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11:00AM

RealClearSports.com: Patriots Restored Stability to a Shaky Sporting World



By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


That Patriots win over the Bills on Monday night was reassuring, no matter what your rooting interests. We needed a favorite to do something, just to prove there's a reason to call them a favorite.

It had been a bad few weeks for the big guys, Tiger Woods going head-to-head the final round of a major, the PGA, with Y.E. Yang, the great nobody who became somebody, and finishing second.
Not too long after, Roger Federer, supposedly unbeatable, lost the U.S. Open final to Juan Martin del Potro, who fell flat on his back after the final point. There was some symbolism, tennis having been flipped upside down.

Upsets are supposed to be the lifeblood of sports, and society. They give us hope that anything can happen, keep us from getting bored, complacent or giving up. As kids we're preached the legend ofThe Little Engine That Could.

Hey, if a guy who by all rights should be playing basketball, the 6-foot-6, del Potro of Argentina, can drop the first set to the best tennis player in history and come back to beat him, anything's possible. Right?

Wrong. But it has the ring of authenticity.

Del Potro called his win a dream. We'll accept the proposal, but the reality is that even before his upcoming 21st birthday, he was already rated one of tennis' very best.

One of these days, the experts predicted, he was going to win a Grand Slam tournament. The day came Sunday. He wasn't dreaming.

It wasn't as if Walter Mitty, the fictional character of secret life who resided in reverie, stepped out of a cloud onto the court and stunned Mr. Federer. Del Potro had battled Roger to a fifth set in the French Open. The kid can play.

Still, as in the case of Yang v. Woods, the del Potro result was unexpected. Not impossible. Unexpected.

That's why they play the game, we've been told, because we don't know who's going to win, even though most of the time we do know.

As the late author Paul Gallico wrote, "The battle isn't always to the strong or the race to the swift, but that's the way to bet.''

A stunner is permitted now and then to keep us off-balance, but mainly sports demand a large dose of stability. We can't continually have Central Michigan upsetting Michigan State, although that was a spectacular onside kick. Or have Y.E. Yang overtaking Tiger Woods. It's too confusing.

How are judgments to be made? No less significantly, how are commercials to be made? Gillette is selling celebrity even more than it is close shaves, which is why Tiger, Federer and Derek Jeter are the chosen ones connected with the Fusion razor ads.

Sponsors want winners. Sponsors want recognition. They don't people who drop fly balls or lose five-set matches.

The New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Steelers provide a yardstick for excellence and fame, as compared at the moment to the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Pirates, although the Jets have this quarterback from Hollywood, or nearby, Mark Sanchez, who's already getting Namath-type attention.

Love the Yankees, hate the Yankees. There's not much difference as far as advertisers or television networks are concerned. The only trouble is if we ignore the Yankees, which virtually is impossible.

Because the Yankees won't allow themselves to be ignored.

Neither will the Dallas Cowboys. Or the Patriots. Or USC or Notre Dame. Or Tiger Woods or Roger Federer.

Sure we get excited about a Melanie Oudin or Kendry Morales, new faces, but it's familiar faces and familiar teams that hold our interest.

It isn't going to happen, not on our watch, but if, say, the Yankees and Red Sox, Tiger and Phil Mickelson, Serena Williams and Roger Federer all slipped into mediocrity the whole sporting scene would be a mess. We'd be clueless.

You sensed our bewilderment just when first Tiger, who never had lost a lead in a major, tumbled. And then a month later, Federer allows his streak of five straight Opens to be snatched away.

Oudin, the kid from Georgia, had "Believe'' on her shoes. But after Woods and Federer both fell on their faces, as opposed to del Potro who was on his back in celebration, we were wondering what to believe.

The Patriots provided the answer. They showed the way. They were favored, and they won, Not by much, a field goal, but they won. As they were supposed to win. Heartwarming.



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. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/09/15/patriots_restored_stability_to_a_shaky_sporting_world_96485.html© RealClearSports 2009
9:03AM

SF Examiner: Tiger shows he’s human at PGA

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner


SAN FRANCISCO — Rocky Marciano was the exception. A heavyweight champ who never never lost a fight. Retired without a blemish. For a while there, we thought Tiger Woods was similarly perfect. We should have known better.

That’s the thing about sports, no matter what sort of competition. The favorites — the 49ers of the 1980s, the Yankees of the 1960s, the Lakers of the 2000s — usually win. But not always. And sometimes when they lose, we’re in disbelief.

As when Mike Tyson fell to Buster Douglas. Or when Dennis Eckersley gave up that home run in the bottom of the ninth in the first game of the ’88 World Series to a limping Kirk Gibson. Or when Ben Hogan was beaten by a driving range pro named Jack Fleck in the 1955 U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.

Or when Tiger Woods was stunned on Sunday by a Korean named Y.E. (for Yong-Eun) Yang in the PGA Championship back in Minnesota.

We love the underdog, except in golf and tennis. The world was right when Arnie and Jack were champions, when McEnroe and Connors were winners. Nor was it so bad around here when the Niners were picking up Super Bowl trophies.

But change is inevitable. Surprise is inevitable. No way 37-year-old Y.E. Yang could beat Tiger. Until he beat him. Then golf became just that much more intriguing.

There’s something called the Presidents Cup coming to Harding Park in October. It’s like the Ryder Cup, except instead of facing a European-British squad, the Americans meet an international team, players from Australia and South Africa and South America and, yes, Korea.

It isn’t the PGA or the Masters, it isn’t a major, but the Presidents Cup will give us Tiger-Yang, redux. We can only hope they play at least one match against each other, singles preferably.

You know this by now, Yang, who didn’t start playing golf until 19, just smacking balls on one of those multideck driving ranges in Seoul, is the first Asian male to win a major. Korea’s going mad, as well it should.

Now it has its own entry in the game’s pantheon. Hagen, Hogan, Y.E. Yang. Great play is not the exclusive possession of any nation.

A tough year for the Stanford guys. Tom Watson, at age 59, comes within a shot of winning the British Open. Tiger Woods, at age 33, holds or shares the lead for four days of the season’s last major and gets beat.

It was stunning. Yet it was overdue. If not this tournament, then some major. The gods of sport eventually make their presence known.

Nobody’s won three Super Bowls in succession, and yes in the mind’s eye we still cringe as Roger Craig fumbles Steve Young’s handoff in the 1990 NFC playoffs.

Something goes wrong. Or for the other side goes right. Favorites lose, underdogs win. Y.E. Yang was as big an underdog as we might imagine, which made the win all the more unbelievable. And captivating.

It may never happen again, but once was enough. We thought that like death and taxes, Tiger Woods with a lead in the final round of a major was a sure thing. We should have known better.

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-Tiger-shows-hes-human-at-PGA-53632862.html
Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company 
3:00AM

RealClearSports: Tiger Leaves Us in Disbelief

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


No, we didn't believe it. Even if we watched it unfold. It was fantasy strangling reality, the impossible becoming actuality. It was Tiger Woods losing a major golf tournament.

We wanted someone to step up and challenge Tiger, wanted somebody not to melt in his presence. We thought it might be Padraig Harrington, who had three majors of his own. Or in his fading glory, Ernie Els. Instead it turned out to be a Korean named Y.E. (for Yong-Eun) Yang.

Only the day before, Harrington was saying the fans wanted someone to challenge Tiger, "to make it a battle.'' Not to beat him, but to make it interesting. This 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National, on the prairieland west of Minneapolis, got very interesting.

Then it got out of hand. Then it got ridiculous. Then it got head-shockingly bizarre and unprecedented.

Fourteen times before, Tiger Woods had led a major golf championship into the final round, and 14 times Tiger had won. So why wouldn't it be 15 out of 15, especially since he had led from Thursday's first round? Especially since he was paired with Yang, which everyone believed meant Yang would fold. Isn't Tiger the great intimidator?

What he wasn't on Sunday was the great putter. Took 33 putts, did Mr. Woods. Shot 5-over par 75. Went from a two-shot lead to a three-shot deficit, as Yang had a 70 for a 72-hole score of 8-under 280. Went a year without a major victory for the first time in 2009.

But he didn't go without proving what a sportsman he is, what a gentleman he is.

You can tell more about a person by the way he acts after a defeat than after a victory. It's easy to be charming, responsive, when you're holding the trophy, when they're giving you the accolades. But an individual unveils himself when he or she doesn't win.

Tiger is painfully protective. His post-match remarks intentionally are bland, even boring. If you don't say anything in particular, he believes, than nobody can misquote you or misinterpret you. So keep it simple and uncontroversial.

But Woods pulled the mask away just a bit. He was disappointed. He had to be. We thought he would win. He thought he would win. Didn't he always win before?

"Today,'' conceded Woods, "was not very good at all. I had a few misreads on putts, and I hit some bad putts too. It was a bad day at the wrong time, and that's the way it goes.''

There's a saying about golf, that it's like a love affair. That if you don't take it seriously it's no fun, and if you do it can break your heart. If Tiger's heart isn't broken, his armor of vulnerability certainly is.

Nobody's perfect. Except Tiger Woods had been with a lead the final day of a major golf championship. Now the perfection is wiped away.

"All the other 14 major championships I've won I've putted well for the entire week,'' he said. "Today was a day that didn't happen. I didn't win. I hit the ball well enough. I didn't make any putts.''

When asked whether he lost this PGA or the 27-year-old Yang won it, Woods said, "It's both. I certainly was in control. And Y.E. played great all day.''

That's the beauty of sport. There's always the unexpected. There's always a Y.E. Yang or a soccer team from Cameroon or a rookie pitcher who steps up and makes us take notice.

No Asian ever had won a major golf championship. Until Yang. Tiger Woods never had lost a major golf championship when he led after 54 holes. Until Yang.

"I don't think anyone has gone 14 for 14 or 15 for 15,'' said Woods when asked if losing was inevitable. "So I've certainly . . . like today I played well enough to win.''

Strange things happen in sports. Outfielders drop easy fly balls. That's why athletes always stay wary. It isn't over, we -- and they -- have been told, until it's over. So don't get feeling too cocky.

Tiger led the PGA from the 15th hole the first round. On Saturday, the media kept trying to get him to admit the tournament was over, that he had it locked up. Woods kept evading the question, kept insisting that he had to play to the end.

He was right. We were wrong. We thought Tiger Woods would always come in first. He always did. Until at last he didn't. We didn't believe it could happen, but we believe it now.

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. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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http://www1.realclearsports.com/articles/2009/08/16/tiger_leaves_us_in_disbelief_96452.html
© RealClearSports 2009
9:50PM

Newsday: Yang wins PGA Championship after Tiger blows lead

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday


CHASKA, Minn. -- Niagara Falls didn't run uphill. The sun didn't set in the East. But Tiger Woods did lose a major golf championship, which may not be much different.

The virtually impossible became the very undeniable when Woods for the first time in his remarkable career gave away a third-round lead in a major and Sunday came in second at the 91st PGA to a deliriously excited Korean, Y.E. (Yong-Eun) Yang.

On this day of seismic shifts in golf, the 37-year-old Yang, who immediately after the final putt hoisted not a trophy but his entire golf bag like a man lifting barbells, became the first Asian to win a major.

And Tiger had perfection and dominance swept away as his record of winning all 14 times he had the lead after 54 holes in a major was gone with the wind that swept across Hazeltine National Golf Club.

Woods started the day with a two-shot lead over Yang, his playing partner, and Padraig Harrington, and everyone in the massive gallery just knew Tiger would do what he always does: win. But he didn't.

Yang took the lead by chipping in for an eagle 2 on the 301-yard 14th hole, and then embellished his round with a fist-pumping birdie at 18, moments before Tiger would close with a bogey.

Yang, going mano-a-mano with the man acclaimed by many as the greatest player of all time, shot 2-under-par 70 to Tiger's 3-over 75. Yang ended up at 8-under 280, Woods at 283.

Lee Westwood, who had the same spot in last month's British Open, tied for third with 20-year-old Rory McIlroy at 285, and Lucas Glover, who in June at Bethpage won the U.S. Open, came in fifth at 286. Harrington, who killed his chances with a quintuple-bogey 8 on the par-3 eighth, shot 78 for 288 and fell into a tie for 10th.

"I was certainly in control of the tournament for most of the day," Woods agreed. "But I just couldn't make anything today. I hit the ball great off the tee, hit my irons well. I did everything I needed to do except getting the ball in the hole."

His 33 putts were the most in any of the four rounds.

Only once previously in his career had he not won when leading by two shots or more, and that was nine years ago.

Asked if he thought he had lost or Yang had won, Woods responded: "It's both. I was playing well. I was making nothing, but still either tied for the lead or ahead. And Y.E. played great all day. I don't think he missed a shot. And it was a fun battle. Unfortunately, I just didn't make the putts when I needed them."

Thus for the first time since 2004, Woods has gone through a year without winning a major. The last time the PGA was held at Hazeltine, in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, 2002, Tiger also finished second, by a shot.

Someone wondered if this day was inevitable. The undefeated Patriots were upset in the Super Bowl. Mariano Rivera occasionally blows saves. The longer you win, the greater the odds you will lose.

"I don't think anyone has gone 14-for-14 or 15-for-15," Woods said. "I played well enough to win the championship. I did not putt well enough to win the championship."

Asked about an Asian breaking through in a major, Woods, who among others was beaten by Yang in the HSBC at Shanghai in November 2007, said, "You knew it was going to happen one day." His guess would have been K.J. Choi, another Korean, who like Yang plays the PGA Tour.

Woods' opponents on the final day of majors often are intimidated. Yang said he was. He didn't show it.

"He's always been a wonderful ball-striker," Woods said of Yang, who earlier this year won the Honda Classic. "The only thing that's held him back is the flat stick [putter]. Today, he went out there and executed his game plan. He was doing exactly what you have to do in these blustery conditions. I thought if I shot under par, I would win the tournament."

Which he would have. Except he shot over par. Woods didn't make any putts, but he did make history.

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/yang-wins-pga-championship-after-tiger-blows-lead-1.1373481
Copyright © 2009 Newsday. All rights reserved.
3:35AM

Scotland Sunday Herald: Woods aside, a triumph for Europeans

GOLF: Harrington and Co proving strength of our Tour with displays in Minnesota, writes Art Spander in Hazeltine

The weather turned yesterday, making Minnesota seem more like Britain, a bit cooler, a bit darker. But even in the blast furnace heat of the first two rounds the US PGA Championship was a fine place to be for the numerous representatives of the European Tour.

The fourth Major of the year, the 91st PGA, out on the prairie west of Minneapolis at Hazeltine, was in effect two tournaments, one being played by Tiger Woods and another involving everybody else.

In the Tiger Tournament, Woods was playing in his usual grand style -- usual if you forget the missed cut in The Open at Turnberry, that is. By the end of Friday's second round, he had built up a four-shot lead and as defending champion Padraig Harrington put it: "If Tiger plays the golf he's capable of this weekend, he'll be a winner.'' In the other competition, there already were a great many winners, players such as Harrington, the Irishman, Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter of England, Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark, Lee Westwood of England, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and even Scotland's Alastair Forsyth.

All made the cut along with Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, Thomas Levet of France and Francesco Molinari of Italy, an indication that even if the Euro Tour doesn't have anyone quite like Tiger -- and nor does any other tour on the globe - it still boasts a wealth of talent. Harrington, playing with Woods for the first two rounds, as he did last Sunday in that controversial final round of the WGC Bridgestone when the two were put on the clock and Harrington self-destructed, was tied with Woods for a time on Friday. Then Harrington made four bogeys on the back nine.

But even though he stumbled to a 35-38, he hit the shot of the day, and maybe of the tournament, a 301-yard 3-wood from a bunker onto the green of the par-five 642-yard 15th hole.

Harrington said: "Tiger told me he would have paid to have seen it. So I asked him for 50 bucks.'' Poulter was on two-under 142 after 36 holes and would have been closer to the top of the leaderboard but for a double bogey at the first, his 10th."It's been great,'' he said. "The crowds are fantastic out there. This is as busy a Major as I've seen all year, so it's good fun.'' Fun is a word one rarely hears associated with championship golf but this has indeed been an enjoyable tournament, due in no small part to those who have packed the enormous galleries here in an area which rarely sees the top pros.

Fisher, who briefly led the final round of The Open at Turnberry before taking that horrendous triple-bogey eight at the fifth, was tied with Tiger on Friday until bogeys at 17 and 18.

"In some ways I'm disappointed but overall I'm delighted,'' said Fisher. "I was hitting fairways, I was hitting greens but finishing bogey, bogey always leaves a little bit of sour taste. But you know, I'm still in there with a good shout.'' Fisher has made some tremendous progress - a run at The Open, a run at the PGA a month later.

"Every golfer wants to be at the Major championships,'' said the 28-year-old. "This is what we all dream of, right from when we were kids. I want to go out there and perform, not only for myself but at the same time to give the fans something to shout about.'' Fisher and Harrington were paired yesterday in an interesting twosome, the kid with potential alongside the only player not to back down where matched up against the Tiger. Harrington may have fallen apart last weekend, but that was the result on one errant shot into a pond, not being intimidated by Woods.

"It's irrelevant,'' Harrington responded when someone ask if he was unhappy that he wasn't playing a fourth straight round with Woods, who yesterday was with Vijay Singh two groups ahead.

"It's not bad to have a day off. Hopefully I'll see him again on Sunday," Harrington added.

McIlroy, widely expected to be the next great thing, was on level-par 144 after 36 holes and picked up a shot through the first seven yesterday.

"If I can iron it all out,'' said the 19-year-old, "I can get myself back where I was in the middle of the second round. I'm definitely a lot happier about my game than I was on Monday or Tuesday, so there are a few positives to take from it all.'' There are more than a few positives to take from the way the European Tour members have played this week in America. The only negative is they continue to chase that guy Tiger Woods. Then again, so does everyone from every corner of the world.

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http://www.sundayherald.com/sport/nationalsport/display.var.2525728.0.woods_aside_a_triumph_for_europeans.php

©2009 newsquest (sunday herald) limited. all rights reserved.