tournament interviews with players other than Tiger.

ESPN, televising the Thursday and Friday rounds, had a Masters preview Wednesday night that mentioned only Tiger’s chances.

It was as if he was the lone golfer entered.

But, we learned quickly enough, there was Sergio, who would shoot a 9-over 81 (which isn’t bad when you go 8-over on one hole) and there was Jordan, the 2015 winner, who shot a 6-under 66.

What we learned about Tiger, in his return, is that despite the scandal of ’09, he’s still wildly popular — “The people were incredible,” he said of the boisterous galleries — and he’s still wild with some of his shots.

“I hit it better than I scored,” was the Woods analysis, a frequent explanation. He had five bogies and four birdies, two of the birdies at 14 and 16, neither of which is an easy hole.

He saw a reason to be satisfied, even if over par.

“Seventy-three is fine,” said Woods. It is? While over the years Tiger has started slowly at Augusta, he’s now 42 years old and hasn’t won a Masters since 2005.

And yet, he was back.

“Yes, I played in a major championship again,’” Woods said, “but also the fact I was — I got my myself back in the tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away. And I fought hard to get back in there, and I’m back in this championship. There’s a lot of holes to be played.”

Indeed, but the issue is how will he play them?

One bad swing or bad break and, well, as Sergio knows too well, one of those things can happen all too quickly.


The Eagles and Villanova — Philly laughs last

By Art Spander

SAN ANTONIO — Those Philly jokes, how the fans once booed Santa Claus before a football game, all the zingers by the comedians who had a reference about brotherly love? Well, look who’s laughing now. And cheering.

First the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Then Villanova wins the NCAA basketball championship. Any day now, the Phillies could win the World Series. Well, let’s not get carried away.

But Villanova certainly carried the title away, for the second time in three years, destroying what we believed to be a solid Michigan team, 79-62, on Monday night at the Alamodome.

The Wildcats had Michigan coach John Beilein sighing, “We didn’t make some shots we usually make ... We needed to play better, but even if we played our best it would have been difficult to win that game with what DiVincenzo did.”

That’s Donte DiVincenzo, who had 31 for Nova.

A little honesty there. A little candor. A lot of awe.

Villanova won all six of its tournament games by at least 10 points. The semi-little Catholic school (enrollment around 10,000) could be building a dynasty.

No seniors in the lineup, although both Jalen Brunson, the AP national player of the year, and Mikal Bridges will probably leave for the NBA. No one-and-dones. Just a lot of talented kids who were brought in by coach Jay Wright and allowed to develop.

Not that they don’t arrive ready to play. DiVincenzo, voted most outstanding player in the final, is a red-shirt sophomore. He got 19 of his 31 in the first half.

Scoring is what the Wildcats do. They led the country in that stat. 

They also lead the country in what matters most, winning the big one.

But what made the difference Monday night was the way Villanova played defense. Michigan jumped into a 21-14 lead midway through the first half. Nova was missing the threes it made in the semifinal against Kansas. But soon after, it wouldn’t miss the chance to dominate the game.

By halftime, Nova was up 37-28 and shooting 45 percent. Then they started connecting. Then the result became foregone. Villanova went ahead by 22. Cue up “One Shining Moment.”

The 31 by DiVincenzo, who entered with some two and a half minutes gone, were the most ever in a title game by a non-starter.

“All I was trying to do was play hard,” said DiVicenzo, who is from Delaware, near Philly.

Such humility. ”He’s a killer,” said Bridges. “He came out there and was aggressive, defensively and offensively. He carried us tonight.”

And he has two more years of eligibility.

“They saw a championship team two years ago,” said Beilein, referring to when Nova beat North Carolina in the last second of the 2016 final. “They said, let’s work and get better. So many young men are in a hurry to get out of the best years of their life. I like the way Jay Wright recruits, getting kids with the right values.”

That’s fine. But they also need the right skills. The Nova athletes certainly have them.

“Anytime you get in a rhythm like that,” Michigan’s Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said of DiVincenzo, “you can pull up from anywhere and just knock it down. It’s tougth to stop.”

Basketball is getting people who know how to play to improve as the days and months go on; to feel confident and comfortable with your teammates and yourself. Villanova has achieved all of that.

“Villanova,” said Beilein, “has done a great job of getting the right kids. And we try as well. When you look at the whole package, they have it, experience, rare in college basketball, shooters at every position and defenders.

“That team right there could win a lot of Final Fours, not just one in 2018.”



Newsday (N.Y.): Final Four: Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago run out of tourney magic

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SAN ANTONIO — The official end of the miracle, if not the game, came with 1:39 on the clock. That’s when a crew brought the wheelchair that had been Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt’s throne the past few weeks down to the concourse in front of the stands, where she watched from near the tunnel.

Loyola, which had led by 10 in the second half, now trailed by eight. Not even the smile of the 98-year-old nun who had become the mascot of Loyola-Chicago — and, for much of March, the face of college basketball — was going to change the eventual result.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2018 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Newsday (N.Y.): NCAA Tournament: Michigan rides stingy defense to Final Four

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

LOS ANGELES — The place, Southern California, Staples Center, where the Lakers, Clippers and hockey Kings all play, seemed like Ann Arbor West.

A crowd that started the game chanting “Let’s go, Blue!” ended up singing “Hail to the Victors,” the Michigan fight song, because the Blue, Michigan, is going to the Final Four.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2018 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Newsday (N.Y.): Michigan, Florida State went extra yard in NCAA tourney

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

LOS ANGELES — The game will involve a phrase from a song more than twice as old as any of the players. Involve a near 7-footer from Germany signed overnight. And involve two schools maybe better known for their success in another sport.

Michigan faces Florida State on Saturday night in the NCAA West Regional final and a spot in the Final Four.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2018 Newsday. All rights reserved.