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9:13PM

RealClearSports: Phil and His Not-So-Private Struggle

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- We are taking part in Phil Mickelson’s private life made public. We are listening to his words, feeling his pain, understanding his fears, wishing him and Amy only the best.

It is never easy for any family when cancer strikes. It must be worse for someone famous, a movie star, an athletic hero, a face we know, a golfer we respect.

Always there is another good wish, always another tear, always another request for an interview.

The 109th U.S. Open starts today at Bethpage muni’s Black Course, where Mickelson, who played so well in the Open seven years ago, hopes to find success. And perhaps relief.

The country was made aware a few weeks ago. Amy Mickelson had breast cancer. Pink ribbons fluttered. Phil dropped off the Tour.

A week ago, at Memphis, the tournament named for St. Jude, ironically the patron saint of desperate causes, Phil returned. His game did not.

Mickelson closed with a 75, a tie for 59th. And now it is the most difficult tournament of any year, America’s national championship, the event with the high rough and slick greens where any mistake is magnified.

Phil says he is ready. Ready for the competition. Ready for what lies ahead. The family, Amy, the three children, normally at every tournament, is home in southern California. Where Phil’s thoughts will be is the question.

This is Mickelson country. Tiger remains the attraction, as well as the favorite, but here on Long Island, where both Bethpage and Shinnecock Hills are located, and across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Phil is idolized.

At the ’02 Open at Bethpage, the ’04 Open at Shinnecock, the ’06 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in Jersey, the support and the shouts were overwhelming.

It was a Yankees crowd. A Mets crowd. A crowd boisterous and partisan. A crowd that called Phil Mickelson “The Mick.” A crowd that may be exactly what he needs this week, along with an accurate game off the tee.

“It could be that support helps carry me through on emotionally when I’m on the course,” Mickelson said Wednesday. “I’m certainly hoping for that.”

So are many others. Phil has won two Masters and one PGA. He’s never won an Open. He lost one, as we recall, not far away from here, in 2006 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck up the road from Manhattan, when he blew a final-round lead with a double bogey on the 72nd hole.

It was agony. “I am such an idiot,” he said that fateful Sunday. This is agony of another sort. This is trying to keep one’s mind on a game where any slip could mean failure while 2,500 miles away a wife waits with her doubts.

There are expressions of sympathy. There are comments of understanding. Darren Clarke went through this torture a few years back. For Tiger Woods it was a similar ordeal as his father was dying from cancer.

“Is it easy?” Tiger asked rhetorically when discussing Mickelson’s situation -- and his own. “No, it’s not easy.

“Everywhere you go, people are reminding you of it, and you can’t get away from it. And you think that the golf course would be your escape, but it’s not. You’re surrounded by people wishing you well . . . but then again they keep reminding you of the circumstance you’re dealing with on a daily basis, and you can’t get away from it.”

Mickelson, whose 39th birthday was Tuesday, said the timing for the Open could not have been better. Amy is awaiting treatment and probably surgery. The future is a blur. So Phil will grasp the present.

“It will be a fun week,” he said of the Open. In 2002 he finished second at Bethpage, three strokes behind Tiger.

“I'm putting everything I have into this week, because I don’t anticipate being able to play for a while.”

A vacation is planned. Then comes the treatment.

“You’d never know what she was going through,” Mickelson said of his wife. “When we get started it will be different, but she’s an amazing person . . . how she treats people, how she interacts . . . and I think it’s hard for me to see somebody who is such good person go through something so difficult.”

Mickelson insisted despite his finish at Memphis he hit the ball well, attempting to replicate shots he would need at Bethpage. He has mapped out a game plan, when to be bold, if ever on an Open layout, when to be prudent.

Amy Mickelson offered her advice. “She’s left me a number of little notes, texts, cards, hints,” said Phil, “that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room. So I’m going to try and accommodate that.”

The rest of us, invading Phil’s world, can only say good luck.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/18/phil_and_his_not-so_private_struggle.html

© RealClearSports 2009
9:59PM

SF Examiner: It's Tiger's U.S. Open to lose



By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Kobe one week, Tiger the next. From a large leather ball to a small dimpled one. From a hardwood court to soft fairways. From one champion to another.

The NBA playoffs, Kobe Bryant’s showcase, are done. The U.S. Open, Tiger Woods’ stage, is here, starting Thursday. What we got from Kobe — excellence, success — we’re expecting to get from Tiger.

“I like my chances in any major,” Tiger said Tuesday. We all like his chances.

The national championship, that’s what the Open is for golfers, a test of skill and will, an event of thick rough and high pressure where brains count no less than brawn.

“I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course,” Tiger said.

This is the damp greenness of Long Island, 30 miles from Manhattan. This is where the Open went public for the first time when the 2002 Open was held at a muni, if you can call Bethpage Black a muni when it has a sign warning it is “An extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers.”

This is where Tiger, or as crowds here pronounce it, “Ti-guh,” won and very likely could win again.

Some asked him, “In your opinion, who do you think at this point is the best golfer of all-time and why?”

“Jack,” responded Woods. He didn’t feel obligated to add, “Nicklaus.”

And Tiger? “He’s got 18. I’m at 14.”

Meaning major pro championships. Kobe is at four, meaning NBA championships, and Tiger, the Lakers fan, who grew up in Southern California, identifies with Bryant.

“His work ethic is phenomenal,” Tiger said of Kobe, as certainly Kobe could have said about Tiger.

“The hours he puts in, from just shooting on his own,” Woods pointed out, “to all the film study. Look at how he guides his team.

“That’s steady. That’s knowing the offenses, the defense you’re going against, basically all the chess pieces.”

That’s preparation, something of which Tiger prides himself.

Woods could become the first person ever with 10 U.S. Golf Association championships. He has three junior amateurs, three amateurs and three Opens, a total of nine.

Woods also could become the first to win back-to-back Opens in 20 years, since Curtis Strange in 1988-89 and the second in 70 years, Ben Hogan finishing first in 1950-51.

“Generally,” Tiger said of why the repeat is so rare, “this is the hardest major we face all year.”

Tiger took the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, also a muni, on a left knee so painful he winced after every shot. Surgery on the anterior-cruciate ligament a few days later kept him out of the game eight months and there were struggles after his return in February.

But he won the Memorial, Jack’s tournament, a week and a half ago, hitting every fairway from the tee in the final round, and Nicklaus not-so-boldly predicted Woods would win this Open.

Next year, the Open returns to Pebble Beach. In 2012, it’s at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Every Open is different. Every Open is the same.

“You’ve got to grind it out and make pars,” Tiger said. “How you do is up to you.”

Tiger will find a way. As in another sport, Kobe found a way.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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http://www.sfexaminer.com/sports/Spander-Its-Tigers-US-Open-to-lose-48214222.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
10:57PM

Twenty years later, Giants of ’89 recall the Earthquake Series

SAN FRANCISCO -- It was great to come back. Ol’ Humm-Baby said it. And everybody else thought it. Great to come back, to memories both sweet and painful.

Twenty years it had been since Roger Craig, Humm-Baby, managed the Giants to a pennant. Since Kevin Mitchell won that National League MVP. Since the Loma Prieta earthquake tore into the World Series and left us, the Bay Area, reeling and damaged and baseball in limbo.

The Athletics and the Giants on Friday night at AT&T. As on Tuesday evening, October 17, 1989 at Candlestick Park. The third game of the World Series. A region was enthralled with itself.

So much excitement. So much attention. And then, in a matter of seconds, a 6.9 earthquake, a section of the Bay Bridge pulling free, the Cypress Freeway down in Oakland, dozens of fatalities and attention for a reason that moments earlier seemed unimaginable.

It was great to come back. The ’89 Giants, at least a large number of them from owner Bob Lurie to general manager Al Rosen to Craig to players such as Mitchell and Will Clark and Rick Reuschel, had returned for a reunion.

There was needling. There was laughter. There was pensive recollection of the disaster that transformed what major league baseball labeled the Battle of the Bay but locally was known as the Bay Bridge Series into what forever will be known as the Earthquake Series.

A few minutes after 5 p.m., a few minutes before Game 3 of the Series was to start, the A’s having won the first two games in Oakland.

“Jeff Brantley and I were running down the tunnel to the dugout,’’ remembered pitcher Mike LaCoss, “when the lights started flickering.’’ LaCoss, who would have started Game 4, is a Californian, from the Central Valley. He knew what was happening.

“I told Brantley, ‘It’s an earthquake. Keep running,’ ’’ LaCoss said.

I also knew what was happening. After a time. I was in the upper deck of the ’Stick, in the auxiliary press box, a section where jerry-built tables had been installed to accommodate a media horde too large for the normal facility.

It sounded as if a freight train were running down the concourse. And felt like it too. Rob Matwick, then the public relations director for the Houston Astros and one of the many people working the Series, was in the next seat.

“What is it?’’ he shouted. “An earthquake,’’ I yelled. “Is it bad?’’ The shaking seemed endless, although later it was timed at 15 seconds. “Yeah,’’ I gasped.

Atlee Hammaker was in the clubhouse with fellow pitchers Dave Dravecky, who also is here for the reunion, and Bob Knepper. “When it hit,’’ Hammaker, now a father of five who lives with his family in Nashville, said Friday, “I wondered, ‘What’s that?’ Knepper knew. He said to get outside. We ran to the player parking lot, and the ground was rippling like a carpet. Then we went to our families.’’

There are photos of A’s and Giants on the field with wives and children. Candlestick had withstood the temblor, albeit with a few cracks in the cement, but the safest place in a quake of course is away from any structure. So that’s where players and their entourage were evacuated, whether the action normally would be.

Kevin Mitchell was already in the outfield, talking to the A’s Tony Phillips. “I didn’t know what was going on,’’ Mitchell recalled. “When they told us it was an earthquake, I was looking for my grandparents, but at first I couldn’t find them.’’

Mitchell is back in San Diego, where he grew up. The MVP plaque hangs on a wall at his home. “Everything is fine,’’ he said, that familiar gold tooth gleaming when he smiled. “Baseball was good, but life goes on.’’

The Earthquake Series did not go on. It came to a halt, for 10 days while the Bay Area recovered and mourned and tried to find its priorities.

Art Agnos, San Francisco mayor at the time, wanted a month delay, but baseball commissioner Fay Vincent insisted on a resumption as soon as possible, which wasn’t that soon at all.

Games 3 and 4 weren’t much different than Games 1 and 2. The A’s won both and a World Series was swept for the first time in 13 years. Giants fans contended the quake affected the outcome. Craig, now a hearty 79, and splitting time between residences in the desert town of Borrego Springs and San Diego, disagrees.

“You can’t blame it on the earthquake,’’ said Craig, “The A’s had the better ball club.’’

That they did, proving it in a World Series that will live in infamy.
9:41AM

RealClearSports: There's No Magic for Orlando

By Art Spander

So life returns to normal. The Lakers win another championship, the Magic kick themselves – or maybe an effigy of Mickey Mouse – and we settle down to a summer of contemplating exactly how good Kobe Bryant really is.

Oh, the Lakers haven’t yet won the NBA title? Indeed they have; only the league has yet to make the acknowledgement.

You heard all the comparisons, Hollywood vs. Disney World, not that there’s much difference between the two if you don’t count humidity and the traffic on Sunset Boulevard. In Hollywood, however, they always know how the script ends.

And watching Hollywood’s team, the Lakers, so do we.

Not a bad game Thursday night, the fourth of these very enticing finals. The home team (bad guys, if you’re some screenwriter who has Laker tickets) makes a little noise but, because it can’t make free three throws come apart when it should be coming together.

Long ago we learned pro basketball is a game of ebb and flow, and just because one team – the Magic, in this case – looks brilliant and the other can’t read a defense or seemingly a shot clock, it doesn’t mean that’s not going to change.

Trailing by 12 points at halftime, shooting 33 percent from the floor, the Lakers stepped out of their funk, stepped up the defense, made their usual key shots and beat the Magic, 99-91, in overtime.

Or did the Magic beat themselves?

“Free throws,’’ said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, the guy who hasn’t gone hungry – literally that is; figuratively, since he and the Magic have never been champions, they are candidates for food stamps.

“What did we shoot, 59 percent?’’ He knew. What we all knew was that when you get 37 foul shots and miss 15, you don’t deserve to win. When you have a five-point lead with fewer than 30 seconds remaining and get tied in regulation, you don’t deserve to win.

This wasn’t exactly a choke job by the Magic. Rather, it was comeback by the Lakers. Rather than a tightening of throats by Orlando, it was a tightening of the defense by Los Angeles.

They know a good story in Hollywood, and Derek Fisher definitely is one. He was with the Lakers when they won their three titles with Shaq and Kobe. Then, because of things like age and salary caps, he was let go, signing first with the Golden State Warriors, where he fit like an elephant would in a Mini Minor, and after that with the Utah Jazz.

His infant daughter was stricken with retinoblastoma, a cancerous tumor in her left eye, but Fisher kept coming back from the hospital to help the Jazz come back in the first two rounds of the ’07 playoffs. Then, released once again, he was re-signed by the Lakers where, as we noted, he released that rainbow 3-point jump shot.

The first, with 4.6 seconds left in regulation, tied the game, 87-87, Thursday night. The second, with 31.3 seconds in overtime, broke another tie. Explaining why he was open on both attempts, Fisher, who offered a very noticeable smile after the one in OT, told ABC-TV, “No. 24 gets a lot of attention.’’

That, of course, is the man of the hour, Kobe Bryant. And even though Kobe was only 11 of 31 on field goal attempts, he did score 32 points and have eight assists and seven rebounds. Without him, of course, the Lakers aren’t even close.

At intermission, however, some may have concluded they were close to a collapse. Yet even though L.A. was out of synch – “We got hamstrung; we played soft,’’ said Lakers coach Phil Jackson – you sensed Orlando didn’t believe in itself.

The Magic kept waiting for the Lakers to make their run, and with Trevor Ariza scoring 13 points in the third quarter after scoring no points in the first half, they made it.

The Lakers are the better team, the championship team, and the only question was when they would play like champions. The answer was not long in coming.

Kobe has been badgered about during this series by critics who no matter how much he does expect him to do more. There was a story that having been on the Olympic team last summer and then going straight into the NBA season, Kobe is worn out, and the weariness is showing. What’s showing is Bryant’s character. And courage.

We’ve watched great shooters over the years, Sam Jones, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan naturally and now LeBron James. It’s hard to say where Kobe ranks, but it’s not worse than second.

Weary, worn out, smacked around by Mickael Pietrus, hammered by Dwight Howard, Kobe still connects most of the time when he gets free and some of the time when guys are hanging on his arms.

He wanted a championship. He’s got a championship. He and the Lakers. Like Magic.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009. 

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http://www.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/06/theres_no_magic_for_orlando.html
© RealClearSports 2009 
8:08PM

Crossing the bridge: A’s against the Giants

OAKLAND -- The great Roger Kahn called it “transpontine madness,’’ the baseball played across the East River in New York, across the bridge, alluding specifically to the Dodgers in Brooklyn, that borough of individuality.

The passion isn’t quite the same in the Bay Area, where the bridge is longer but the rivalry shorter and surely less intense. The years don’t extend back to the early part of the 20th century. The feeling doesn’t preclude fans wearing hats that carry the logos and colors of both teams.

But there is something special when the Athletics face the Giants, which they do this weekend in three games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Oakland figuratively is the unwanted child, living in, well, not poverty, but hardly in the elegance and with the history of the Giants.

The A’s, however, as the upper management used to tout in the commercials and on the billboards, have won four World Series since they took up residence in Northern California in 1968. Or four more than San Francisco since the Giants came to the region 10 years earlier.

Interleague play it is, and if the purists want to find fault, what would you rather have, Giants against the Nationals, A’s against the Royals?

The fans love this stuff. So do the players, especially the A’s, who Thursday, down 3-0, rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-3 at the Coliseum.

Especially the A’s because, as fate would dictate, Rajai Davis, claimed off waivers a year ago April from those Giants, singled home pinch runner Chris Denofria in the bottom of the ninth of a game then tied 3-3.

“We’re happy to come out on top,’’ said A’s manager Bob Geren. A two-game losing streak had ended. A seven-game home stand had ended with five wins.

“Now,’’ said Geren, “let’s go across the bay.’’

Now let’s see the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, 5-1, 2008 National League Cy Young winner, against the A’s Vin Mazzaro, 2-0, earned run average 0.00.

“They’re playing well,’’ Geren said of the Giants, who did lose at Arizona, 2-1, on Thursday but finished their road trip 6-4. “We’re going to be seeing three outstanding pitchers, and we got some good-looking ones of our own.”

Lincecum, 300-game winner Randy Johnson and 8-1 Matt Cain are scheduled for the Giants, with, in order, Mazzaro, Josh Outman (4-0) and Brett Anderson (3-6) for the A’s.

“Lincecum throws hard and has a good breaking ball,’’ Geren said, emphasizing what everyone knows. “Mazzaro is off to a great start, and except maybe for spring training they haven’t seen him at all, It’s a good park to pitch in, so it should be a nice pitchers’ duel.’’

Then, showing a perverse nature too often missing, Geren added, “Watch, it will be 11-10.’’

Whatever it is, it will be enjoyable. Not a lot of hatred when the teams meet, not like the Cubs and White Sox or the Yankees and Mets. We’re too mellow. And somewhat lacking in intolerance. But not in interest.

“It’s going to be fun,’’ said Mazzaro, brought up a couple of weeks back from Sacramento. “There’s going to be a good crowd. I’m excited. I’m going against a Cy Young winner. I’m pumped.’’

He and the other A’s pitchers also will be going against the Giants from the batter’s box. No designated hitter in the National League park. “My swing is not too good,’’ said Mazzaro, “but I think I can get the bunts down. I’m happy to swing the bat against (Lincecum). I can’t wait until Friday.’’

AT&T will be filled or virtually filled. For the A’s, that will be a change. On Thursday, the A’s, who had won seven of their previous nine games, drew a disgraceful 13,383 fans to the Coliseum.

“The atmosphere will be different over there,’’ said Trevor Cahill. He was the A’s starter Thursday and was effective for the most part, other than the fourth when Joe Crede went after a sinker Geren said usually results in a ground out but this time resulted in a three-run homer.

“(Wednesday) night, they kind of snatched one from us,’’ said Geren. “Today we won one they probably should have won. To bounce back and win this one is a pretty good feeling.’’

Cahill was feeling more than pretty good even if had no decision, Brad Ziegler earning the victory.

“We wanted to get back on track,’’ he said. “It’s going to be a huge series against the Giants. When we cross over the bridge, it’s going to be so good to go over there with some confidence.’’

Not much madness around here, but indeed a great deal of anticipation.