After the high drama of Sergio vs. Tiger last weekend, producing the best Players Championship ratings in more than a decade, we were probably due for something a bit less energetic. But as a fisherman would say, a calm surface can disguise a roiling storm below,* and despite a tranquil veneer, the golf world was alive and stirring this weekend.
*It's not clear that fishermen actually say this or that the phenomenon of subsurface storms is a real thing.
Here are five things that happened this weekend that might interest YOU, the Grantland reader:
And we are BACK, with your all-purpose* guide to the weekend in MLB action.
*Single-purpose, really. It's super limited in function. You can only read it.
10. no. 2 UNC vs. no. 3 Virginia (Friday, 8 p.m. and Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN3)
Whoa! Super controversial start! Who is this guy? He must think way outside the box to be including a college baseball game in a post specifically dedicated to MLB. What a challenging artistic choice! I imagine people will have split reactions, but it'll definitely get them talking!
OK, this is here because college baseball gets zero attention, and this is a great series. UNC is 46-7 and UVA is 44-8. Both teams have gaudy statistics; the lowest batting average among UNC's top nine hitters is .278, while the Cavs aren't far behind. But the real attraction here is Carolina's pitching staff, which boasts a 2.50 ERA. Benton Moss and Hobbs Johnson are the starters for the weekend, and we could see both in the bigs someday soon. Anyway, if you're ever going to watch a college baseball game before the College World Series, this is a good start. And I swear, the fact that I'll be at one or both games has nothing to do with why I included it here. (Lies.)
At the end of Andrew Wiggins's signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, a good chunk of the college basketball world felt deprived. Fans of Kentucky, Florida State, and North Carolina were chief among them, their hopes dashed when the no. 1 recruit chose Kansas instead. It wasn't a great day for devotees of garish self-indulgence, either; Wiggins spoke briefly, without theatrics, and allowed just one local newspaper reporter to attend the actual announcement. He didn't even have multiple hats spread out before him, awaiting his benediction! That's like having a dance without music, or a Jim Boeheim press conference without passive-aggressive behavior. If you were hoping for this year's Tony Parker, you were disappointed.
Note 1: The local reporter in question, Grant Traylor of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, watched his Twitter followers balloon from fewer than 2,000 on Sunday night to just above 17,000 Tuesday at noon, and fall back down to 11,000 by 4 p.m. When I checked today, he was down to 9,197, but he at least has a sense of humor about the whole thing. Here's his feature on the event.
Note 2: If I ever have to make a recruiting announcement — and it seems like maybe I won't, at this point — I'd stage a choreographed production where I dance with five ladies decked out in spangled attire representing each school. It would last 40 minutes, with two intermissions because I'm out of shape, and at the end I'd be left with just one girl as confetti rained down from the rafters in the colors of whichever school I chose. Then I'd step forward, grab a microphone, and say, "Just kidding, I'm going to Duke." And then I'd dance with Coach K, if he was around and up for it. (And with a hyperrealistic Coach K doll if he was not.)
Fantasies aside, here's everything you need to know about the announcement, the reactions, and what it all means.
The Players Championship starts today, which means it's time to unveil the Sport of Golf Power Rankings, a new feature for The Triangle. If you're new to the game, the Players Championship is often called "the fifth major," and tends to draw one of the strongest fields of the year. The island green on no. 17 at TPC Sawgrass might be the single most famous hole in American golf (even though it's not really an island shhh!), and it's a verified drama magnet that rarely fails to produce an excellent finish.
So who will conquer Sawgrass, rule the island, and hold the Players Championship trophy? These are the 15 best golfers of 2013, judged on wins, earnings, the "hot" factor (recent results, guys! Grow up!), and yes, a little bit of history and reputation. We start with an honorable mention:
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.
Here we are, another Friday. Another week without accomplishing our dreams. Unless your dream is watching baseball games on May 3–5, 2013, in which case I am your guardian angel, lifting you by the underarms and carrying you to self-actualization. Here are the top 10 things happening this weekend in American stickball.
Let's set the scene: Billy Horschel is 26 years old and has never won on the PGA Tour. He's been to qualifying school four times, passed the test three times, but is at that stage of his career when he's at risk of becoming the equivalent of a career Triple-A baseball player. He's starting to put it together in 2013, though. The last month has been particularly impressive, with three top-10s in a row and a second-place finish at the Shell Houston Open.
So here he is at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, starting Sunday's round two shots off the lead. It starts off with four pars, and then there's a weather delay that lasts nearly three hours. When he returns to the course, he gets hot — really, really hot. Six-birdies-in-a-row hot, and suddenly he's in the lead. He takes it all the way to 18 — one shot up on D.A. Points, the man who beat him in Houston — where he hits his drive in the left rough. And then?
You all know me as a teller of truths, and I won't let you down now: This is a weird weekend, and it was hard to find 10 truly compelling story lines. Instead, for this weekend only, I've picked out the top five story lines and mixed them in with five story lines of pure fiction. If you can pick out the real from the fake, then you are a true baseball fan. Get out your magnifying glasses and deerstalker hats, because things are about to get mysterious.
10. Central Affairs (PIT-STL)
With their strong starts, the Pirates and Cardinals are in a battle at the top of the NL Central. The Pirates will almost certainly fade, as they've done for the past 36 years (rough estimate), but it's always fun to read about the excitement in Pittsburgh when they're four games over .500 roughly 1/10th of the way into the season. Despite a 1-2 record, A.J. Burnett is having himself a year for the Bucs, with a 2.79 ERA and a really impressive 13.03 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. On Saturday he'll meet Jake Westbrook, who's off to his own impressive beginning, with a 1.25 ERA after three starts. What will likely happen here is that both players will walk 10 batters, strike out 11, and the game will end 7-6, Cardinals.
The news came out Tuesday that college football's new four-team playoff system will be called "College Football Playoff." It's a safe choice for the BCS, which decided to play it simple. But the decision came at the end of a lengthy debate, and this morning Grantland received a sheet of paper from a BCS source with a handwritten list of 50 names it considered and ultimately rejected. Some of them are predictably masculine, some are cynical attempts to play off pop culture phenomenons, and some are just bizarre. Throughout, you'll notice a strange fixation on Nick Saban. In a few cases, clarifying parenthetical notes accompany the names. We now present the unedited list:
On Friday, April 12, the Yankees beat the Orioles, 5-2. New York and Baltimore play each other 19 times this year, and that was the first matchup of the season. In what has become a frustrating annual tradition, it was also my first experience in 2013 with the North Carolina baseball blackout. I live in Chapel Hill and could not watch the game on either the MLB Extra Innings package or Time Warner Cable, the provider with a near-monopoly in my area. I was caught in a catch-22 that has become all too familiar for baseball fans.
We're back for 2013, and my only hope is that this is the year we finally have a quadruple play. It's been so long. And with that wish in our hearts, here are the top 10 stories/players/matchups heading into the weekend.
10. The Weird Constant Interleague Series (LAD-BAL)
Now that the Astros have betrayed and abandoned the National League and joined the AL Central (that's how it went down, right?), there are 15 teams in each league instead of the previous 16-14 split. That means on any given Friday, there will be seven NL games, seven AL games, and one crazy, weird, fun interleague series. This weekend, it's Dodgers-Orioles in what I'm calling "The Battle Between Yankees Envy Past and Yankees Envy Present." Kind of a long name, but you get the point. Both teams are off to mediocre starts and looking to string a few wins together.
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.
When Kevin Ware went down with a broken leg in Louisville's Elite Eight win over Duke, most of his teammates reacted with varying degrees of shock. There was, of course, the immediate cringing; it was a gruesome injury, and the grimaces and recoils only made sense. Soon, others were crying. But after turning his head with everyone else at the sight of the snapped bone, Luke Hancock was the one who came to Ware's side and gripped his hand. He said a prayer, guided him through the initial trauma, and stayed with him on the floor while the medical staff worked. It was because of Hancock, at least in part, that Ware overcame his initial horror and encouraged his teammates to keep playing, to win the game.
In the days leading up to Louisville's Final Four game against Wichita State, the question Hancock faced over and over was why he'd done it. Why did he have the presence of mind to react the way he did?
When he answered the question Friday in the Georgia Dome's media center, he probably could have recited a response from memory. He'd been the centerpiece of hundreds of stories for that one act, and was destined to be featured in a hundred more. Which is why it surprised me that his answer, simple as it was, still moved me.
If you live in ACC country and you follow college basketball, chances are you have some strong opinions about a man named Karl Hess. And chances are, those opinions are negative. Hess is a referee (the same way that Napoleon was in the military), one that was always destined for the grandest stages and the brightest lights. Karl Hess is notorious. Karl Hess is infamous. Karl Hess is KING.
His modus operandi is simple: stealing the spotlight in any and every game he officiates, and making blatantly awful calls in huge situations. His style is so controlling and aesthetically depressing that we're all compelled to notice the man in black and white. Now and again, he pulls off truly spectacular stunts. There was the incident in Raleigh, for instance, when he ejected N.C. State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the premises for heckling him. In that case, even the head of ACC officials admitted Hess was wrong. This year, Hess managed to line up UConn and Marquette facing the wrong direction at the start of overtime, incorrectly disallowing a UConn basket in a game Marquette would go on to win.
And then Hess (somehow) earned himself a Final Four assignment. When he took the court for Louisville–Wichita State, even I knew something amazing would happen. Cardinal fans were well aware of Hess's legend, having watched him give Rick Pitino a technical for yelling at his own player in the Elite Eight last season. The Shockers were less familiar, but that wouldn't last long.