April 7, 2006
Vijay Singh:
Leading the Masters after the first round and being tabbed for a Friday "First in the Q" award is a tough spot. By Monday, he could be long gone.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

An even-par opening round at the Masters is just par of the course for Tiger.

He's never had an opening round in the 60s. In fact, a year ago he shot an opening-round 74 (two shots worse than this year). You know how that ended.

This year's first round was marked by as strange a pair of back-to-back holes you'll ever see from Tiger: An eagle 2 on 14 followed by a double-bogey 7 on 15.

Despite his annual slow start and almost assured charge through the weekend, Tiger's place 19 spots (if only 5 shots) behind leader Vijay Singh is a reminder of the risk of the "Tiger vs. Field" dynamic that has become the dominant story line in golf, in particular at The Masters.

For the casual fans for whom the majors might be the only golf tournaments they follow all season, Tiger's place near the top on Sunday is a must.

Tiger doesn't need to win. (He's like the Yankees since 2001: You need them in the playoffs, but it's arguably even more dramatic when another team knocks them out than when they win.)

But Tiger has to be within striking distance of the top on Sunday. The problem with all fans mesmerized by a single dominant personality versus everyone else is that it ultimately depersonalizes "The Field."

"The Field" becomes a nameless, faceless challenge, like the black smoke on "Lost." Individual competitors? They all become what's lost, eclipsed by the sport's "addiction to foil":

When Tiger is battling "The Field" on a Sunday at The Masters, it's the most dramatic story line golf offers right now.

But if Woods is out of it and "The Field" is left without its foil, the event dramatically loses its appeal with the countless casual fans who tuned in to see Tiger.

You don't have to root for Tiger to win, but if you love golf, you better root for him to be near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.

Bonds Cheered
You didn't actually think that Giants fans would boo Barry Bonds in his 2006 home debut, did you?

Throughout his controversies, his one constant has been the loyal support of the fans at Pac Bell, the one place Barry can catch a break at the park, even if he still can't catch one at the plate.

Thursday's game captured both sides: He got a minute-long ovation (and plenty of rubber chickens) but was hitless (though he drew 2 walks).

And you know what? If Bonds were on your team, you'd cheer for him, too, no matter how much you may loathe him now. Call it the "but he's our jerk" phenomenon.

Take, for instance, a year ago when Red Sox fans worshipped at the altar of Johnny Damon. This season when he comes to Boston for the first time on May 1, Damon may get an appreciative applause, but then it's time for nastiness.

It's the flip side in New York: A year ago, Damon was the enemy, the anti-professional who seemingly valued his image over all. Now his schtick is beloved by Yankee fans who couldn't stand him three months ago.

Boston College and Wisconsin: Advance to Frozen Four final
Carmelo: Another clutch shot leads Nuggs past Lakers in OT
Nets: Streak to 14th W in row; legit threat to Pistons?
Eric Gagne: Out with elbow surgery (timely trade for Baez)
R.A. Dickey: TEX SP serves 6 HR vs. DET, ties modern record
Hershel Dennis: USC's No. 1 RB out for 2006 season (knee)
For all of Bonds' alleged transgressions that turned a nation of fans who gawked at his accomplishments just a few years ago into bile-spewing wackos, even Bonds gets home-fan favoritism.

But you can't criticize Giants fans, if only because in your own fan history, there's almost surely a player on a team you rooted for who other fans would jeer or curse, yet you defended.

Bonds might represent the extreme of this phenomenon, but it's actually reassuring -- even refreshing -- in the middle of all the hate towards Barry to see that fans in San Francisco still stick by him.

Don't fault or criticize them for their loyalty. Even for a player whose sincerity is questioned to the max, loyalty is the sincerest quality a fan can have.

Rollins Streak Over
And the award for "Most Words Typed Over Something Meaningless" goes to all the folks who chimed in on the legitimacy of Jimmy Rollins breaking Joe DiMaggio's hit streak over two seasons.

Rollins couldn't even make it through the first week this season, let alone a 39th game (or 56th) over two. The good news is that he's got 159 more games to reclaim his mojo and find a new streak.

(Uh, and the bad news is that his Phillies lost again, making them the only team in the NL East without a win yet this week and one of only three MLB teams still winless, along with bottom-feeding KC and Pittsburgh.

Pedro's Plunking
OK, so who's crazier?

Jose Guillen, in general?

Or Pedro Martinez, for plunking Guillen not once but twice in his season debut yesterday.

The hotheaded Pedro challenging the hotheaded Guillen? Something's gotta give, and it did: Guillen lost his cool and benches cleared.

But taking a cue from ESPN Classic, I've got Five Reasons You Can't Blame Guillen for Getting Ticked Off:

The second plunk made that five HBPs in 40 PA between Guillen and Pedro. With a stat like that, I'd want to throttle Pedro, too.

Frankly, the ump should have been aware of the history (or Frank Robinson should have alerted him) and ejected Pedro after the first one.

NFL Schedule
As expected, T.O. vs. Philly headlines the 2006 season.

The Cowboys will visit Philly on Oct. 8 in one of the most intriguing games of the year (at least, if you're a fan of loathing).

And Philly will visit Dallas for "Christmas Night Football."

The biggest question is how many new teammates T.O. will have alienated by the time his old teammates show up.

MNF's first year on ESPN will have some very interesting games, with some matchups noted by Clayton.

Here are my top three picks:

Week 2: Steelers at Jaguars. Champs on the road at one of the rising contenders in the AFC. (Leftwich should still be healthy, right?)

Week 3: Falcons at Saints. It's the first national TV appearance in New Orleans for the Saints. Talk about emotion.

Week 15: Bengals at Colts. This late in the season, this game could represent a battle for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

New Mets Ballpark
Though the "retro stadium" fad is now a good 15 years old, it was great to see an Ebbets Field influence on the design of the newly proposed stadium for the Mets (to be built next to Shea Stadium).

From the outstanding Mets fan blog "Faith and Fear in Flushing":

"Mets memories? I have good ones by the bushel full, but for me, they're bound up with the people, with precious little left over for the place. A parking lot? Sounds like a vast improvement ... The wide concourses, the green seats, the lights, the nod to the bridges ... I love it all."

Is anyone else confused why the wearying Rob Schneider is being positioned as the lead of this new sports comedy and the excellent Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite") is merely a supporting character?

From the ads and trailers, the movie looks like "Old School" meets "Bad News Bears," only without much that's funny. We'll have to wait and see.

More Buffs problems: 7 golfers and interim coach suspended for the weekend after a March trip to a strip club. Good luck with that "interim," coach.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
NFL Schedule
Page 2 Index
Clayton's Top 5
NFL '06 Games
DAL at PHI (10/08)
TO. Philly. 'Nuff said.
DEN at PIT (11/05)
AFC title game rematch
IND at NE (11/05)
NFL's best rivalry?
NYG at DAL (10/23)
NFC East's top teams?
SD at DEN (11/19)
(See Q It Up for more)

Larranaga Watch: George Mason coach told Seton Hall "no thanks." Hall reportedly turned around and hired Manhattan's Bobby Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, in other NCAA coaching moves, UAB reportedly will hire ex-Indiana coach Mike Davis, an Alabama native. Good fit for UAB.

Bad news for those of us who think LeBron deserves NBA MVP: He's reportedly trailing Nash and most likely Billups or Dirk (via Cleveland P-D).

Pats sign Gramatica: I'm not one to question Genius, but do the Pats really think they can replace Adam V with a guy who didn't kick in 2005?

What a tragedy at Army to lose rookie women's hoops coach Maggie Dixon, 28, so suddenly. She led the school to its NCAA Tournament debut in '06.

MLB Weekend: Mets meet farm system when Marlins come to town; Yankees face new rival in Anaheim/L.A.; unbeaten Brewers host D-Backs.

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