So Long Soto, Bye Bye Bell

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Greetings From The Booth!

Well, the San Diego Padres just got a lot better…and the Washington Nationals just got a lot worse (in the short term). If that’s possible.

In a trade that was expected, the last two Nats who could still put fannies in seats in this lost season, were shipped west for a bundle of prospects, as GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo restocks the Nationals’ depleted farm system. Juan Soto, who said no to the Nats’ offer of $440 million over 15 years, and Josh Bell, who was having a solid year in the cleanup spot, were both traded to the Padres, where they will join Manny Machado and company and become instant contenders for a World Series title.

It’s been a tough several years for Nationals fans, who have now lost not one, but two “generational” players to other teams, the other being Bryce Harper. Max Scherzer, my favorite Nat, also exited stage left two seasons ago, and along with Harper, now plays for a division rival. Trea Turner, another bright young star, is now a Dodger. In Juan Soto, the Nationals lose one of the last remaining players from the 2019 World Series team (boy, does that seem like a distant memory). He is a once-in-a-lifetime baseball player who is in the MVP conversation every year. And he wore my team’s jersey.

But even $440 million couldn’t keep Soto in the Nation’s Capital. He wanted to play for a winner, and rebuilding teams rarely win. The prospect of losing 110 games this season was not something Soto was willing to endure. Yes, he could have taken the money and become the core of a young team that could possibly contend in say, 2025, but patience is not a virtue of youth.

As for Bell, he may not have the time or patience. As a veteran player, Bell doesn’t want to linger in the division basement while young players develop in the minors. In truth, he was a hired gun in Washington. As the team continued to be gutted, Bell was a name player who could continue to draw fans to Nationals Park, and was never going to stay in DC long-term. Patience isn’t a virtue of the aging veteran, either.

And, patience certainly isn’t a virtue of sports fans. The Nats’ farm system seems to be getting some very highly-rated prospects from the Soto-Bell trade. But until they get to “The Show” and put on the red and blue jerseys and start getting hits and striking out MLB opponents, that’s all they are–prospects. While the cupboard may not be bare anymore, this Nationals rebuild is a long-term project. Several tough seasons like 2022 are on the way.

Nats’ manager Davey Martinez once said something to the effect of  “rough roads lead to beautiful places.” If you’re a fan of the Washington Nationals, you’d better have 4-wheel drive.

Until the next visit from the Booth…best of luck Juan Soto and Josh Bell…and GO NATS!

RW

Baseball Cards

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Greetings from The Booth!

Well, were just about into the dog days of August, which mean county fairs (please keep me away from the fried Oreos!) and NFL training camps. For me, those two things go hand-in-hand. In my line of work, I often had to broadcast at our local county fairs on Friday nights, the rush home in time to see the Burgundy and Gold play a preseason game. Of course, the games mean nothing in the standings, but it’s always great to see your favorite team actually playing football. It’s an appetizer until they start playing for real in September.

I’m also reminded of a funny training camp story from back in the day when the (then) Washington Redskins used to train in Carlisle, Pa. I worked at a station that carried the ‘Skins games, and as a promotion, we would take some listeners up to Carlisle for a day during training camp. One year, my friend Mike Burton went along for the ride. Back then, Mike was the spitting image of Skins’ great Russ Grimm. I can’t tell you how many kids and adults wanted Mike’s autograph that day, mistaking him for the famed “Hog.”  Good times, good times.

Changing gears, this week a mint condition 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card went up for auction online, and it could break the baseball card auction record. It’s estimated the final cost of the Mantle card could top $10 million. when the Heritage Auction sale ends August 27th. The current record is $6.6 million for a 1909 Honus Wagner card.

If you are like me, your mom threw away your baseball cards (along with the Lionel .027 gauge train, classic comic books, and full-size G.I. Joes) a long time ago. I never got anything close to a Mickey Mantle card. I always seemed to get the Zolio Versailles or Eddie Brinkman cards. In fact, every pack I opened seemed to contain those cards, which ended up in the spokes of my orange Schwinn Stingray bike.

The baseball card industry has come a long way, with multiple companies selling cards, not only for baseball, but action heroes, Pokemon, etc. Back in the day, there was Topps, and that was it. In 1969, for about 10 cents, you got a pack of 10 cards, along with a stick of gum. The gum was usually as brittle as a piece of glass and hard as a rock, but it made the pack of cards smell really good. The gum has gone the way of the dodo bird, but it might have been my favorite part.

Here’s to my Hawk Harrelson and Paul Casanova cards…wherever they may be.

Until next visit from The Booth…stay cool and enjoy the dog days!

RW

 

 

A Tale Of Two Cities And The Midsummer Classic

Greetings From The Booth!

It’s great to be back in The Booth after a relaxing week of vaycay at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. There’s nothing like the slow pace of “lake life” to get one recharged and refreshed. I could get used to hot tubs, reading the latest Grisham novel on the deck, boating and hiking , and of course, good food and drink.

One of my favorite things about the annual week at DCL is talking sports with my nephew TJ, who is a huge UVA and Baltimore Oriole guy, and one of the most knowledgeable sports fans I know. In addition, we both wallow in our misery at being Commanders (Redskins) fans. As I am a suffering Nats fan, we spent some time comparing the situations of our respective teams, the O’s and Nationals.

Unlike the Nats, who, at the All-Star break, are on pace to lose about 110 games, the young Orioles go into the break on a 10-game win streak and are just 2 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot. In reality, the Birds are a few years away from their plan of contending once again, but don’t tell these youngsters that they are not supposed to win NOW. Winning begets winning, and there’s nothing like a 10-game skein to boost a team’s confidence. And, there’s that intangible thing called chemistry. I’ll admit, TJ had me singing the old “Oriole Magic” song all week. It was stuck in my head. The O’s may eventually fade in the dog days of August, but if the front office doesn’t make any greedy moves this year, it looks like this team is headed in the right direction.

40 miles away are the Washington Nationals, who despite players like Josh Bell and Juan Soto, don’t appear to have that chemistry, and almost surely will lose 100-plus games this year. It’s hard to recognize a team that is just 3-years removed from winning a World Series. Granted, most of that group is gone, but it’s hard to see Mike Rizzo’s plan for this club. Injury has certainly played a part, but the Nats look like a rudderless ship that has sunk to the bottom of the NL East, a place usually reserved for the Miami Marlins. Although not his fault, Manager Davey Martinez may take the fall (he recently received the kiss of death–a one-year extension) for another bad year in DC. BTW, there are plenty of seats available at Nationals Park…

Finally, just a few words about (at the time of this post) tonight’s MLB All-Star Game. The Midsummer Classic for me has lost some of it’s luster over the years, and I didn’t even watch last year when the game was politicized and moved away from Atlanta. But thinking of the All-Star Game takes me back to my youth, a time when I kept a scoresheet for the game, players wanted to play, and the teams wanted to win (remember Pete Rose crashing into catcher Ray Fosse to win the 1970 edition?). I don’t think it’s the case anymore, but that being said, the MLB All-Star Game is still sports’ purest: the Pro Bowl is a pillow fight, the NHL version is unrecognizable, and the NBA All-Star Game is a defenseless layup and 3-point exhibition with scores like 173-168.

Enjoy the Midsummer Classic, and until next time from The Booth, GO NATS & O’s!

RW

Best Golf Prank Ever

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A golf buddy said after our usual weekend round that this was a “nothing” time in the sports world, and there probably is some truth to that. Did anyone really care about the USFL after the first few games? Sure, Wimbledon is happening, and the Tour de France is certainly an acquired taste (although I like the event and will watch). NFL training camps are still a few weeks from opening. And then there are your Washington Nationals, who are on pace for a 100-loss season. How many of you would have thought that possible after their World Series title in 2019?

If you’re a golf fan, the sport’s final major, The 150th Open Championship, a.k.a. The British Open, happens next week at the Old Course at St. Andrews. St. Andrews is hallowed ground in the golf world, and I love the British Open, because it’s golf the way it was meant to be played: low to the ground, in the elements. When I think of The Open Championship, I think of cold, wind, and rain. I also think of 59 year-old Tom Watson almost winning the Claret Jug in 2009, as a bunch of us geezers were gathered around the TV at Rock Harbor cheering him on. Moments like that can only happen at the Open.

Speaking of golf, this time of year takes me back to what might have been the greatest golf prank ever played. It happened during a beach trip to Nags Head with a group of friends around 1987. It was a great week of beachin’, night life, and a round of golf during which the aforementioned prank took place. The group included longtime friend Kevin Funkhouser, who would be my best man 4 years later when I tied the knot. The foil of the prank was Todd Lyons, another member of our Martinsburg circle of friends and participant in the annual “Turkey Bowl” Thanksgiving football game at Rosemont School, among other things.

The round of golf started, as you might expect, with drink flowing freely, and somewhere on the front 9, Funkhouser was victim of the old “exploding golf ball” prank. If you’re unfamiliar, these are joke golf balls that explode on impact, and are good for a laugh. As we moved on to the back 9, no other gags were played as the laughs and libation continued. Late in the round, Lyons hit a beautiful approach shot within 3 feet of the pin. As we drove to the green, Funkhouser got out of the cart, walked onto the green to survey Lyons’ shot and said, “Hey Todd, is this your ball…great shot!” He then …well, let’s just say,  proceeded to water Lyons’ golf ball, if you get my drift. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard on a golf course.

They say revenge is a meal best served cold. In this case…best served wet.

I look forward to being back in the Booth the week of the 18th! FORE!

RW

 

 

Strawberries And Cream

Greetings from The Booth!

As we get ready to celebrate the long 4th Of July weekend, the awards and accolades continue to pour in for the Shenandoah University baseball team. Earlier this week the Virginia State Sports Information Directors Association handed out it’s all-state honors, and at the top of the list was Head Hornet Kevin Anderson, who was named VaSID Coach Of The Year. It’s his 4th such award, with 3 coming at SU, and his 9th overall Coach Of The Year accolade. Several of his players were also named by the organization.  Kyle Lisa, Henry Delavergne, and Calvin Pastel are first-team honorees, while Pearce Bucher and Frankie Ritter were second-team picks. Congratulations, guys!

I don’t often write about tennis, but this week the Wimbledon fortnight has begun across the pond, and the early shocker is the first-round loss by Serena Williams to 115th ranked Harmony Tan of France in a 3-set thriller. I didn’t realize this, but Serena is 40, which is Methuselah in tennis years. The ageless Williams has been so good for so long that it’s easy to forget that she is at the tail end of her career. She has been the Tom Brady of tennis. Serena was noncommittal when asked if the aforementioned loss was her final match, but my gut tells me that she doesn’t want to go out like this.

Thinking of Wimbledon takes me back to the mid-70s through the early 80s when I was really into tennis. Summer nights would find me either at Lambert Park or Oatsdale Park in Martinsburg with my Wilson T-2000 and a fresh can of balls from Coaches Supply, ready for a set or two. It was nothing to stay on the courts until 10 pm and beyond. I also bought the tennis mags and followed the fortunes of my favorites like Borg, Connors, and Evert.

What made tennis great in those days were the rivalries, and the rivalries were great because of the contrast in styles. There is nothing today that compares to the icy coolness of Bjorn Borg going against the fiery Jimmy Connors or the volatile John McEnroe. How about Chris Evert versus Martina Navratilova? Give me a comparable contemporary feud–I’ll bet you can’t (OK, I’ll give you Djokovic-Nadal). And tennis had some great villains. Ilie Nastase comes to mind, along with Connors and McEnroe. It was a great time to be a tennis fan.

And I would always wake up in time for “Breakfast At Wimbledon” on NBC. No one could call a match like Dick Enberg (“Oh my!”) and Bud Collins.  The matches would start early in the morning and continue into the afternoon on Wimbledon weekends, and there was little that could pull me away from the TV.

Eventually, my interest in tennis would wane, along with American prominence in the sport. But the two weeks of Wimbledon always has me scrambling to find a can of balls and that Wilson T-2000…

Enjoy the Fortnight, and until the next visit from The Booth…GO HORNETS!

RW

 

 

Remembering Brig Owens

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In the down time between the Spring and Fall seasons at Shenandoah University, we take time this week to recognize the academic achievements of the Hornet’s Athletic Department. For only the second time since team GPAs have been tracked at SU, all 22 intercollegiate programs have at least a 3.0 team grade point average. Ashley Smeltzer-Kraft’s field hockey team were the ‘brainiacs” of the bunch, leading the way with a collective 3.68, while on the men’s side, ODAC champ baseball had a team 3.4. When you consider the hectic schedule of a D-3 student-athlete, this is an amazing accomplishment. The bar has been set high at Shenandoah, both on the academic and athletic fronts, not to mention community service, and you can’t do much better than 22 for 22!  For more on this topic, check out this week’s Sports Dog’s Podcast, and my conversation with SU’s Scott Musa.

If you’re a fan of the old Washington Redskins’ “Over The Hill Gang” of the 1970’s, this is a tough week. On Tuesday, safety Brig Owens passed away at the age of 79. Owens was a defensive captain for those George Allen-led teams, including the 1972 squad, who went all the way to Super Bowl VII, before falling to Miami (Owens picked off a pass in that game).

His 36 interceptions are second only to the great Darrell Green in team history, a mark that earned Owens a spot in the ‘Skins Ring Of Fame. He also made some NFL history that you may not know about. In 1966, Owens and tight end Jerry Smith became the league’s first interracial roommates, and remained so in their 12 seasons in DC. In an age where most NFL players had to have an off-season job to make ends meet, Brig Owens attended law school as his playing days wound down, and put that to good use in the NFL Players Association as a player rep, and assistant executive director.

I had the pleasure, through my good friend Dr. Kurt Pierce (who played football at UVA and for the Miami Dolphins), of meeting Brig Owens over the Christmas holidays at the Sam Huff memorial in Middleburg. Among other things, we talked about maybe his most famous play. It happened on a Monday Night game in 1973 against the Dallas Cowboys. With the score tied at 7 late in the contest, RFK Stadium erupted as Owens picked off a Craig Morton pass and returned it 26 yards for what would be the game-winning score. That play was overshadowed somewhat by the Ken Houston goal line tackle moments later on Walt Garrison (the most famous tackle in Washington football history). I said to Brig, “I remember that interception like it was yesterday.” His reply to me, in his understated way, was “So do I.”

Brig Owens accomplished much on the field and off in his illustrious career , but my lingering memory of him will be of that legendary pick-six against the hated Cowboys. Rest in Peace, Brig! I’m proud to have met you…

Until the next visit from the Booth, GO HORNETS and HTTR!

RW

 

 

 

 

Fathers And Sons

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A little housecleaning to start. Congrats to the James Wood High School baseball team, which fell just short of a Class 4 state title last weekend, losing to powerful Hanover 11-0 in the title game. The Colonels, who finished 22-6, simply ran into a buzzsaw, as Hanover, last year’s runners-up, were a team on a mission. When the sting of a title game loss wears off, JWHS will look back on a great accomplishment, as they were the first Colonel baseball squad to make it to the state tournament since the 1985 team.

And, congratulations to the Clarke County High School Boys soccer team who completed an undefeated season last weekend in capturing the Class 2 title with a win over Glenvar in the championship game. The Eagles ran roughshod through their regular season opponents on the way to a 23-0 record, as they brought the hardware back to Berryville. Way to go Eagles!

This Sunday is Father’s Day, and this week’s VFB is tough to write. Father-Son relationships can be complicated, especially where sports is concerned. I think a lot of fathers live vicariously through their sons’ sports accomplishments. I certainly saw some of that growing up, although I don’t think that was the case with my dad. My father had to work at a young age and didn’t really have time for organized athletics himself, but never really pressured me or my brother to play sports.

Once we decided to play, however, my dad was more apt to criticize us than give us praise. I remember the time in Little League when I couldn’t close the deal on an otherwise good pitching performance, and he gave it to me good on the way home. There was also the time he was pretty hard on me  at the only track meet he ever saw me run. That week I had come down with shin splints, and basically limped around the track in the mile run, a race I was expected to win. When an encouraging word was needed, none came.

But there was plenty of good stuff, too. My dad took me to my first major league game, between the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins at RFK Stadium. I’d never seen grass that green, or uniforms so white. There were the countless times that after long days of running a bread route for the Schmidt Baking Company, that he would throw football and teach us pass patterns, or toss us high pop ups that I thought would never come down. I don’t think my dad ever missed a Little League game. There’s the memory of my dad confronting my Midget League football coach after the season finale because I played a grand total of 26 seconds the entire season. And, it was my dad who taught me how to compile earned run and batting averages, and countless other things that solidified my love of sports.

Again, Father-Son relationships are complicated, but I choose to remember the good things as we approach Father’s Day. If your dad is still around, make sure you at least give him a phone call. Better yet, take him to a ball game.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO DADS!

RW

 

 

Money Talks

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With all quiet at Shenandoah University, we turn our attention to James Wood High School baseball, who as of this writing, is 2 wins away from a state championship. The 21-5 Colonels advanced to the semifinals Tuesday with a 5-1 win over Salem, and will now face Monocan on Friday in Fredericksburg. It’s worth noting that James Wood baseball hasn’t been to the state tournament since 1985. How long ago was that? Ronald Reagan was in his second term, Back To The Future was the top-grossing film, We Are The World was the number-one song that year, and in 1985, gas was $1.12 a gallon (I had to throw that in there). In other words, it’s been awhile. Good luck Colonels in your quest to bring a title back home this weekend!

Well, the PGA Tour and the golf world have been turned upside down by the rival tour known as the LIV Invitational Golf Series, which has it’s inaugural event this week in London. Some big names have defected from the PGA Tour, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, and Dustin Johnson to name a few. Johnson was reportedly offered $125 million for joining the LIV. All who have joined the LIV now face action from the PGA Tour on a case by case basis, including suspensions.

Maybe the most notable name to join the LIV is Phil Mickelson. Mickelson, always a lightning rod for controversy, is coming off a self-induced 4 month hiatus from competitive golf, has decided to jump to the Saudi-backed LIV. You might remember that his comments about the Saudis earlier this year sparked some backlash.

The new LIV Tour is being funded by the financial arm of the Saudi government, valued at some $600 billion, so money is not going to be an issue. The controversy lies in the alleged human rights violations of the Saudis, who were also responsible for the assassination of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. By financially backing sports leagues and organizations (like the WWE), the Saudis are being accused of something called “Sportswashing,” the practice of distracting the public from their abuses by funding sports.

At this week’s LIV press conference , Mickelson fielded the first 26 questions, including those about “Sportswashing.” While denouncing human rights violations, Mickelson is still taking the money from the Saudi-backed tour. This is yet another example of the hypocrisy that now permeates the sports world. The NBA and supposed social justice warriors like Lebron James have no trouble taking money from and climbing into bed with China, one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. James, in particular, is very outspoken in his quest for social justice, yet remains aligned with Nike, whose products are made by Chinese laborers who work under the crushing boot of the CCP.

Apparently, for Phil and his PGA Tour defectors…money talks.

Until the next visit from The Booth…GO COLONELS!

RW

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tidbits

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As June replaces May and Summer unofficially begins this week with 90-degree temperatures, I thought I would cover multiple subjects in the latest VFB. First, congrats to Shenandoah University’s Tucker Kindig, who earned All-America status last weekend at the NCAA D-3 Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Geneva, Ohio. His hammer throw earned him an eighth-place finish, good enough for the accolade. Kindig also shines in the classroom, with a 3.78 overall GPA. We don’t give the Track & Field athletes enough notoriety, so we right a great wrong here and put Tucker in the limelight. The All-America honor is the first in (Outdoor) program history, and it is well-deserved!

The awards continue to roll in for SU Baseball, which just wrapped up a stellar 37-12-1 season. Five Hornets were named to the NCAA All-Region team: Pearce Bucher, Kyle Lisa, Frankie Ritter, Calvin Pastel, and Henry Delavergne were honored by either the ABCA or d3baseball.com, with Lisa being named to the second team by both organizations. All five were named All-ODAC, and I’m sure all five would trade all that hardware for a chance to still be playing for a National Championship. Still, great rewards for a great season.

Speaking of baseball, it’s going to be a long hot Summer if you are a Washington Nationals fan. As of this writing, the team is 18-34 and haven’t scored a run in 21 innings. This is not the same as the 19-31 start in 2019, when the Nats recovered and won the World Series. This is clearly a rebuild for GM Mike Rizzo, and I think the best way for Nationals fans to tolerate what looks like a last-place finish in the NL East is to enjoy the young stars like pitcher Josiah Gray, who looks like he is going to be a keeper. Pitcher Erick Fedde seems to have come into his own after several struggling campaigns, and right now is clearly the ace of the staff. Josh Bell has been a mainstay, and Juan Soto is a superstar worth the price of admission. Now, if we could just get Stephen Strasburg back on the field…

Finally, staying in baseball mode, the boys are back in town, as we begin another season of Valley Baseball League action. For the next couple of months, players from all over the country will converge on communities like Winchester, Front Royal, Strasburg, and Woodstock and hone their craft in hopes of making “the show.” The VBL is, after all, “The Gateway To The Majors.” Lifetime bonds are formed with host families, as nightly games are played in quaint ballparks all over the Valley, as teams vie for the Lineweaver Cup in early August. This slice of Americana won’t last long, so get to a game or two before the Summer is over. I believe I just wrote a Country Time Lemonade commercial…so grab a tall glass and enjoy the game as the sun sets over Bridgeforth Field, The Bing, and Luxurious Rebel Park!

Until the next visit from (the air-conditioned) Booth…PLAY BALL!

RW

Closing The Deal II

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I’m writing this week’s VFB a day removed from yet another school shooting, this one in Uvalde, Texas. Our hearts break for everyone in that community, especially the parents of the children whose lives were senselessly and prematurely taken away yesterday, and for the surviving students whose innocence was stolen forever. In light of that unspeakable loss, sports doesn’t seem that important. But life goes on somehow, and we will try to put sports in it’s proper perspective as we write this week’s blog…

Putting a bow on the Shenandoah University baseball season, there is nothing like that empty feeling in the gut when a season ends before it should have. I’m sure the host Hornets had every expectation of winning the NCAA D-3 Winchester Region this past weekend and advancing to the Super Regional round. But after a tough Saturday afternoon loss to Catholic, SU was forced to play again Saturday evening just to get to the championship round on Sunday. Down 8-2, the Hornets found a way to beat St. Joseph in a gutsy comeback win. Speaking of gutsy, Jacob Bell gave the Hornets 7-plus innings in Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Cardinals that earned him a standing “O” from the sun baked crowd at Bridgeforth.  Then, in a winner-take-all second game, SU jumped out to a 6-0 lead, then simply ran out of gas in a 13-10 loss which ended their season. That final game wrapped up a stretch of 4 games in 24 hours for Shenandoah, and as Head Coach Kevin Anderson told me after the Sunday win, “we’re running on fumes.”

When the sting of defeat wears off, the Hornets will look back on a 37-win season, an ODAC Tournament championship, a national ranking, and a championship appearance in the NCAA Regionals. You would take that in a heartbeat every time and not even take the field. Congratulations to Kevin, his players and coaching staff for another great season! The dynasty continues…

This past weekend, golf’s second major, the PGA Championship was held at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Justin Thomas came from 7 shots down to win his second Wanamaker Trophy by beating Will Zalatoris in a 3-hole playoff.  That is a great accomplishment, but he needed help. Leading by 1 shot and needing a par on the 18th hole, tournament leader Mito Pereira took one of the worst swings you’ll ever see from a professional and put his drive into a creek. He eventually bogeyed the 18th and missed out not only on the championship, but the playoff.  Not quite Jean Van Develde material, but heartbreaking nonetheless.

SIDEBAR: Can we now put the Tiger Woods buzz to rest? What he did at the Masters was Alex Smith-like and no one can fault him for fading on the weekend. At the PGA, more of the same, as colder weather charged in Friday like a steer (one of 2 things that come from Oklahoma) and certainly affected Tiger’s injured leg. But until he’s actually in contention on a weekend, can we just back off on the almost excessive Tiger Woods coverage? Yes, he moves the needle and gets ratings, but I’m sure there are many talented players on Tour who must feel that they get no love whatsoever. OK, that’s my rant.

Players respond differently to pressure, and Pereira succumbed to it, while JT, who has “been there before,” thrived on it. Pereira hopefully will learn from the experience, and next time will be able to close the deal. Thomas is already a closer.

Until next visit from The Booth, God bless Uvalde, Texas…and GO HORNETS!

RW