MASTERS MATTERS

Del Olaleye: It is sad that golf is begging for Tiger Woods to make the sport relevant again

Del Olaleye: It is sad that golf is begging for Tiger Woods to make the sport relevant again
The golf world is hoping Tiger is back. Masters.com

Golf has a problem and it isn’t a new one. The Masters is a couple of days away and the golf world is all abuzz about the possibility of their fallen hero winning again. That fallen hero being Tiger Woods. Tiger hasn’t won a damn thing since 2013 and it was a tournament named after tires. The last time Tiger won anything that any non golf nerd cared about was in 2008. We’re talking a decade-long drought in winning anything of significance and yet golf people can barely contain themselves this week. The possibility of Tiger winning the Masters has golf people almost willing to show some emotion that rates higher on the decibel meter than a golf clap. It would be like the NBA world praying the Spurs have one last run in them. The NBA doesn’t operate that way. The relevance of that league doesn’t depend on one team. Or as in golf’s case, one person.

Has golf not grown at all since Tiger fell off the map? Who are their new stars that don’t need Tiger Woods to prop them up? What happened to the Golf Boys? Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan haven’t captured the golf world’s attention? Golf actually did something creative and funny. They featured some of their young stars in something other a commercial promoting a golf ball. The sport itself looks down on individuality in a way that only baseball can match but depending on a 42-year old Tiger Woods to capture the nation for a weekend is a bad look. Golf you’ve had years to figure this out.

There was a time in the NBA when the absence of Michael Jordan from the big stage was felt. A decade later the NBA wasn’t still pining for Jordan to be a factor. Young stars like LeBron, Wade and Melo injected Hall of Fame type talent into the league in the 2000s and the NBA continues to thrive today. Jordan was a once in lifetime player. So was Kobe. So is LeBron. Is the game of basketball itself just likely to produce more all-time greats than golf? Probably. That could be the reason that since Tiger last won a major Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have changed the way their respective positions are played.  Curry has sparked a whole generation of kids who want to play like him. That used to be called the Tiger Effect. Durant and Dirk Nowitzki have changed the way big men approach the game. Name the last golfer not named Tiger Woods to do that for golf…..I won’t hold my breath.

I won’t even blame the people that run golf for this. By “this” I mean the desperate hope that a 42-year old man with back issues can infuse their sport with some juice. It isn’t their fault. They have less to work with. What does golf have to offer to those who weren’t indoctrinated by their parents or so-called friends? Golf’s only redeeming qualities are the fresh air and the soft bed of grass it provides to sleep on when the actual event you came to watch bores you into a coma.

Maybe golf fans will get their long unfulfilled wish this weekend and Tiger will win and people will start to care again. I almost hope it happens so the incessant “Is Tiger back” discussion will come to end.

I will credit golf for this. It is the only sport where you can use the actual gameplay as a replacement for a sleep machine. Sundays at the Masters, a nap unlike any other.


 

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Jose Abreu looks lost at the plate. Composite Getty Image.

It’s a long baseball season, sure the Astros have started 4-8, and there are plenty of fingers to point around. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

Not yet.

Last year, the Astros didn’t start much better – they were 5-7 after a dozen games. It just seemed different, though. Nobody was wringing hands over the slow start. After all, the Astros were the defending World Series champions, coming off a 106-win season and figured to make mincemeat of the American League West again. Business as usual.

This year is different. The Astros are losing games in very un-Astros-like fashion. While the starting pitching has been surprisingly fine, at least the starters healthy enough to take the field, the bullpen has been a mess. The back end relievers, supposedly the strongest in all of baseball, have been disappointing. Bryan Abreu’s earned run average is 5.79. Ryan Pressly’s ERA is a sky-high 11.57 and closer Josh Hader, the best shutdown in the bigs, is at 6.00. The Astros are losing games late.

The Astros starting rotation is comprised mostly of seat-fillers. The Astros are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room for Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers to be declared fit for battle. McCullers’ contribution to the team in recent years has primarily been confined to H-E-B commercials.

Impatient fans and copy-hungry media need a target to blame for the Astros’ slow start and they’ve zero’d in on first baseman Jose Abreu.

For good reason. Abreu, 37, a former American League MVP, is being paid 19.5 million this year and next. He is having a miserable time at the plate. Originally slated for No. 5 in the batting order, now dropped to No. 7 and sinking in the west, Abreu is hitting a paltry .088. But that number actually is deceptively positive. He has three hits (all singles) in 34 at bats, with 12 strikeouts, no home runs and no RBI. Frankly one of Abreu's singles was a pity hit from a friendly scorekeeper who could have given Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. an error on Abreu’s weak grounder Tuesday night.

We can go all-analytics and brain-busting stats to explain Abreu’s troubles at the plate. But let’s use simple baseball language: Abreu is horrible. He’s done. Maybe it’s time for the Astros to cut bait. He is untradeable.

Abreu had a disastrous 2023 season, batting .237, the lowest average of his 11-year career. But after 12 games last year, he was hitting .271, not bad at all. Or as Larry David would say, pret-tay, pret-tay, pre-tay good.

This year he’s fallen off the end of the Earth. Fans groan as he swings meekly at breaking balls outside the zone. Or he fails to catch up to 95 mph-plus. Or he can’t connect on low inside pitches. Look, when you’re batting .088, it’s all bad.

Last year, the Astros actually had two, as Little Leaguers put it, automatic outs in the lineup. Abreu hit .237 and catcher Martin Maldonado blasted .191.

This year, it’s a tight battle between who’s the worst of the worst. Maldy is hitting .091 with two hits in 22 at bats and no RBI for Abreu’s old team, the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is hitting .088 for Maldonado’s old team, the Astros. This could go down to the last week of the season.

If Abreu is still with the Astros at season’s end. The Astros are no longer the high exalted dominant force in the American League West. They can’t afford an .088 hitter in the lineup. They can’t play eight against nine.

It didn’t help when manager Joe Espada recently said, “I got a ton of confidence in Abreu. I'm not going to talk about strategy. José Abreu has been a really good hitter for a very long time, and I have 100 percent confidence in José that, at some point, he's going to start hitting.”

How long is at some point? Didn’t Astros fans go through this last year with manager Dusty Baker refusing to sit Maldonado despite Maldy killing rallies in a tight pennant race?

The Astros don’t have a strong support system, especially backing Abreu at first base. But there are options. Mauricio Dubon is a jack of all trades. He could play first. Despite the funny line in Moneyball, first base statistically is the easiest position to play in baseball. Backup catcher Victor Caratini can fill the gap until the Astros sign a free agent first baseman.

Or the Astros could do something that would light a fire under fans: call up rookie Joey Loperfido, who’s belted five homers and driven in 13 RBI in 10 games for the Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

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