Monday, March 30, 2009


SORRY, Phil, Geoff, Padraig and all you other professional golfers who’ve been having a ball for the past nine months; the party’s over. THE man is back.

If anyone thought it would take Tiger Woods time to get back in the swing following reconstructive surgery on his left knee then they were right: 35 days, to be precise.

That’s the number of days between Tiger making his comeback in the Accenture Match Play Championship and winning the 66th PGA Tour title of his illustrious career.

On Sunday, he recorded his sixth victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in typical Woods fashion with a birdie on the 72nd hole.

Even those of us who never doubted that the world number one would return as good as new surely didn’t expect him to win on just his third tournament back.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised because if Tiger didn’t think he had a chance of winning, then he wouldn’t bother to turn up.

Such is his strength – both physical and mental – that he has been able to overcome an injury that might have destroyed a lesser player’s career.

And while that’s not such good news for his “rivals” like Phil Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy and Padraig Harrington, it’s great news for golf fans and the PGA TOUR.

Tiger has been sorely missed…not just by us but also by the broadcasters, who have seen viewing figures plummet, and by the sponsors, whose numbers have been dwindling due to the recession.

Everyone’s happy…except Woods’ fellow pros

There’s an advert doing the rounds on the worldwide web at the moment showing a clubhouse full of jokes and jollity being reduced to reverend silence when Woods walks in. “Good to see you back, Tiger,” says one golfer, grudgingly. 

Okay, so it’s going to be harder to win tournaments – especially the Majors – from now on but look at it this way: any event you win without Tiger in the field is hugely devalued.

The frightening thought for his fellow pros is that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Woods had to sink a long putt just to make bogey on the final hole of his third round and force his way into the final group with Zach Johnson and five-shot leader Sean O’Hair.

That proved to be of great significance, for as one commentator succinctly put it, O’Hair might have won comfortably had he been in the group ahead.

Instead, he spent Sunday afternoon being stalked by a Tiger. The anxiety clearly got to him as he shot a three-over-par 73 compared to Woods’ three-under 67.

With dusk about to give way to darkness and a playoff looming, Woods – as he did last year and in 2001 – made his last shot a winning one, draining a 16-foot putt before celebrating with the now customary fist-pump, and embrace with caddie Steve Williams.

“It feels good, it feels really good,” said Woods after matching his biggest comeback in a PGA TOUR event. “It’s great to be back in contention again, to feel the rush and have to deal with everything coming down the stretch.”

What price now against Woods winning his fifth Masters Green Jacket at Augusta National in two weeks’ time?

Odds of 2-1 look pretty skinny but if you like backing favorites with guts, heart and class, then Tiger’s your man.

Friday, March 27, 2009


WHICH IS MORE OBSCENE? The bonuses paid to its executives by the American International Group (AIG) or some of the prices the New York Yankees are charging to watch a baseball game at their new stadium in the Bronx.

In truth, it’s a close call. In fact, if you haven’t recently received a bonus for services rendered (or not as the case may be), then forget about going to the Yankees’ home opener against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday, April 16.

The good news is that there are still some tickets left. The bad news is that if you buy one, you won’t have much change left from $3,000.

Yes, you read correctly – $3,000. A seat in the Legends Suite will set you back $2,625, plus a convenience charge of $59.70.

I love that phrase, “convenience charge.” Is that a charge to use the public conveniences (Brit-speak for restrooms)? Whatever it is, it sure as hell ain’t being levied for your convenience.

After surveying the ticket prices at, it appears there is also a processing fee, no doubt to cover the cost of processing the convenience charge.

Okay, so you can sit in the nosebleeds (baseball-speak for the bleachers) for just $14 – if there are any left – but whatever you do, don’t take your car to the game because it will cost you more than the price of your seat to park at the new Yankee Stadium: $19, to be precise.

What, so you expected a concession due to the fact that you’d already bought a ticket to the game? Tsk, tsk.

Bronx Bombers bank on beating recession

Far better to let the train take the strain, providing, of course, that the new Metro North Station in the Bronx is open (I gather it won’t be for the first home stand of the season).

Take your checkbook with you if you want to sample one of Lobel’s freshly sliced dry-aged prime rib sandwich, which will sell for $15. My advice is Eat Fresh, Eat Subway. Failing that, eat on the subway itself.

I’ve yet to ascertain the price of beer but I can personally vouch for the fact that at the old Yankee Stadium, a 24 oz Heineken set you back $12.50.

Two beers for the price of…well, two, or maybe three, depending on whether its happy hour in your local boozer. At least you only have to make half as many trips to the bathroom.

Okay, so I know it’s all about supply and demand. After all, someone has to keep hefty-lefty CC Sabathia in hamburgers. 

Someone has to pay into Derek Jeter’s retirement fund and for A-Rod’s performance-enhancing drugs. Oops, sorry, he stopped taking them back in 2003 when he was young and stupid. Thank God he’s old and wise now.

I love baseball; I love the New York Yankees. I wish I could afford to buy the best seat in the house, but I can’t.

Only corporate America and companies like AIG can do that these days…or can they?

Monday, March 23, 2009


MANCHESTER UNITED, according to Forbes magazine, is the world’s richest football club.

Those resources have enabled manager Sir Alex Ferguson to attract talent of the caliber of World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, Bulgarian striker Dimitar Bebatov and Argentinian Carlos Tévez to Old Trafford.

Such is United’s strength in depth that Tevez usually plays only a cameo role from the substitutes’ bench.

But for all their flair and resources, you would have got long odds against the Red Devils winning all five of the competitions they entered this season.

Not so long ago, doing the “double” (league and FA Cup) was regarded as the pinnacle of achievement in English football.

Now, United are shooting for the stars as they go for the “quintuple.” And with the Club World Cup and Carling Cup already safely locked away in the trophy cabinet, it’s not just fantasy football.

United are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they will be expected to overcome Porto. They face Chelsea in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

A few weeks ago, they looked to have had the Barclays Premier League title wrapped up for the third successive year.

But two unexpected defeats, 4-1 at home to Liverpool followed by a 2-0 reverse at Fulham on Saturday, have breathed new life into the title race. It was the first time United had suffered back-to-back league defeats in 147 games.

Liverpool, who thrashed fading Aston Villa 5-0 at Anfield yesterday, are now just one point behind their arch rivals, although United do have a game in hand.

As if losing to Fulham was not bad enough, United had two players – Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney – sent-off, meaning the duo now face suspension.

"We'll need a lot of luck" – Fergie

Even with the size of their squad, United will need luck with both injuries and suspensions on the run-in if they are to keep their hopes of five alive.

Ferguson, for one, believes it’s a tall order. “The thing about cup football is you need to be the best but you also need a lot of luck and I think it’s asking too much for all the games to go your way,” he says.

“The one thing I will say is this squad is the best I have ever had. Every game we play, I feel confident.”

The two-week hiatus for international football has probably come at just the right time for United.
And the good news is that when the players return, their next game is at home to Villa on Sunday, April 5.

Only a few weeks ago, Martin O’Neill’s team looked a good bet to finish ahead of Arsenal and claim the fourth Champions League place for next season.

But it’s all gone horribly wrong since then. They haven’t won in their last eight league and cup matches and the lack of depth in their squad compared to United and Co. has been exposed.

Villa were no match for Liverpool at the weekend, crashing to a 5-0 defeat, and it will take all of O’Neill’s considerable motivational skills to coax a performance out of his tired troops at Old Trafford.

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson believes United will still come out on top, saying: “United are such a good team with so many good players, I still think they are favorites for the championship this year. But the last two defeats have given the teams chasing them that little bit more hope.”

Third-placed Chelsea missed the chance to join Liverpool on 64 points when they were beaten 1-0 by rapidly improving Tottenham.

It’s still a three-horse race but United have the pedigree and the British bookmakers still make them a 1-3 shot to finish top with Liverpool 11-4 and Chelsea 14-1.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


PHILLIP COKE, Brett Gardner and Cody Ransom. They’re three of the lesser-known names on the New York Yankees’ roster but a trio who could make a significant contribution during the 2009 season.

There’s an old saying in baseball that spring training counts for nothing. If you’re looking for a stat to back that up then here’s one for you: Kei Igawa, the Yanks’ $46 million Japanese misfit, has yet to give up a run in nine innings pitched.

Igawa has been such a disappointment in Major League Baseball that he couldn’t even make the Japanese squad for the World Baseball Classic.

So does anyone seriously believe that this is anything more than a flash in the pan or that he’s going to force his way into the starting rotation some time this year? Probably not.

But just as Igawa’s improved performances may catch the eye of another team desperate for pitching, so Ransom, Gardner and Coke have been earning brownie points from manager Joe Girardi.

Up until a few weeks ago, Ransom could expect to play only a cameo role from the bench. Now, with Alex Rodriguez recovering from hip surgery, he is the Yanks’ first-choice third baseman.

For a man of his age (33), Ransom has made remarkably few plate appearances. He’s no A-Rod, but with nine runs and 14 hits in 35 at bats in spring training (.400 ERA) so far, he’s done enough to convince general manager Brian Cashman he can hold the fort until Rodriguez is ready to return.

Three musketeers earn shot at stardom

With eight runs (three of them homers) and 12 hits in 32 at bats for an ERA of .375, Gardner has been equally impressive. Already, he’s earned the right to start the season at center field ahead of Melky Cabrera. 

An excellent fielder, Gardner has tremendous speed and is always a threat to steal a base or two. Nobody is expecting him to be a power hitter in the majors. His job is to get on base and then distract the opposing pitcher.

If he can do that – and the signs are encouraging – then he will be a tremendous asset to the Yankees.

Coke, 26, started 2008 pitching in Double-A baseball for Trenton Thunder. He finished the year in the Yankees bullpen, allowing just one run in 14.2 innings.

Again, those stats could be misleading as the Yanks were out of playoff contention by then.

But Coke has continued where he left off in spring training, conceding only two runs in eight innings.

He’s made such a good impression with Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland that he could conceivably become the main lefty out of the pen ahead of the injured Dámaso Marte.

Of course, when the curtain goes up on the 2009 MLB season on April 6th, the spotlight will be on CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.

But keep an eye on The Three Musketeers who are earning their shot at stardom down in Tampa.

Friday, March 13, 2009


BORED WITH BASKETBALL? Irked by ice hockey? Sick of spring training and not wild about the World Baseball Classic?

Well, if you fall into any of these categories, the good news is that the real baseball season is now little more than three weeks away.

Quite frankly, it can’t come soon enough for this New York Yankees fan.

I’ve tried to form attachments to the other sports but it’s just not working. The Knicks and Nets suck, the Rangers are skating on thin ice and UConn – my wife’s alma mater – can’t even get past Syracuse in six overtimes.

It’s about time I backed a winner…and up until a week ago, I was pretty sure it would be your 2009 Yankees.

Now, before a ball has been thrown in anger, I’m not feeling quite so confident.

For all his faults, Alex Rodriguez is an integral part of the Yankees’ batting line-up and being without him for at least the first month is a major blow.

Jorge Posada has yet to catch a game in spring training and we’re still awaiting Mariano Rivera’s first pitch. 

The pair have reportedly made a full recovery from major surgery during the winter. But let’s not forget that they’re both in their late thirties so it’s asking a lot for them to return as good they were.

Most fans agree that, for once, the Yanks’ prospects of making the playoffs and beyond hinge on their starting pitching rather than bludgeoning their opponents to death with their bats.

And after spending top dollar on CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, there should be a big improvement in this department.

Spring training not going smoothly for Yankees

However, there are no guarantees. It’s a little worrying that Sabathia was roughed up by Gary Sheffield and the Detroit Tigers on his latest start.

And let’s not forget his shaky start to last season when he went 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA in his first four outings.

That the Yankees overpaid for both Sabathia ($161 million over eight years) and Burnett ($82.5 million over five years) is beyond doubt.

The Boston Red Sox have just signed Jon Lester to a five-year contract extension at a cost of just $30 million. Lester went 16-6 with an ERA of 3.21 in 2008. Compare that to Burnett’s record of 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA.

Yankees fans will be expecting Sabathia and Burnett to start earning their money from day one, which may be unrealistic.

We’re also hoping for great things from Joba Chamberlain, providing he stays the course.

With Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte completing the starting rotation, the Yanks have a powerful pitching line-up on paper. And they also have Phil Hughes standing by as first reserve.

But they’ll need a lot more luck than they had last year when they were plagued by injuries.

The Yanks face a testing start with a nine-game road trip to Baltimore, Kansas and Tampa Bay.

If A-Rod is healthy by early May, if Posada can return as the everyday catcher, if Mariano is still the best closer in baseball, if Sabathia and Burnett are indeed ace pitchers, and if Joba really is a bona fide starter, the Yanks are going to be the team to beat in the American League East.

But that’s a whole lot of ifs…

Friday, March 6, 2009


AT LEAST the New York Yankees should be used to getting held to ransom.

No one comes cheap to the Yankees, least of all Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

The Steinbrenner family met the ransom demands set by Scott Boras in December, 2007, when they agreed to pay his biggest client $275 million over a ten-year period.

As the saying goes, act in haste, repent at leisure. Has anything good happened to the Bronx Bombers since then?

Come to think of it, has anything good happened to the Yanks since Rodriguez joined them from the Texas Rangers on February 15, 2004?

The most-fabled franchise in baseball has not won a World Championship since 2000 and last year, they couldn’t even finish in the first two in their division.

True, A-Rod has been voted the American League MVP in two of the last four seasons.

But isn’t that just symptomatic of the fact that it’s no longer about the power, the pride or the pinstripes. It’s all about A-Rod.

The Yanks go out and spend $423.5 on three players during the winter. But what have we read about CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira?

As usual, it's all about A-Rod

Next to nothing, thanks to the never-ending soap that goes under a variety of names such as A-Rod, A-Roid or A-Fraud, but rarely Alexander the Great.

First it was his strained relationship with the skipper, Derek Jeter. Then it was the separation from his wife, Cynthia, and his supposed liaison with Madonna.

This year, it has been the steroids scandal, the lies, the public apology. Now it’s the cyst and the labrum tear in his right hip. An injury, by the way, that the club has apparently known about for nearly ten months.

The Yankees are hoping he can play through the pain. If he can’t, it looks like they will have to rely on journeyman professional Cody Ransom, who is 33 years of age yet has had only 183 at bats in Major League Baseball.

Perhaps it would be better for both the team and the fans if A-Rod went and had the surgery now.

That way we could enjoy the opening of the new stadium and embrace our new players without having to listen to the daily health bulletin on our third baseman.

Every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it, prompting one of the Yankees’ beat reporters to suggest he would better served declining all interviews.

Not much chance of that happening. A-Rod, quiet clearly, loves being the center of attention. Why else would he invite his cousin – the same cousin who injected him with performance-enhancing drugs – to spring training. No one could be that naïve or stupid, could they?

Hank Steinbrenner, part-owner and senior vice president of the Yankees, says that despite it all, he’s still glad A-Rod is part of the organization; that he has no regrets about signing him to a new, long-term deal when the club could have cut him loose.

Today, I wonder just how many Yankees fans feel the same way?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


SPORTS AND POLITICS should never mix. That old saying has never been more true following the tragic events in Lahore, Pakistan, today.

Six policemen were killed and seven members of the Sri Lankan cricket team wounded in the latest atrocity on the Indian subcontinent.

The ambush took place as the Sri Lankans were on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium to play a Test match against Pakistan.

Officials said the incident bore similarities to the deadly attacks in Mumbai, India, last November. The England cricket team, who were touring India at the time, returned home before agreeing to resume their tour the following month.

There is absolutely no chance of Sri Lanka following suit after an attack that will rock the very foundations of world sport, never mind cricket.

Haroon Lorgat, chief executive of the International Cricket Council, said: “It’s difficult to see international cricket being played in Pakistan for the foreseeable future.”

Should Sri Lankans have even been there?

But the question remains: Should the Sri Lankans have been in Pakistan in the first place?

Australia withdrew from a scheduled tour to Pakistan in March of the last year due to safety concerns and only last month, the ICC decided not to hold this year’s Champions Trophy for the same reason.

In India and Pakistan, cricket is like a religion. The top players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Yousuf are worshipped like gods.

Crowds are large and boisterous. The advent of Twenty20 cricket and the formation of the Indian Premier League have led to a resurgence in interest and generated huge revenue.

Sadly, however, politics has never been too far away. And now, it seems, terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban see sportsmen as a legitimate target.

Former Pakistan Test captain Wasim Bari believes his country should not be subject to a boycott.

“What happened today is a great tragedy but at a time when terrorist attacks are taking place all over the world, Pakistan cricket should not be abandoned or isolated.”

Bari has a point but the fact remains that Pakistan has now gone from a red-flag destination to a no-go area.

Just as South Africa was boycotted by the other cricket-playing nations for 30 years due to apartheid, so Pakistan will be shunned until it can prove that it’s safe to return. That could be some time off.