Tiger’s Amazing Comeback Trumps Watching NCAA Hoops
We fully intended to watch the two NCAA Regional men’s basketball championship games Sunday afternoon, but unfortunately they began on CBS about the same time NBC was broadcasting the final round of the PGA Tour Bay Hill Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament.
Our intentions were still to watch the basketball games until we caught the pre-tournament interview with 54-hole leader Sean O’Hair whose first brash statement was something like, “I’m not playing Tiger Woods today, I’m playing the golf course.”
O’Hair, at seven under par, had a very comfortable lead over playing partner second place Tiger, at two under, so we had to see exactly how O’Hair was going to ignore how Tiger was playing and merely concentrate on doing his best against Bay Hill.
In the first half hour O’Hair’s five-stroke lead was cut to two strokes as Tiger rang up a pair of birdies while the leader suffered a bogey. Right then we knew we had to record the basketball games because we weren’t going to be watching much of them.
And the first game between the NCAA Tournament’s No. l overall seed, Louisville, and the Midwest Region’s No. 2 seed Michigan State was a great game that had a lead change almost every 30 seconds. It was hard to understand why the Las Vegas Boys thought Louisville was seven points better than Michigan State.
After checking out the game, which is not all that lengthy when the commercials and the rehashing of former NCAA Tournaments are fast-forwarded, it still was baffling how Louisville could be that heavily favored.
We knew from all the experts doing the pre-game analysis that Michigan State was going to try to slow down Louisville’s normally fast-paced game. They did that very effectively to the point of frustrating the Cardinal players and coaching staff throughout the game.
So instead of playing the type of game like they did in pummeling Arizona 103-64 with speed and quickness advantages in the regional semifinals Friday night, Louisville had to settle for being behind by the anemic 30-27 halftime score to the harassing Spartans.
Things didn’t improve for Louisville in the second half as the Spartans kept applying the pressure and stopped the Cardinal from running the floor like they are accustomed to doing. When the final buzzer sounded, Michigan State won 64-52 and its head coach Tom Izzo was headed to the Final Four for the fifth time in his 11 years with the Spartans.
The South Region championship game featured the top two seeds—North Carolina and Oklahoma—which was like a home game for the Tar Heels at Greensboro, N.C. And they played like it was a home game jumping out to a quick 13-2 lead and never looking back. We never questioned the seven-point advantage Vegas gave to the Tar Heels.
North Carolina never let up against the baffled Sooners, who went 2-for-19 from the 3-point range, as the lead grew to 20 points halfway through the second stanza. The Tar Heels earned another trip to the Final Four with their convincing 72-60 win over Oklahoma.
This will be the Tar Heels’ ninth Final Four in 19 seasons and 18th appearance overall as they loom as an early 5-6 favorite to win the national championship this year. North Carolina is an 8-point favorite over Villanova in Saturday’s semifinal game which is set to tip off at 7:47 p.m.
Saturday’s regional finals saw Connecticut outlast Missouri 82-75 while our prediction of Pittsburgh to be the first No. l seed to fall came to pass thanks to Villanova converting 22-of-23 free throws and upsetting the two-point favored Panthers 78-76.
So this weekend’s Final Four will have two No. 1 seeds (UConn and North Carolina) a No. 2 (Michigan State) and a No. 3 (Villanova). UConn will face Michigan State Saturday at 5:07 p.m. in Detroit and are favored over the Spartans by 4 points.
And to reiterate what we said last week, Monday Night’s national championship game will be between UConn and North Carolina with the Huskies pulling off the upset 88-83.
Now that we’re finished popping off about college basketball, we continue to marvel at Tiger Woods’ performance on the 72nd hole as the sun was setting in Orlando, Fla. Sunday evening.
Any question about Tiger losing his competitive edge while recuperating from knee surgery last year was answered on the tournament’s final hole. It was almost as if Tiger asked O’Hair if he wanted to forget about those last 71 holes and play for all the marbles on the last hole.
This was Tiger at his best. Both players hit great drives off the No. 18 tee box. After much calculating about the exact distance and the wind velocity, O’Hair hit a fine second shot on the green about 30 feet from the pin. Tiger countered with his iron shot that landed around 15 feet from the flag.
O’Hair putted first and was a couple feet wide of the hole. Tiger scrutinized both views of the proposed putt and let it fly. The match was no longer tied as he sunk the putt in true Tiger form to win Arnie’s Tournament for a record sixth time.
Last year Tiger made a 25-foot birdie on the final hole at Bay Hill for a one-shot victory and slammed his cap on the ground in jubilation. This time he ran into the arms of his caddie Stevie Williams, who lifted him off his feet.
Tiger will move on to play in the Masters a week from Thursday with renewed confidence that the old competitive magic has returned, or probably had never left.
KWICKIES…While on the subject of pro golf, Orange native Scott Sterling finished tied for ninth place in last weekend’s Nationwide-Chitimacha Louisiana Open played at La Triomphe Country Club in Broussard, La. He was tied for the lead after three rounds but shot a one-over-par 72 Sunday and lost by two strokes. He received a check for $13,200.67. Former West Orange-Stark golf star Michael Arnaud shot well enough in a qualifying round earlier last week to gain entry in the event and finished 28th.
Because Pat Perez finished tied for fourth place in last weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament, it knocked Davis Love III out of the top 50 in the world ranking and his automatic invitation into next week’s Masters Tournament. The only way Love can get into the Masters is to win the Shell Houston Open this weekend. And that will be a tough nut to crack with Phil Mickelson planning to play in the event along with several other golfers in the top 50 world ranking.
The controversy continues between the Denver Broncos and their quarterback Jay Cutler, who forfeited his $100,000 workout bonus for missing more than 10 per cent of the Broncos’ off-season conditioning program, according to a report in the Denver Post. Cutler has been an unhappy camper since head coach Mike Shanahan was fired by Denver the first of the year.
JUST BETWEEN US…By the time this Korner hits the streets, Memphis head basketball coach John Calipari will probably be the new head basketball coach at Kentucky. Calipari has a 252-69 record at Memphis in nine seasons, has won two NIT tournaments and has taken his team to the NCAA Tournament six times. He met with his players at Memphis Monday morning and will see what Memphis’ counter-offer will be. Calipari also has a great recruiting class committed to come to Memphis this fall which may be in jeopardy if Calipari goes to Kentucky.