Top 5 Masters Moments

Masters_Logo

The first golf major of the season is upon us, and with it comes the memories of Masters past. No golf tournament conjures up more magical moments than the annual invitational at Augusta National. Quite simply, there is no golf tournament like The Masters. From Amen Corner to Hogan’s Bridge to the now defunct Eisenhower Tree, the Masters is unlike any other sporting event. There have been some great moments at Augusta. Here are my 5 choices as the most memorable.

The Golden Bear wins Green Jacket #6. (1986)

At 46 years old, most thought Jack Nicklaus was done. He hadn’t won a major since the 1980 PGA Championship, and wasn’t performing well on the PGA tour. Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Tom McCollister penned that Nicklaus was “done, washed up, through.” But the Golden Bear had one more roar left in him. Going into the final round of the 1986 Masters, Nicklaus trailed Greg Norman by 4 shots. It looked like Nicklaus wasn’t going to be a factor, going even par through the first 8 holes. But birdies on 9, 10 and 11 put Nicklaus back into contention. After a bogey on 12, Nicklaus birdied 13 and parred 14. On 15, Nicklaus made his move, as he eagled the par 5 hole. Meanwhile, Norman, Tom Kite and Seve Ballesteros were falling back to the pack. Nicklaus hit a near perfect tee shot on the par 3 16th, landing it 3 feet from the hole. After making birdie, Nicklaus moved to 17 with a share of the lead. His second shot fell 18 feet from the hole, a clear birdie opportunity. With the rest of the players struggling to maintain their composure, Nicklaus kept his cool, and nailed his birdie putt to take the lead. Nicklaus parred 18 and watched as the rest of the pack couldn’t catch him. It was a remarkable performance that will go down in history.

Larry Mize’s Miraculous Chip (1987)

Prior to the 1987 Masters tournament, not too many outside of the golf world had heard of Larry Mize. The Augusta native, had only won once on the PGA Tour, the 1983 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. While Mize had been in contention in other smaller tournaments, he struggled in cracking the glass ceiling. Mize entered the 1987 Masters as an afterthought, but soon gave notice that he would be a player. As the final round drew to a close, Mize was locked in a three-way tie with Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. A playoff was needed to determine the winner. Mize and Norman both parred the 10th hole while Ballesteros bogeyed and was eliminated. The 11th was the second playoff hole, and it didn’t start well for Mize. A short tee shot was followed by a wayward second, leaving him short of the green. Norman played the hole conservative, reaching the fringe on two, with a chance for birdie. Meanwhile, Mize was left with an incredibly difficult chip shot from about 140 feet away. With a water hazard just past a fast sloping green, an overhit would put the ball into the drink, and snuff out any chance for Mize. But Mize came through with an unbelievable shot that somehow found the hole for an incredible birdie. Norman two-putted and Mize won his only major.

Tiger Destroys The Field (1997)

Everyone knew of the phenom known as Tiger Woods, but few actually saw what was coming in 1997. The 21-year-old sensation turned pro in late 1996, and dazzled galleries with his incredible shot-making and youthful enthusiasm. But it was 1997 when Tiger announced to the world that he arrived. In his first major as a professional, Tiger dominated the field by completely tearing up Augusta National like no one has ever done before. After shooting an opening round 2-under 70, Tiger took over the tournament in the second round, firing a 6-under 66, to take a three shot lead over Colin Montgomerie. Tiger extended his lead to nine shots after the third round, after carding a 7-under 65. Tiger let up in the final round a wee bit, shooting a 3-under 69, but still left everyone in the dust, scoring an overall 270, 12 shots better than his nearest competitor, Tom Kite. Woods was -18 for the tournament, breaking the previous record by one shot over Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd. His margin of victory was the widest in history. Tiger was also the youngest player to win the Masters and the first non-white player to don the Green Jacket. A truly impressive performance.

Mickleson’s First Major (2004)

The term “best player to never win a major” had been stuck on Phil Mickelson for the last several years. Despite winning 22 PGA tournaments dating back to 1991, Mickelson had yet to taste the glory of winning a major. Not that he didn’t come close. Mickelson finished in the top 3 in 8 previous majors, prior to the 2004 Masters. This included three consecutive third place finishes in the last three Masters tournaments. After opening with an even par 72, Mickelson started to find his game in the second round, firing a 3-under 69, to put himself three shot behind leader Justin Rose. The third round saw Rose collapse, as he shot a 9-over 81, to fall out of contention. Mickelson remained steady, scoring a 3-under 69 to take a share of the lead with Chris DiMarco, heading into the final round. All the pressure was on Mickelson to finally come through in a major tournament. The final round saw Mickelson duel with Ernie Els for the green jacket. On the final hole, Mickelson was tied with Els, who was already in the clubhouse after posting a four-round total of -8 280. Mickelson’s approach shot on the 18th landed 15 feet from the hole. Mickelson stepped up, and sank the birdie to finally win an elusive major. The gallery erupted as Mickelson jumped for joy in celebration. It will go down as one of the most memorable putts in Masters history.

Tiger’s Chip For The Ages (2005)

Even though the 2005 Masters ended in a playoff, with Tiger Woods winning his fourth Green Jacket with a birdie on the first playoff hole, it is the 16th hole that provided the most drama, and the shot of the tournament. Tiger was duelling with Chris DiMarco on the final day at Augusta, as Tiger led by one shot heading to the 16th. With rain slowing play on the first three days, the greens weren’t as fast, thus making the holes somewhat easier. Still, Augusta has its charms and it can play tricks at any moment. Tiger’s tee shot on 16 was proof, as he sent the ball way to the right and off the green. DiMarco was sitting on the centre of the green, with a shot at birdie. With the hole placed near the bottom of the sloping green, Tiger knew he had to aim for the top of the slope, and hope the ball would roll generously near the pin, without going into the water. Tiger did better than that, hitting a delicate chip that rolled beautifully down the slope and stopped at the lip of the cup. After a few seconds, the ball finally dropped in for a dramatic birdie. DiMarco missed his birdie putt, and Tiger led by two. But back-to-back bogeys on 17 & 18 by Tiger forced the playoff, which he recovered and won the tournament.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

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The Worst Teams Of All Time Part 46. The 1988 Baltimore Orioles

This series of articles will celebrate (or laugh at) some of the worst professional sports teams of all time. I will focus on teams within my lifetime so expect the worst from the 1970s to present day.

Baltimore Orioles

In blackjack, 21 is a good number. If somehow, you are dealt an ace and a face card or a ten, you win! Plain and simple. If you’re dealt a 21 in Las Vegas, you’ll hit the jackpot. But in 1988, 21 was a bad number for the Baltimore Orioles.

This SI cover says it all.

This SI cover says it all.

To start the 1988 season, the Orioles lost 21 consecutive games. In other words, the Orioles needed 22 games before finally recording their first win of the season. It went downhill early and it never went uphill for the rest of the year.

The warning signs were there at the close of the 1987 season, where the Orioles finished that campaign with a 7-22 record for the month of September. That poor finish, dropped the O’s to a 67-95 record for the season, their worst record in 80 years.

Then along came 1988. Usually when the season begins, hope springs eternal for all teams. The Orioles hopes died a fast, yet painful death in 1988. After losing their first six games, the Orioles fired manager Cal Ripken Sr. and replaced him with Frank Robinson. It didn’t help. The Orioles lost their next 15 games, to start the season 0-21, the worst start in Major League Baseball history. After snapping their 21-game disaster with a convincing 9-0 rout of the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles went about their losing ways for the rest of the season, bottoming out with a 54-107 mark, 34.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Orioles were so bad, they finished 23.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians, who were nearest to them in the standings.

The Orioles were last in hitting, batting .238 as a team for the season. The Orioles were last in pitching, as the staff combined for a 4.54 ERA, while surrendering 789 runs, the most in baseball. (An average of 4.87 runs allowed per game.)

Mike Boddicker was a decent pitcher on a bad team.

Mike Boddicker was a decent pitcher on a bad team.

Mike Boddicker went into the season as the ace of the staff, but was traded to Boston at the trade deadline. The 1983 ALCS MVP, didn’t get the run support in Baltimore, going 6-12 with a team low 3.86 ERA. Despite not playing the final two months of the season for the O’s, Boddicker led the team with 100 strikeouts.

Jeff Ballard pitched like Harold Ballard at times. Not a good thing.

Jeff Ballard pitched like Harold Ballard at times. Not a good thing.

Jeff Ballard led the team with 8 wins, but also had an ERA of 4.40. The crafty left-hander only had a few moments of glory, in a season filled with no glory for the Orioles.

Jose Bautista the pitcher was similar to Jose Bautista the hitter. They share the same name and both were responsible for plenty of home runs.

Jose Bautista the pitcher was similar to Jose Bautista the hitter. They share the same name and both were responsible for plenty of home runs.

Jose Bautista was supposed to be the future of the rotation, but 1988 completely destroyed his confidence. A 6-15 record with a 4.30 ERA will do that to a young pitcher. Bautista surrendered 21 home runs, the most on the Orioles rotation. He served up so many gopher balls, Bill Murray was called upon to blow them up to protect Memorial Stadium.

A rare photo of Curt Schilling in an Orioles jersey. He would have better days in other uniforms.

A rare photo of Curt Schilling in an Orioles jersey. He would have better days in other uniforms.

The Orioles poor record did allow them to use young players to gain experience. One of the those players was Curt Schilling, who made his Major League Baseball debut on September 7, 1988, ironically against the Boston Red Sox. Schilling earned a no-decision as the Orioles surprisingly won 4-3. It was the only bright moment for the future superstar in 1988. Schilling went 0-3 with an astronomical 9.82 ERA in 4 starts with O’s. It would get better for him in later years.

Tom Niedenfuer needed to blow fewer saves in 1988.

Tom Niedenfuer needed to blow fewer saves in 1988.

The bullpen had its issues as well. Tom Niedenfuer led the team with 18 saves, but led the team with 5 blown saves. Granted, the former Dodgers closer didn’t have many opportunities to save games.

Mark Williamson was very willing to let opposing hitters, tee off on him.

Mark Williamson was very willing to let opposing hitters, tee off on him.

Mark Williamson did record 2 saves, but had a bloated 4.90 ERA, while surrendering 14 home runs. He provided as much relief as a tampered Tylenol bottle.

Dave Schmidt was the best out of the bullpen, but that's not saying much.

Dave Schmidt was the best out of the bullpen, but that’s not saying much.

Dave Schmidt should be congratulated for achieving a rare feat, having a winning record on this team. Schmidt went 8-5 with a 3.40 ERA while recording 2 saves. The one problem was that Schmidt gave up 14 home runs. Imagine if he learned to stop throwing beach balls. He could have been good.

The everyday lineup wasn’t that shabby in Baltimore. Future Hall of Famers such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray were in the everyday lineup, while the like of Fred Lynn and Mickey Tettleton were starters on this team. On paper, that’s four players who are very solid to outstanding big league players. But it didn’t work out on the field.

Cal Ripken is one of the best ever. But 1988 is a year he would rather forget.

Cal Ripken is one of the best ever. But 1988 is a year he would rather forget.

Ripken did put up solid numbers, batting .264 with 23 home runs and 81 RBIs. However, it was his fielding that was an issue. Ripken committed 21 errors which led the team. The good news for Oriole fans is that Ripken worked on his game in the field, and became a Gold Glove shortstop in 1992.

Eddie Murray was glad to leave Baltimore after the 1988 season.

Eddie Murray was glad to leave Baltimore after the 1988 season.

Murray did lead the team with 28 home runs and 84 RBIs, but was starting to become a liability at first base, where he committed 11 errors. The Orioles were gradually using Murray as a designated hitter, a role that Murray would play for the balance of his career.

The SI cover jinx hit Fred Lynn three years later. (Note, the cover is from 1985.)

The SI cover jinx hit Fred Lynn three years later. (Note, the cover is from 1985.)

Lynn was on downside of his career, but managed to belt 18 home runs and 37 RBIs, before being dealt to Detroit for the September stretch drive.

Mickey Tettleton struggled in 1988, but did go on to have a productive MLB career.

Mickey Tettleton struggled in 1988, but did go on to have a productive MLB career.

Tettleton came over from the Oakland Athletics via free agency, but struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Appearing in only 86 games. Tettleton did swat 11 home runs while driving in 37 runs.

Billy Ripken is the Ripken everyone forgets. With good reason I might add.

Billy Ripken is the Ripken everyone forgets. With good reason I might add.

No player though, had higher hopes than Billy Ripken. The younger brother of Cal Jr. and son of Cal Sr. was called up late in the 1987 season, and impressed management by batting .308 in 53 games. But 1988 was a completely different story. Billy won the job as the everyday second baseman, but he either forgot how to hit, or he couldn’t handle the pressure. In 150 games, Ripken’s average sunk to a mere .207, adding only 2 home runs and 34 RBIs. His fielding wasn’t much better, as Ripken committed 12 errors at second base. He soon faded away, once people realized he wasn’t even close to being as good as his brother.

The 21-game losing streak was the obvious low point, but opening day was the sign that this season was going to be a disaster. The Orioles were shelled 12-0 by the Milwaukee Brewers, which began the nightmare that never seemed to end. In fact, the Orioles should have just forfeited the season from that point.

But things turned around the next season. The Orioles were the most improved team in baseball in 1989, going 87-75, finishing in second place in the American League East. In fact, they had a chance to win the division on the final weekend of the season, but lost two out of three games to the division winning Toronto Blue Jays.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

 

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Manchester United vs Bayern Munich Preview

UEFA Champions League

Two of the most glamorous teams in Europe will clash in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. Manchester United and Bayern Munich have a rich history of success, as well as memorable meetings between the two sides.

However, both teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. Manchester United have struggled in the English Premier League, sitting in 7th place in the table. If that position holds, the Red Devils would not qualify for European Football on any level for the first time since 1989.

Bayern Munich, on the other hand, have already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, with a record seven games to spare. Die Roten could pull off a second straight treble, as they are in the semifinals of the DFB-Pokal (The German Cup) as well as gunning for their second straight Champions League title.

The history is well documented. United defeated Bayern 2-1 in a thrilling final in 1999, as goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in injury time gave United the title.

Bayern gained their revenge in 2001, eliminating United in the quarterfinals, winning both legs to boot. They met again in 2002 in the second group stage, with both games ending in a draw.

 

Bayern eliminated United in the 2010 quarterfinals on away goals, with the decisive strike coming off  a superb volley from Arjen Robben.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola

There is no secret to how Pep Guardiola’s side will align. Bayern is consistent with the 4-2-3-1 formation, and why not. This has been extremely successful for the German powerhouse.

David Alaba

David Alaba

With Dante serving a one match suspension, expect David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and Rafinha to form the back four. A sturdy quartet that can control opposing attacks, while pushing the ball forward to their midfielders, Bayern’s defenders are a solid foursome that won’t make mistakes.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bayern will miss Thiago Alcantara, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. This will necessitate the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger in a holding midfield position. This isn’t a bad thing for Bayern. Schweinsteiger might be the best holding midfielder in the world, which speaks on the depth this Bayern Munich side has. Philipp Lahm will move up to a holding midfielder spot, to compensate for Alcantara’s absence. If anyone can adjust from defender to midfield, it is Lahm.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben

A solid trio of attacking midfielders will give United fits. Robben, Franck Ribery and either Thomas Muller or Toni Kroos are deadly on the attack. Ribery is the talismanic figure, Robben brings pace along the flank while Robben and Kroos are the finishing specialists. Guardiola has the option of going with a 4-3-3 formation that would move Robben and Muller to forward if he desires. The options are plentiful for this Bayern side.

Mario Mandzukic

Mario Mandzukic is a force as the striker for Bayern. Whether he is a lone striker, or joined by his teammates Mandzukic is a force that will cause defenders headaches throughout. Claudio Pizzaro could be used as a substitute if needed.

Manuel Neuer.

Manuel Neuer.

Manuel Neuer usually isn’t that busy, as his teammates usually control possession. But he is reliable when called upon, and is excellent at distributing the ball to his defenders and midfielders.

David Moyes

David Moyes

United manager David Moyes has taken plenty of criticism about his lineup decisions. Whether it be using the wrong formations, or incorrect substitutions,  the overwhelmed United boss has taken plenty of heat from United’s supporters.

Moyes favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that just matches up with Bayern. If Moyes wants to make his mark, a 3-5-2 lineup could be the way to go.

Nemanja Vidic

Nemanja Vidic

The back will be without Patrice Evra, who is serving a one-game ban. Rafael and Antonio Valencia are both battling injuries and if they are not fit, it would leave a gaping hole at right back. United will most likely go with Nemanja Vidic in a centre back role with Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jones occupying the wing-backs. Alexander Buttner could see pitch time as a fourth defender but he is a step down in quality from Evra and Valencia in particular. United also won’t have Johnny Evans and Chris Smalling in the lineup due to injuries.

Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick is a solid holding midfielder, but he will be under considerable pressure from Bayern’s imposing attacking midfielders. United could go with Marouane Fellini or Tom Cleverley in a defensive midfield spot, even though Cleverley has had a dismal season. Juan Mata would have been a better option, but he is unavailable due to European restrictions.

Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa

Shinji Kagawa has been a disappointment since United brought him over from Borussia Dortmund, but his familiarity with Bayern Munich could see him in the starting eleven. Danny Welbeck does have 10 goals in all competitions and should see the pitch against Bayern. Ashley Young has had a disappointing season, but he may be forced in due to a lack of depth. Ryan Giggs is another possibility but one wonders if his 40-year-old body can handle the stress.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney

The one certainty is United’s lineup is Wayne Rooney. There is no doubt that Rooney has been United’s best player this season. His 17 goals in all competitions has been a bright spot, in an otherwise lost season at Old Trafford. Robin Van Persie will be greatly missed, as his knee injury will keep him sidelined for the next six weeks. There is talk the Van Persie will sit out the rest of the season, so he can be healthy for the World Cup. Javier Hernandez is an option at forward, but has struggled trying to find a place in Moyes lineup.

David de Gea

David de Gea

David de Gea has been a dependable keeper, but he has been overworked. The Spanish International was superb in the second leg against Olympiakos, making some brilliant saves to keep United’s hope alive. The pressure will be intense on de Gea, who will have to be on top of his game for United to have any hope.

Prediction:

This was a brilliant matchup in 2010, but the two clubs are going in different directions. That said, there is hope for United. In 2005, Liverpool were having a troubling season in the English Premier League, but played brilliantly in Europe, which led the Reds to a Champions League title. In 2012, Chelsea finished sixth in the Premiership, but had a fantastic run in Europe, which ended with their first Champions League title. So not all hope is lost with United. That said, this is Bayern’s tie to lose. The Bundesliga champions have more depth, and have more quality across the board than United. The Red Devils will need a strong performance in the first leg at Old Trafford to have any chance. But Bayern have been excellent when travelling to England, scoring victories over Manchester City at Etihad Stadium, and Arsenal at the Emirates. It won’t be a blowout, but Bayern Munich wins comfortably, and will advance to the semifinals.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973

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