Joel Blank: It was hard not to root for Tiger Woods in the British Open

Joel Blank: It was hard not to root for Tiger Woods in the British Open
Tiger Woods made a run, and it was glorious to see. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

I'm not afraid to admit it, I was pulling for Tiger Woods yesterday. I'm not saying I agree with all of his decisions in life, or off the course. I'm saying I wanted the iconic golfer to return to prominence at least one more time so the world could be reminded of just how dominant he was not too long ago.

A golfer that, if not for his off course transgressions, might already have more major championships than Jack Nickalaus and be considered the greatest golfer ever. He made the entire world take notice and had entirely new demographics suddenly interested in a game of golf. He not only was at the top of his game, he was a global icon that could sell sand in the desert with just his image and smile. When he was wearing red and in contention on a Sunday, the whole world was watching. Yesterday was as close as we have come to seeing a glimpse of those days again, if only for one day, and man was it fun!

I really think Tiger still has some fuel left in the tank. He is only 42 years old and we all know he has always prided himself on being in tip top condition. The most important thing is, he is finally healthy. After enduring back issues that caused him to undergo several surgeries and procedures, it looked like his days as a regular tour professional, let alone one of the best golfers in the world, were in the rear view mirror. The fact of the matter was, he seemed to be facing the reality that he may never pick up his kids again, let alone swing a golf club. 

The decline was fast both on and off the course and the path of destruction and disappointment was on center stage and the evening news for all to see. It was a sad and bitter end to what was otherwise a meteoric rise to fame and fortune as the child protege that started playing at 2 years old and rocketed to being the only man within ear shot of catching all of Jack's records. The fact that he has righted the ship both on and off the course and has his health back, leaves me and many others hopeful that he can re-write the final chapter of his professional career and maybe improve his image along the way.

Maybe the reason I wanted him to win so badly is all the amazing memories he provided sports fans with his relentless persuit of perfection in an imperfect sport, and all the incredible, dominant performances he etched in our memory banks. It's like a fan of the Celtics dynasty or Yankees, being able to see them on top or in the hunt one last time.

In team sports it’s impossible to see a comeback or instant replay of those days of incredible success and achievement. In sports like tennis and golf it doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's amazing! Connors and McEnroe had runs late in their career that made the whole world root for them as if they were underdogs playing in their first major tournament. Even Nicklaus made a run at age 45 when he cemented his legacy with his 18th and final major by winning the Masters. 

Tiger had a chance yesterday and made a run that not many thought he had in him. He made up 4 shots, leap frogged more than a half dozen players and had his name on top of the leaderboard on the back nine of the final round of the British Open with 8 holes to play.

Even the hole that turned out to be the game changing end of his improbable run gave us all a return to the gutsy shot taking that made him Tiger Woods. On the 11th hole, after a fortuitous bounce off two spectators kept his ball in play and hope alive, he had two options— play it safe and play for par, or play aggressive and save par or better with a perfect pitch. He hit the shot that he knew he could hit and had hit numerous times before. In the end the shot was inches from being perfect, but fell short, as did he. Tiger would double bogey the hole and lose the lead and the tournament.  He may have come up short this time, but I for one am hoping their is a new fire a blaze in his belly and we all get to hear Tiger roar again, at least one more time.

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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