By Bill Campbell

Phil Mickelson

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Phil Mickelson played very well in the U.S. Open at Merion a few weeks back and looked to be a factor from the very first day.  But he lost to Adam Scott and admitted that his play at Merion was one of the greatest disappointments in his career.  Last week at the British Open at Muirfield, where Mickelson admitted he had a lot to overcome, he was under par in 2 of the 4 rounds. It was his biggest challenge and he rose to it. Shooting an amazing 69-74-72-66, Mickelson admitted that his win at Muirfield was his best round ever as he birdied 4 of the final 6 holes on the last day.

I found it particularly interesting that entering the 4th and final round there were no fewer than 12 of the great active players in the world in the running and yet Mickelson made it look easy. His great putting seemed to be following his brilliant ball-striking. Hole after hole, he would make a great drive and put himself in position for a birdie or better or almost always within easy range of a par. The 12 players on his trail included Lee Westwood at minus 3, followed by Hunter Mahan and Tiger Woods at 1 under, Adam Scott at even par, finishing the last round with 4 straight bogies. There was Ryan Moore, Angel Cabrera, Zack Johnson, and Henrick Stenson all at one over, Hunter Mahan and Francesco Molinari at 3 over. Sergio Garcia and Angel Jimenez finished at 3 over. But despite impressive play by these talented players, it was Mickelson’s week and he becomes the 19th player with 5 or more pars, and the first to finish his last 6 events with his final round of 66.   Mickelson won by 3 strokes in his 5th major conquest and passed Rory Mc Ilroy as the number one player on the 2013 tour. It was a remarkable achievement. He knocked Tiger Woods right out of the spotlight. Mickelson called it the most fulfilling victory of his storied career and his final day’s play was the best full round by anyone in Open history. Woods finished in a tie for 6th in what may have been the most exciting competition in sports last week.

Tiger Woods

            The British Open has been decided and the PGA looms ahead. Het there isn’t much doubt that no player has competed against a greater tide of animosity than Tiger Woods. He continues to be judged on the major errors he committed in his marriage and personal life rather than on his ability on the golf course. This hostility seems, at least to me, to be unfair. Tiger Woods is 37 years old. He is already second on the PGA Tour career victory list with 78 wins, trailing only Sam Snead. He’s second in career majors with 14, behind only Jack Nicklaus who totaled 18.  He’s third on the PGA European Tour with 39 career wins putting him behind Seve Ballesteros (50) and Bernhard Langer (42). Woods and Phil Mickelson are the only players with 3 career Grand Slams. It remains possible for Woods to break every victory record in PGA and Grand Slam history. There are many athletes in many sports who have been hailed as the Next Big Thing.  Almost every one of them falls short of expectations. But little is said of Woods, who was expected to become one of the all-time greats and has done it.

Rory Mc Ilroy hasn’t won anything since November 2012. He has yet to win in 2013.  Consider even Phil Mickelson who, despite the British Open win, has been up and down this season. Then consider what Woods has accomplished. It took Sam Snead 30 years to win those 82 tournaments. Nicklaus, who ranks third, got 73 in 25 years. Ben Hogan won 64 events in 22 years. Arnold Palmer tallied 62 in 19 years. Byron Nelson, 52 in 17 years. These are names that rank as the best of the best. But Woods has totaled his accomplishments in 18 years as a pro. Mickelson, who is the closest active player to Woods, has 41 victories and 4 majors in 23 years on the tour. Since turning pro, Mc Ilroy has won 6 events, 5 European and 2 majors. And I remember reading more than one story touting him as golf’s newest Superman just a year or two back. Woods had 24 PGA wins, 5 majors and 6 career Grand Slams. For all but a few, very few, that would be considered a great career. But for Tiger Woods, it’s a place to get back to. Tiger has 105 career wins. I greatly respect Phil Mickelson who has carved out a very successful career. But on the golf course, Tiger Woods is already one of the all-time greats. I regret that he is not rated accordingly. There are many guys who don’t get the full recognition they deserve in many sports. But, to me, Tiger Woods is the most under-rated of all.

76ers Coach Hunt

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It’s almost incredible that the Philadelphia 76ers have, so far, taken 90 days to consider a coaching change and still have named no one to the post. We are told that Doug Collins stepped down from the job to become a consultant for the team. Since he did so, the Sixers have procured a new General Manager, moved another of front office guy into a slot with the NBA, conducted a player draft, and negotiated a trade involving Jrue Holiday, their only “name” player. Yet they still haven’t managed to select a coach. The names of people being considered may be quality but the time that’s passed in the process tends to cheapen the product: Jay Larranaga, Brett Brown, David Fizdace, Melvin Hunt, Chris Finch, Kelvin Sampson, and Michael Curry among many. There is always the chance that the Sixers will find someone who will be the “right fit” but, as the days roll by, the chances of it happening seem to dwindle. New GM, Sam Hinkie, says that he told everyone involved on the first day that the search would be a long one — but no one expected it to be this long. Hinkie said, “I respect the fact that many candidates will be interviewed but I’m the one that has to feel like the man is a good fit or I’ll end up being the coach.” If that’s a possibility, I guess we have no choice but to wait. At the moment, it seems that no one is talking about the Sixers. There’s news space available. The Eagles season hunt has begun this week. Training camp has started. Over at the Flyers’ headquarters, Ron Hextall has been appointed as assistant to Paul Holmgren. That’s about all that’s going on so the road is wide open for some Sixers news. They just need a coach.

I can’t forget, however, that a player who now calls himself “Metta World Peace” got into the news last week. He’s going to play for the New York Knicks next season after being waived by the Los Angeles Lakers. World Peace is 33 now and the Lakers used the Amnesty Clause to create salary space and move him. He will still be paid the $7.7 million owed to him by the Lakers. And he’ll collect millions more from the Knicks. Me, I’d rather be reading about a new coach for the Sixers here at home.

Bud Selig

Bud Selig is, perhaps, regarded as the most unpopular commissioner the game of baseball ever has had. He has a lot of opinions and engages in a lot of activities that are foreign to most of us – which probably has much to do with his unpopularity. For instance, he says he has never sent an e-mail and says he never will. He still believes the major league baseball will succeed in Florida although it is struggling at an even worse pace than ever. He wants clubs to spend less than half of their reserves on players and end the splurge of mountainous salaries.  And despite the reports floating around about those clinics that are dispensing performance-enhancing drugs to players, Selig persists in question-and-answer sessions with saying, “The sport of baseball is cleaner than it’s ever been.”  He refuses to give any details on MLB’s investigation of the Biogenesis Clinic. In the face of this week’s suspension of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, Selig continues to defend baseball for starting a drug testing program way back in 2003 as prescient. Is he reading what we’re reading? Baseball is accused of being slow to react but Selig finds those charges unworthy even though stars like Alex Rodriguez are said to be the next to be exposed. Selig’s take on this continuing, troubling problem is getting really old.

Last week in New York there were 39 first-time All Stars on the 2013 roster which is a record. The game is prioritizing youth more than ever. National League manager, Bruce Bochey, said, “I think the current players are just getting better, faster, bigger, and stronger still and I find it impressive to watch these guys. In games now, I see more pitchers throwing in the mid-90. I think we are getting some great talent coming up from all over the world to play the game of baseball.” When you look at the level of play and the country of origin of many MLB’ers, you can see that Bochey has a point.  It should be mentioned, especially for those who didn’t see the game, that Oakland star, Yoenis Cespedes, did not win an All Star berth but dominated the Home Run Derby, beating out Washington’s Bryce Harper with 17 homers in the first round to Harper’s 16. But the magic moment was the opening of the bullpen door and the entrance of the game’s greatest closer, 43-year-old Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. Retiring at the end of this season, Rivera was called in to pitch by AL manager Jim Leyland at the bottom of the 8th inning. The rest of the AL team did not take the field as Rivera came in from the bullpen. The crowd and both dugouts jumped to their feet to applaud the consummate closer’s walk to the mound where he tipped his cap to the crowd in thanks.  Though he didn’t get the save, Rivera got the MVP award, a fitting prize for a true champion.

Kobe Bryant

One of sports’ big stories a few weeks ago was the dispute between the LA Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, and his mother, Pam, over the auctioning of his old uniforms, medals and trophies. It seems that Mrs. Bryant auctioned off some of Kobe’s old mementos purportedly because her son hadn’t given her money to buy a home in Nevada. The argument seems to have been amicably settled now and the story has died down. Several items I dispute then went to an auction house to be sold to the highest bidder. They included 2 NBA championship rings which Bryant had given to his parents, valued at $100,000 apiece. Goldin Auctions said that 6 items of Bryant memorabilia sold for a combined total of $433,533 in a month-long auction that closed at the end of June. At last report, Kobe and his mother were back on speaking terms after this rather nasty tiff. As they say, you can’t pick your family.

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See you next week.