Monday, July 24, 2006

Tiger's Emotional Day

Sunday Morning Eastern Standard Time, we saw the return of Tiger Woods to the realm of greatness as he fought off the attempts of his competitors to win the 2006 British Open. Tiger’s victory on Sunday marked several important occasions in his now 10 year career.

Perhaps the most import part of Sundays win was it marked an appropriate ending to one of the most emotional days I have ever witnessed in sporting history. As Tiger walked the last few holes of the back 9 at Royal Liverpool you could see and feel the emotion welling within him, but Tiger was not the only golfer vying for a championship on Sunday while carrying a heavy heart.

Tiger’s top competition for the British Open Championship did not come from the Hefty Lefty, The wonder kid Sergio, or Mr. Els; it was Chris DiMarco who remained hot on Wood’s trail throughout Sunday. What made this so special was DiMarco was carrying his own set of personal baggage as he took the course this past weekend. Chris DiMarco’s mother passed on July 4, 2006 suddenly while she was on vacation with her husband. This was a tremendous lost to DiMarco and now here he was trying to compose himself to march on and win a Major Championship less than a month later.

Chris DiMarco surrounded himself with family, flying his father and son over to join him in Liverpool England. Flanked by two generations of DiMarco’s Chris made a strong surge giving Tiger everything he could handle till the final two holes of the tournament. It took a 40 foot putt for birdie and 25 footer for par at 14 for DiMarco to remain on the pace, but he appeared ready for the challenge throughout the entire day. After completing his round DiMarco remarked that he could feel his mom watching over him and guiding him through the final round.

Chris DiMarco has no reason to he hang his head from his second place performance. After sinking a tremendous putt for par to pull within 1 stroke of Woods, Tiger went on a tear. Sinking Birdies on 14, 15, and 16, no shame in losing to that, it was just Tiger being Tiger, and there’s not much anyone can do with that. Unlike so many others Chris DiMarco did not wilt under the Tiger mystique but stayed strong and simply just did not have enough in the tank to keep up with Tiger.

Despite Chris DiMarco’s valiant effort the day belonged to Tiger Woods. Woods played a near flawless round, and a near flawless tournament for that mater. As he walked to the 18th green it was all said and done for Mr. Woods. Carrying a two stroke lead he had fought off the best attempts from DiMarco and simply needed to two putts to notch his third British Open Championship.

Yet this one would be far different from his previous championship runs. It had been a year since Tiger hoisted an Open trophy over his head. Tiger played the first two Majors of the 2006 season (The Masters and U.S. Open) with a heavy heart. In Augusta Tiger knew he was spending his last days with his father Earl Woods. At the U.S. Open he was trying to come back after the death of his mentor and best friend. Almost as if he was making a curtsey appearance rather than a serious attempt Tiger missed the cut at the 2006 U.S. Open. The first time he missed a cut in a Major Championship.

Tiger Woods needed to win the 2006 British Open. Not to keep on pace and catch Jack Nicholas and his records, but to put his career and life back in order. Tiger has taken plenty of criticism for the changes in his game over the past few months and he has never been one to take to criticism well (just ask the countless reporters he now shuns). His swing has been under attack for months now. Add to that a drought in the Majors including his poorest performance to date at the 2006 U.S. Finally top it off by the lost of his father and Tiger was reeling. He needed something to help him regain his focus to golf and re-establish himself as the dominate force that he is.

That’s exactly what Mr. Woods did on Sunday, and he did it in a unique fashion. Tiger put the driver away for the British Open and instead relied on his irons, approach shots and putting to dominate the field. Woods was first in fairways hit, second in greens in regulation. His precision on and around the greens could not be touched. Tiger managed to focus all his energy into the British Open. All the distractions, all the criticisms Tiger took and funneled them into a fury that no one could match on the golf course.

After sinking the final putt on 18 to clench the 2006 British Open Tiger raised his hands to the sky let out a yell before sub coming to the tears. As his caddie held him on the 18th green you could feel the emotions coming from him. Perhaps the most touching moment came as Tiger wept with his caddie and his wife in memory of his father, and at the clubhouse Chris DiMarco watched on with Mike Terrico. As DiMarco watched Tigers celebration you could see the emotion welling within him. At that time you could see that DiMarco felt every emotion that Tiger was feeling at that moment. Though there were not together at the time both men seemed to have a common bond and a shared moment. It was a cathartic experience for anyone who watched as these two warriors gave it their all, and shared a moment that even a person who has never seen a golf course could share.

Sunday was a day that reminded me of why I love sports. It’s not about the records or the championships but it’s about the stories. The moments where a fan can connect to an athlete they’ve never met and completely understand and feel what they are going through.

Thank you, Tiger Woods and Chris DiMarco for reminding all of us of what makes sports so special.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Concerned Cavalier Fan

With fall practice just a few weeks to say, I must admit that as the most opportunistic Cavalier fan you will find I am nervous about the upcoming season. The Virginia Cavaliers are at a major crossroads, and need to step up big in the 06 season or the future of Cavalier football may become very bleak.

The Hoos are entering the sixth year of Al Groh’s tenure as a head coach. During that time he has compiled a 37-26 record, not bad but not what fans bargained for when they the Virginia Alumni was brought back into the fold a few years ago. The Groh era has been interesting to say the lease with extreme highs and terrible lows. At the beginning Groh was the overachiever who won with a team that did not belong. Then he brought in two massive recruiting classes that produced many quality players for the NFL. Too bad they never really came through as colligate players wearing the Orange and Blue.

Entering the 2006 season all the top recruits are gone. The entire offensive line is in the pros. For the first time since arriving in Charlottesville Groh has to groom a new QB. In the past Groh has had the pleasure of have experience QB’s with gifted talents, Schaub and Hagans both made it to the NFL. Now it is Chris Olsen’s turn to step in and lead the attack. He will have a new backfield behind him. Michal Smith will attempt to finally live up to the hype he has carried for the past three seasons, and Jason Sneiling (perhaps the best player on the field) will pull double duty playing both FB and Tailback.

This is a scary prognosis on offense. UVA has suffered from an inept passing game even when they had talented QB’s. Now the QB’s are gone and the receivers have not improved. With no serious threat in the backfield (Lundy, Perman both in the pros) defenses will be able to load up people in the box and punish a young offensive line and dare the Cavs to throw the ball.

This is going to be a hard year for the Cavs, what makes it even more disheartening is the fact that Groh needs a big year. He has brought success to the Hoos, but with all the talent he has cycled through the program he has yet to yield the needed results. The Cavaliers routinely struggle against the top teams in the conference, with the exception of a win over FSU, UVA has not been competitive against the top teams (see last years Va Tech game). That gap between Virginia and the rest of the haves will continue to grow. This is unacceptable.

Groh was brought in to bring the Hoos to the next level, and he has yet to do that. This season will not be a step in the right direction and simply put that is a shame.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

German Soccer Coach Resigns

German soccer coach Juergen Klinsmann announced on Tuesday his resignation as head coach of the German national team. This announcement comes on the heels of Klinsmann leading the German squad to a third place finish in this year’s World Cup. However, the announcement does not come as a surprise, as speculation of Klinsmann resignation from his post have been rapid since the second round of the Cup.

Juergen Klinsmann was brought in to coach a German program that was in need of building two years ago. In that short time he was able to breathe new life into the stagnant team, and the results were born out with this years surprise performance in front of the home crowd.

What made Klinsmann so successful where his recent predecessors had failed was his approach to the game. Taking over the German program at 39 years of age he was a youthful face and he would bring youthful players into the program. Klinsmann went into the German development leagues to find the base for what would be his World Cup squad. What he came back with was a crop of young players who have earned exceptional international experience at a young age, and are already being called the favorites for the 2010 Cup. Young talents such as Philip Lahm and Lukas Podolski now have substantial international experience under their belts and they are not even 20 years old yet.

Another upgrade Klinsmann brought to the German program was a faster open style of play, that the Germans were able to show glimpses of throughout the Cup. Klinsmann had his players playing aggressive on offense pushing the ball down field, and trying to go over the top to find open attackers. This made the game more exciting and gave his team a chance to show off their newfound youth and athleticism on the wings and in the middle.

Finally Juergen Klinsmann brought an “American approach” to the game of soccer off the field to the German program. Klinsmann was very much in tune with the mental state of his players. Klinsmann brought relaxation techniques and a looseness to his team. A drastic change from the usual rigidity we find in German sports.

Now the question is what will Klinsmann do next? At 41 years old he still has plenty of years of coaching left in him. He is also currently the hottest manager in the world right now after leading his team deep into the Cup when many thought they would barely make it out of pool play.

The rumors are being circulated that Klinsmann could make a return to the U.S. and take over the United States team. After a terrible showing by the U.S. squad it is apparent that changes need to be made the most obvious of which is the removal of Bruce Arena as head coach. Klinsmann’s name has been mentioned in several circles.

Personally I think he would be a great fit and perfect choice for the U.S. Klinsmann has proven he knows how to win with young players who are on the cusp of becoming the world’s elite. The United States is full of players are at that level, and need the extra push and guidance to get them over the edge. A major problem with the U.S. team during the 06 Cup was the conservative play on offense and an apparent lack of enthusiasm or heart while playing. Klinsmann enjoys a faster paced game so that will play into the favor of many of the American players. More importantly anyone who watched Klinsmann coach during a match saw how intense and into the matches he was. When a player looks onto the sideline and sees their coach jumping up and down screaming with emotions and joy and anger, it has to invigorate that player and give them a charge to push a little bit harder. At least it should excite them more than watching there manager lean back with his arms folded over his head.

So I say Juergen Klinsmann you are welcome and we are ready for you take the U.S. team to the heights we thought were possible just a few months ago.