Imagine a group of cyclists grouped together for a race up a steep mountain incline. They leave on the gun, and it becomes immediately clear that some of them aren't conditioned for this kind of strain. Their legs cramp, their chests pound, their bikes begin to wobble, and they pull off to collapse on the side of the road. Others continue, showing better form, but the problem is that the ascent never stops. If anything, the climb seems to become steeper, more painful. The amateur riders drop out for lack of experience. The former legends, past their peak, swallow their pride and quit. Some take calculated risks and waste valuable energy. Some hit a patch of oil or dirt and swerve into the ground. Some look at the mountain, and the size of the task unnerves them. They all falter.
Now imagine the climb has no end. Imagine the race continues until all but the last weary rider has resigned himself to the mountain, and you have a framework for understanding the 2013 U.S. Open.
In case you were busy giving it just one more try in Lep's World 2, seriously, just one more, GODDAMNIT, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Overcoming a fearsome Merion course, Justin Rose secured his first major win, finishing the U.S. Open at 1-over and relegating Phil Mickelson to yet another second-place finish at the country's most challenging golf tournament. Mickelson, visibly disappointed by his finish, found himself alone at the driving range hours after the tournament, well after the sun had set. He was hitting ball after ball, trying to find the swing he would need to finally vanquish the tournament that had haunted him throughout his otherwise storied career. Suddenly, an ethereal figure emerged from the darkness, walking toward Mickelson's tee box. Mickelson shouted down the range, "Who's that? I coulda killed you out there." The ethereal figure calmly replied, "No sir. I set myself directly in front of you. Judging by how's you was hitting them balls I figured that's how I'd be out of harm's way." Mickelson then replied, "I was hitting fades," and ripped a drive right into the ethereal man's forehead, instantly knocking him unconscious, before saying under his breath, "Coulda used you on the putting green, motherfucker."
Behind another big game from Danny Green, the San Antonio Spurs grabbed a critical NBA Finals win over the Miami Heat, 114-104, and will head back to Miami for the final two games with a 3-2 series advantage. Noted Frenchman Boris Diaw, another key cog in the Spurs' win by effectively neutralizing LeBron James in limited minutes, said after the game, "To me, defense is not a denial, so much as it is an affirmation. There are baskets that have not yet been made, and never shall be, and my artistry comes about in their non-manifestation. Right now, I make art. As no one is making a basket. Also now. And now. And now. But not now, for on the streets of Roanoke, in the moment I said the word now, a young boy made his very first basket. And my artistry was denied as I was unable to stop it. But right now. Then, that now? That was art." Diaw then smiled smugly, before pulling a lit Gauloise out of Kawhi Leonard's nostril.
In case you were busy camping out at Man of Steel so you could see the new Elysium trailer, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Dwyane Wade turned in a vintage performance as the Miami Heat evened the NBA Finals at two games apiece with a 109-93 win over the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs' lackluster second-half effort was highlighted by the poor play of reserve guard Manu Ginobili, who was held to five overall points while the Spurs were outscored by 22 in his 26 minutes on the court. I think the performance raises the question: Can Manu win the big one? For a player of his skill level, Manu sure had a habit of disappearing last night. I say Ginobili's me-first running and gunning has officially gone too far. When will Manu develop a consistent post game, to use his physique to dominate inside? If Manu Ginobili is the supposed best sixth man in the NBA, how come he can't match Michael Jordan's six rings? And let's face it, sixth man? When will Ginobili put Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in his place and demand to be in the starting five? I think we can all agree: It's time for Manu to Man-up.
Phil Mickelson began the U.S. Open with a 67, taking the clubhouse lead after a rain-shortened first round at Merion. "It's exciting to be back out in front at the U.S. Open," Mickelson said, grinning broadly, "and I just can't wait until I finish second." As Mickelson finished speaking his smile cracked, and his eyes started tracking back and forth quickly. His lips were moving, yet the words he was speaking were difficult to make out. Looking closely, it appeared that Mickelson was listing years and names: "1999, Payne Stewart; 2002, Tiger Woods; 2004, Retief Goosen; 2006, Geoff Ogilvy; 2009, Lucas Glover." When he finished repeating his litany five times, his eyes snapped back into the center of his face and his smile returned. "Yup, second place at the U.S. Open. Again. Can't wait."
It's June, which means two things. First, the U.S. Open. Hooray! Second, and exclusive to our tiny corner of the Internet, the second of Grantland's monthly golf power rankings. Smaller hooray! The U.S. Open — so named because anyone can qualify, from the lowliest American amateur to the highliest Tiger Woods — is truly the People's tournament. And I like to think that these are truly the People's power rankings (though Karl Marx does a pretty good job with his). It's a match made in People's heaven.
The good news is that the 2013 U.S. Open is shaping up to be a really compelling test of golfer vs. course. Here's why: Merion Golf Club is one of the shortest courses to host the tournament, and while it played tough in 1981 (just five golfers under par) and 1971 (no golfers under par), that was before the young guns changed the game. Players today can bomb their drives more than 300 yards without blinking, and it has the side effect of making older, shorter courses look like pitch-and-putts. At Merion, we're dealing with a situation where four (!) par-4 holes are reachable by driver for the longest players, and reporters are asking questions like, "Will someone shoot a 62?" Nobody gives the course any respect. It's been raining in Pennsylvania for the past week, meaning the fairways and greens will hold wayward shots, and the players' jobs will be made even easier. Then again, only two players (Tiger and Rory — who else?) have ever finished -10 or better for an entire U.S. Open, so let's not count out Merion quite yet. The USGA has a way of creating difficult holes from scratch; no Augusta Nationals here, thank you very much.
One of the reasons I've learned to love the ordinary, mundane events on the PGA Tour — after spending the bulk of my life focused solely on the big ones — is how the drama of a single Sunday can permanently change a person's life.
We're used to thinking of golfers as privileged blue bloods, and it's easy to forget that outside the top 125 in America and Europe, the professional landscape is full of aspirants who grind it out on minor tours, suffer through qualifying school, and generally live week-to-week (often in their own cars) hoping for a shot at the big time. For the overwhelming majority, that shot never comes. Even the ones who get their chance usually fail to capitalize, and the opportunity recedes into the past to become a tortured memory of what might have been.
The great thing about the opening Thursday and Friday of the Masters is the existence of pure possibility. When you look at the leaderboard, you can ignore the unpleasant fact that someone named Marc Leishman is in the hunt with Dustin Johnson — one of golf's most boring humans and the darkness to Ben Crane's shimmering light — and let your mind run away with fantasies of what could happen over the weekend.
"Holy shit," you might say, "it's shaping up for a Sunday duel between Sergio and Freddy Couples!"
And while that may not be the most likely outcome, nobody can prove you wrong. The future spreads out before you, like a beautiful par 5 just waiting to be eagled. Nothing is off the table. So let's do this. Let's allow our minds to roam over the wild terrain of potential and find the 10 best possible stories that could maybe almost possibly materialize at Augusta.
Super Bowl XLVII was also the final game for one of the legends of an era, Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who has seen his share of controversy throughout his career, left the stage with his trademark piety, saying, "Man, I didn't play well enough for us to win, but the team and God really picked me up. Haven't gotten away with anything like that in a loooooong time." Lewis then winked, pointed to the sky, and said, "I owe you one, big guy!" God responded, "Dude owes me more than one. Way more. Man, sometimes I have no idea why I keep bailing him out. But we go way back. I dunno, Pete is telling me to cut him off, but then I see those big sweet eyes, and I just can't help myself."
Yesterday was the first round of the PGA's Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, and Phil Mickelson tore the course to pieces. It started with a bang: four straight birdies, two pars, and then three more birdies for a 29 on the front. When he birdied three of the next four holes, he needed just two more to go -12 on the day, which would put him dead on that legendary number ...
In official PGA events, a 59 has happened just five times. The most famous was David Duval's in 1999, when he looked poised to challenge Tiger Woods for control of the golf world and left a trail of scorched earth at the Bob Hope Classic. Most recently, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby did it in 2010 (Appleby's was on a par-70 course, making it just slightly less legendary). It's an exclusive club, and if you shoot 59, you're in the history books for good.
In case you were busy setting all the clocks in your house back an hour as part of an ill-conceived "February Fools" prank, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
After missing birdie putts on the last two holes he played, Phil Mickelson finished with a 60 in the opening round of the Phoenix Open, one stroke off of the PGA record for the lowest score in a single round. "I'm not thinking about those two putts," a haggard Mickelson said 12 years from now, panhandling outside of a Piggly Wiggly's in West Memphis, Arkansas, a broken shell of his former self. "But, man, they were both so close. I bet things would be different if one of those bad boys fell. But no, I'm not thinking about them. Hey, you got some teeth I could borrow?"
Norm Macdonald made two big New Year's resolutions. One was to start writing pieces for Grantland. The other is going to be revealed on Friday in his second piece for us. Today, he shares his thoughts on the 2013 PGA season.
2012, the golden year of golf, began with Phil.
Lefty beat Tiger by nine strokes on the final day at Pebble, winning his 40th PGA title. Eight weeks later, it was looking to be Phil’s year, as he was in the Ultimate Game on the final day of the Masters. But it all came apart when Phil carded a triple at the par-3 fourth, with the victory eventually going to another southpaw, the guy everybody loves to love, Bubba. Even Billy Payne looked happy to be presenting the green jacket to a man who had just cried like a woman.
At the Open, Ernie Els only led once and it was an hour after his last putt. He felt kinda bad about it. Adam Scott felt kinda worse.
Tiger, reinventing his game yet again, served notice that he was keeping the wolves of irrelevancy at bay by winning a sort of Legends Slam: first Arnie’s tourney, then Jack's and finally his own.
The list of things I love about the Ryder Cup is so long that it could fill a (tedious) novel, and golf fans can probably guess most of them. But if I had to narrow that list down to one abstract thought well, I'd probably say that even though I enjoy competitive pressure and believe that I'd be a total gamer if destiny had made me a pro athlete instead of a human tree trunk, I know — I know — I'd fold like an accordion at the Ryder Cup.
It's just too intense. The innate pressure of golf, the way it punishes even a slight error, is compounded in the Ryder Cup by the responsibility each player has to his team, and country. I've been watching the event since I was young, and I associate those weekends with a feeling of nausea and dread. Disaster waits with every shot. Top players, like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. The code of politeness between players is shelved for three days, replaced by cruel stare-downs and gamesmanship and cutting remarks. The captains obsess over strategies, broad and minute, then watch helplessly from golf carts as everything spins out of their control. The spectators, usually so staid and proper at golf tournaments, are boisterously singing, vicious, and drunk.
In short, it's the greatest damn event in sports. And the 2012 edition begins today.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points and Thabo Sefolosha nabbed six steals as the Thunder dealt the Spurs their first loss of the postseason, 102-82. "Tim's pretty upset at the weakening Euro, and the fact that the poor countries face default as resources flow to the EU's most prosperous countries," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich of star center Tim Duncan. "He feels like he can trace the ripple effect directly to our economy. In fact, he did. He traced it in a really complex flow chart on the locker room whiteboard. Pretty impressive, actually. But my point is, we lacked focus out there."
Two moments from this weekend's Masters, courtesy of Phil Mickelson:
1. On the 15th hole Saturday, a reachable par-5, Mickelson's second shot hit the green and rolled off the edge into a valley. It wasn't a great place to be, especially with the pin on the left side of the green near the water. The camera caught him rubbing his head beneath his KPMG visor and slumping his shoulders in that desperate deflated posture Mickelson embodies so well. But when he reached the ball, the gears in his gambler brain started turning. It's easy to spot, because his eyes get bigger and bigger.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Jeremy Lin had 28 points and 14 assists, and his teammate Steve Novak scored 14 fourth-quarter points as the Knicks beat the defending champion Dallas Mavericks 104-97. Hey-oh, looks like we need to hand out some Novak-olades, am I right?! Come on, let's spread it around! Novak-olades! The next big thing. It's going to be great, we just have to get Novak-climated! Wait, where's everyone going? Are we Novak-uating? Mom? Dad?
Kobe Bryant ripped Lakers management for the way they've handled the potential Pau Gasol trade, saying: "If they're going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it." Bryant added that he felt the same way about war with China. "Let's get it on!" he shouted crazily.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
Phil Mickelson out-dueled Tiger Woods by 11 shots in the final round to win the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. At the press conference, an angry Woods said that the only reason Mickelson beat him is that he was able to stabilize his putter by nestling it between his ample breasts.
The Yankees are in trade talks with the Pirates that may involve sending A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh. It turns out the Yankees are on the lookout for a DH and a few young prospects, while the Pirates need someone who can belch redneck anthems and get arrested for cooking meth in a motel bathtub.