Plenty more to come in my Saturday morning column at mypalmbeachpost.com but here’s a quick taste of the hot topic from the Honda Classic’s second round.
At the invitation of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and some other people you may have heard of, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, got together for dinner on Thursday night.
The gathering was at the Nicklaus home in North Palm Beach and the idea was to a little Team USA bonding prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup matches in September and October at Hazeltine. Europe has won far too many of these competitions for anybody’s taste, so Love got Jack’s help in starting the adrenalin engine a little early for guys who have played in the Ryder Cup and rising young stars who have not.
There can only be 12 players on the U.S. team, so about half of the players at the dinner won’t make it. Didn’t stop anybody from wanting to be there, however, listening to Jack tell his stories.
Another vice captain, Jim Furyk, came from Jacksonville. Another, Tom Lehman, flew in from Phoenix. Dustin Johnson, who is skipping the Honda Classic, showed up. Jordan Spieth, who is not playing in the Honda, was one of the few notables who did not make the pilgrimage to Jack and Barbara’s house. Rickie Fowler tweeted out a photo of himself eating ice cream with Nicklaus.
“We asked Jack questions and yes, he held court,” Love said. “We asked about preparing for major championships and about being nervous, how he handled pressure, things like that, and just him telling stories.
“His memory is just phenomenal. He remembers every shot, every hole, every situation that he was in, and he’s always honest, whether it’s about how well he played or how poorly he played.”
Many of Team Europe’s leading stars are in the Honda and playing well, as usual. One of them, defending champion Padraig Harrington, was unfailingly honest, too, when asked about the Ryder Cup vibe and the U.S. longing to get a better handle on it.
“We have made the U.S. guys care, and they really care,” Harrington said after shooting a Friday morning 68. “I saw the guys after the last loss. The older guys were seriously devastated. I can’t tell you how much you could see the devastation of losing. It is a huge deal to Phil and Jim Furyk and guys like that. Wow, were they cut up about losing.”
Sounds like another great Ryder Cup showdown coming up, with dinner at Jack and Barbara’s as the appetizer.
There were three 67’s in the morning group Thursday and there may be better scores in the afternoon, but no guarantees ever come with the Honda Classic first-round lead.
Matter of fact, no Thursday leader has ever won the tournament since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald came closest, with each playing to runnerup finishes.
Camilo Villegas is the saddest story of all. He opened with a 64 to take the first-round lead in 2013 and missed the cut with a second-round 77.
It’s a major challenge stringing together subpar rounds on the Champion. Last year Padraig Harrington was the 36-hole leader but shot a 71 on Saturday to fall three shots behind 54-hole leader Ian Poulter. Eventually Harrington won the tournament in a playoff with Daniel Berger, but an even-par 70 is all he could manage in the final round.
Here’s a chart of Honda first-round leaders over the last nine tournaments and how they finished.
Yr Player 1st Rd Finish Winner
2007 Charlie Wi 65 T13 Mark Wilson (1st-rd 72)
2008 Luke Donald 64 2nd Ernie Els (1st-rd 67)
2009 Robert Allenby 66 T5 Y.E. Yang (1st-rd 68)
2010 Michael Connell 65 T6 Camilo Villegas (1st-rd 66)
Since the forecast this week is generally mild, I’ll predict a winning score of 10-under. Don’t know whether anyone will flirt with a record single round, like the 61 that Brian Harman shot in the second round of the 2012 Honda, but it figures that somebody can string together some 67s and 68s.
Here’s the list of those who got it to double digits here and how they finished.
Name Yr Score Result
Camilo Villegas 2010 -13 Won
Rory McIlroy 2012 -12 Won
Tiger Woods 2012 -10 T-2nd
Tom Gillis 2012 -10 T-2nd
Villegas played great, of course, and won by five shots, but he had the best of it with the weather. Four days of decent springtime weather, with the most blustery day in the third round with 12 mph winds gusting to 22.
For a while there he was out fly-fishing in Montana, where cell service is spotty. Then he was rambling around the Midwest catching up with former players of his at the college and minor-league professional levels. Oh, and there was that banquet in Nashville last month where Dusty had to drop by to accept the same national honor that in the past has gone to giants like 11-time College World Series champion Rod Dedeaux, University of Miami legend Ron Fraser and Peter Ueberroth, former commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Finally this week, on a day when he had just driven back home to Jacksonville after a volunteer-coaching session at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Dusty stopped long enough to pick up the phone.
“You know, you chase this game all over the world,” said Rhodes, a 1989 inductee to the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame. “You’re never in one place for too long.”
It’s a little-known fact that Jeff Wilpon, the chief operating officer of the New York Mets, once played for Dusty at Palm Beach Junior College. Team owner Fred Wilpon, Jeff’s father, sought out Dusty to help lay down some guidelines on discipline and drive.
“His dad brought him on campus,” said Dusty, who rattled off 303 wins in seven seasons as the Pacers’ coach beginning in 1975. “Jeff had been at Miami but he got into a run-in with Ron Fraser. Ron told him ‘There’s a guy at Palm Beach Junior College who can straighten him out.’
“We had some rough times early but Jeff finally figured it out. He was supposed to be a catcher. He struggled a little bit but he could hit so I put him at first base. Ended up getting drafted by the Montreal Expos.”
Everybody has a Dusty story like that. He’s 69 now, but friends from his childhood days at Northmore Elementary in West Palm still can see and hear in him the scrappy kid who played on the Little Major League’s 1959 state championship team at Phipps Park. Old coaching mentors, the ones who are still around, picture a natural leader on Palm Beach Post 12’s state champion American Legion team, and at Palm Beach High School.
Then there are all the players who grew up with Dusty as their exacting coach, the man who made them get the fundamentals right or they wouldn’t play, and part of those fundamentals always involved showing up to rake and water and mow the diamond.
Future major-leaguers Robbie Thompson, Randy O’Neal and Andy McGaffigan played for Dusty at PBJC, now known as Palm Beach State College. The first two are in the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame and the third, McGaffigan, will be inducted next month.
Dusty never really left Palm Beach County behind either, even after he headed to Florida as an assistant coach and to North Florida to start from scratch the program he ran for 23 years. Our local kids could always be found all over his rosters, and the reasons were obvious. Our kids are good, which is part of the reason Rhodes’ PBJC program reached No. 1 in the national rankings and his North Florida teams regularly advanced to the College World Series in the NAIA and Div. II categories.
Dusty plans to pop in on Matheny during spring training. Wants to tell him about some kids he knows from coaching the 2004 Olympic team from Greece, plus a prospect from Flagler who might be worth a look for a spot in somebody’s minor-league organization.
This is how it works with Dusty, and always will work. He remembers toeing the line for Palm Beach High coaches Jim Maynor and Joe Ceravolo, who applied the same detailed techniques to multiple sports. He remembers being an assistant to Bob Shaw, a former World Series pitcher, on a Post 12 team that finished third at the American Legion national tournament.
He remembers, too, his first trip to the American Baseball Coaches Association convention, a much earlier version of the 6,500-member meeting where he was just honored.
“The first time I went to the convention, Bill Adeimy took me,” Dusty said, referring to the area baseball benefactor whose name is on the field at Palm Beach State. “Ted Williams was one of the guest speakers. Now there were hundreds of top baseball coaches there, but we all went to hear Ted Williams.”
If Dusty wasn’t hooked on baseball by then, that would have done it, but you get the picture by now.
He was hooked from the moment he pulled on the uniform of Arnold Construction and stepped onto the green grass of Phipps Park, a Little Major Leaguer with a million extra innings already on his mind.
If Dee Gordon of Miami wins the batting title against this year, it will be the first time a National Leaguer has gone back-to-back in that category since Larry Walker in 1998 and 1999.
Of course, Miguel Cabrera strung three American League batting championships in a row from 2011-13 and did it again last year but let’s focus here. The idea is to emphasize something really positive as an opening thought about the Miami Marlins, not about one of their stars who got away.
Can’t do much better than Gordon if that’s the case.
As new manager Don Mattingly prepares Miami’s pitchers and catchers for their opening workout at Roger Dean Stadium Friday afternoon, and as new hitting coach Barry Bonds tries to get used to the image of himself in a Marlins uniform, Gordon is the guy with the most momentum around here.
In addition to his .333 batting average from last year, Dee has long been one of the biggest pests you’ll ever find once he gets on base. He has led the NL in stolen bases for two seasons in a row, with 58 in 2014 and 64 the previous season in Los Angeles.
The last guy to lead the NL in batting and stolen bases in the same season? Jackie Robinson in 1949.
That’s one of the quirks about the Miami franchise. From the very beginning, the Marlins have featured uncommon speed somewhere in the lineup, guys who can start a rally all by themselves with a walk and a steal.
Since the expansion season of 1993, a Marlins player has led the NL in stolen bases six times. That’s more than any other NL team over the same period.
The list includes Chuck Carr in 1993, Quilvio Veras in 1995, Luis Castillo in 2000 and 2002, Juan Pierre in 2003 and Gordon last season.
The New York Mets come in second over that same period with four NL stolen base leaders. Jose Reyes did it for them three times in a row from 2005-07 and you’ll notice that he wound up being a target of the Marlins organization, too. Miami had him during the experimental season of 2012, and Reyes finished third in the league in steals that year.
What does all this mean? Not a great deal, probably, once Giancarlo Stanton steps into the batting cage and starts launching balls into space with Barry looking on. That’s what everybody wants to see.
Mattingly will see more in the Marlins’ lineup, however, beginning with Gordon at the top. He’ll have to see more, too, and do more with what he’s got than any Miami manager has since Fredi Gonzalez. Fredi is the last one to post a winning record, way back in 2009, and he did it with a guy even more versatile than Dee Gordon.
Hanley Ramirez led the NL in batting (.342) that year, tied for sixth in RBI (106) and tied for sixth in stolen bases (27), all of which placed him second in the league MVP voting behind Albert Pujols, but there I go again talking about the Marlins who got away.
Spring training is here, and Dee Gordon soon will be, too. For now, that really should be enough.
The news on Chris Bosh’s recurrence of blood clots is shocking. He needs to wrestle with life issues first and everything else, including basketball, somewhere down the line.
The Miami Heat, of course, are a basketball team, so that establishes their priority of going on, playing games, building long-term personnel and payroll strategies, with the assumption that Bosh won’t be a significant part of it anymore.
This all falls at the trade deadline, which winds the clock even faster. This team wasn’t going to win an NBA championship this season, however, even if Bosh played every game at a career-best level. It’s a stretch to think that any new, reshuffled lineup would get very far in the playoffs with or without Bosh returning at less than his polished best.
Better just to play out the season for whatever it is worth rather than dangling Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic or even Hassan Whiteside as trade bait for a half-season of veteran help.
Give Pat Riley time to sweep away all the broken pieces of his offseason free-agency plan. Give him the chance to come up with another plan for another year or two in the future, plus the chance to decide if he even wants to try again.
Riley’s got experience, after all, in dealing with an unpredictable health threat striking a cornerstone Heat player. It happened to Alonzo Mourning in 2000, when he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.
In August of that year Riley made some big changes, collecting Eddie Jones, Anthony Mason and Brian Grant for what he hoped would be a run at the Heat’s first Eastern Conference title. Then a couple of weeks before the season opener Zo made his announcement. Everyone rallied around the great star, hoping Zo would get help on his mysterious health issues and return.
Well, he did, in late March, starting three games and playing in 13 for a 50-win Miami team that climbed all the way to No. 3 in the East’s playoff seedings. Then came a first-round playoff loss to the Charlotte Hornets, and a three-game sweep, no less.
The next season was much better for Zo, almost making you think that he had willed his body back into line. In 74 starts he averaged 15.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, earning one last trip to the All-Star Game. The team, unfortunately, was starting to fall apart. Riley traded away Tim Hardaway, whose skills were diminishing at 34, before the season even began. By the spring everything had become drudgery, with Riley missing the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Of course, you know how well the story ended for Zo, with his glorious return to the Heat following a kidney transplant and with the NBA championship ring he won as Shaquille O’Neal’s backup in 2006. What can’t be forgotten now, though, and what won’t be forgotten by Riley in dealing with Bosh’s situation, is the way the whole franchise waited on him and hoped for a miracle when the kidney issue first arose.
Mourning missed the entire 2002-03 season, left the team when his contract was not renewed and went through a fruitless experiment with the New Jersey Nets before his body finally demanded a reboot with the transplant.
Zo is as tough physically and as stubborn mentally as any athlete who ever has played a professional sport. The Heat believed in him so much that they banked on his recovery longer than logic and medical science suggested was realistic. Zo couldn’t be counted upon any more, no matter how much he and the team wanted it to be otherwise.
Bosh can’t change his stars either. He will be paid, and paid well, by a franchise that doesn’t want to see him go but must accept that he also can’t be counted upon any more for any appreciable length of time.
Shocking to say, sad to think, but there it is. Best wishes now to Bosh, a big man in every way and enough of a believer in Riley that he re-signed with the Heat after LeBron James bolted.
If it turns out he comes back to the team later this season or beyond, I say hallelujah to that, but it won’t ever be the same. It can’t be.
Like Zo was at the time of his mysterious ailment, Bosh has no more real say in delivering on his promises.
Rickie Fowler’s fan base is already huge. It’s because of the way he plays (booming 300-yard drives with a 5-foot-9 body) and the way he looks (bright colors and big smiles) and the way he wins (The Players Championship, Abu Dhab, etc.).
If it’s possible, the Jupiter resident will have even more supporters now when he plays in the Honda Classic Feb. 25-28, and all because of the way he reacted to a devastating defeat.
That was after making a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation to force a playoff, and after making a 12-foot putt to save par on the third extra hole. Disaster struck twice on the 17th hole, however, when Fowler hit a drive into the water in regulation and did it again on what was the fourth playoff hole.
All of that Rickie could handle, but he was overcome by emotion in the press room afterwards at the thought of letting down family members, including a grandfather, who had come to see him win. Here’s the video from PGA.com.
That’s an authentic reaction and one that was difficult for Rickie to show in front of the cameras. Easier to blow off the postgame talk, or to make not real effort at expressing his thoughts, like Cam Newton after the Super Bowl.
This kind of thing appeals to anyone who wonders if our sports stars are in any way like the rest of us.
Fowler is real enough to worry that he might have let somebody down, and moved to tears by it even on a day that somebody handed him a $702,000 check for second place.
Matsuyama is in the Honda field, too, and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to pair him with Rickie in the opening rounds. Matsuyama, who will turn 24 during tournament week at PGA National, is No. 12 in the World Golf Rankings. Fowler is No. 4.
Matsuyama’s only previous Honda appearance was in 2014, when he shot an opening 70 but withdrew with a wrist injury prior to the second round.
Remember when everyone was saying, “Man, if we just had a transformational quarterback like Cam Newton, our team could win the Super Bowl”?
Well, the wish list has something new on top these days.
Now, in the kneejerk reaction that follows every Lombardi Trophy presentation, fans of NFL teams going nowhere fast are saying “What we need is an unstoppable pass rusher like Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, plus another beast who can help track down whoever Von flushes into a panicked escape mode. That’s how you win the Super Bowl.”
There are so many other moving parts to the puzzle, of course, that it’s never quite as simple as identifying and landing a great talent at a particular position of need, which is what Denver did by taking Miller with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
The Miami Dolphins and former general manager Jeff Ireland Ifthought they had drafted their very own Von Miller back in 2013. They spent the No. 3 overall pick on Dion Jordan, a speedy 6-foot-6 hybrid of an edge rusher from Oregon. Traded up in the first round to get him, too.
So far the team has gotten one start and three sacks out of the guy, and not only because Jordan was suspended for the entire 2015 season for a third violation of the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. Truth is, he wasn’t good enough to make much of an impact before the suspension.
I checked with Andrew Abramson, one of the Post’s two full-time Dolphins beat writers, for a status update on Jordan. Turns out the player is eligible to return to the Dolphins in April if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gives the OK. After that, Miami can either keep Jordan at a salary cup hit of $6 million for the final season of his contract or cut him and absorb a cap hit of $3 million.
If Jordan had panned out, and if Cameron Wake had stayed healthy enough to approximate the role of Broncos veteran DeMarcus Ware, and if Ndamukong Suh had torn up the league this season at a production rate commensurate with his contract, and if Olivier Vernon simply continued to improve at the same rate,
Miami would have the monster pass rush everyone else in the league covets.
Instead, the Dolphins tied for 25th in the league in sacks last season, missed the playoffs and, in every other phase of the game as well, missed the boat.
It’s never just one player, which is the reminder that comes with every draft season but too quickly is disregarded. If it were about one player, obviously Dan Marino would have his Super Bowl ring. So, in more current context, would Houston’s J.J. Watt.
So, for that matter, would Jason Taylor.
J.T. ranks sixth on the NFL’s all-time sacks list with 139.5. Four of the guys ahead of him – Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Chris Doleman and Michael Strahan – are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The two players immediately after Taylor on that list – Richard Dent and John Randle – also are in Canton.
So it’s established that the Dolphins had a dominant and highly adaptable pass rusher in their lineup during a combination of comings and goings that added up to 13 seasons.
During Taylor’s time with the team, Miami won three playoff games, never advancing beyond the first round.
In 2002 Taylor led the NFL in sacks with 18.5. Miami missed the playoffs at 9-7 that season.
In 2006 Taylor was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That season the Dolphins went 6-10.
Conclusion? Hats off to the Broncos for getting Von Miller and adding him in with a mix of so many other great acquisitions and coaching decisions that Denver has made itself a regular visitor to the Super Bowl and the champion of the moment.
As for the Dolphins, we can only hope that the new coaching staff selected and supervised by Adam Gase will do a better job of developing what the team already has and what will be coming in the next draft. That is the magic potion, and even when it works it is administered one or two drops at a time.
Rather than more money spent on the defensive line, the smart move is to get a cornerback or an inside linebacker with the No. 8 overall pick in April’s draft.
The smart move is to know that the Dolphins aren’t going to be in the Super Bowl any time soon, and they wouldn’t be even if Von Miller played for them.
Matter of fact, the Las Vegas casino crowd doesn’t even think Denver will be back in the big game next year. ESPN listed odds from the Westgate SuperBook the other day showing Seattle, New England and Pittsburgh as co-favorites to win Super Bowl 51. The Broncos check in down the list at 20-1 odds, and that’s not even worrying about whether Peyton Manning will retire or return.
One day they’ll be raising LeBron James’ No. 6 to the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena, too. Whether that becomes a warm and fuzzy moment for anybody really doesn’t matter. It has to happen, because Pat Riley is determined to give all-time credit to Miami’s all-time talents. It is a strength of his that puts the game above the gossip.
Now I’m not convinced that Shaq deserves so warm a hug from a franchise that he slimed pretty liberally on his way out the door in 2008.
He only spent 3 ½ seasons in Miami and played for three more teams after that while skidding to the end of his career. Commitment to the Heat’s brand of basketball was never the commitment for Shaq that it was for, say, Alonzo Mourning. Shaq’s commitment has always been to Shaq, the supersized persona, the great entertainer, the brilliant manager of so many marketable assets.
Wade’s jersey will eventually be retired, though they really ought to hang about three of his up there, one in white, another in red and another in black. That would reflect his multiplied importance to this organization, and the three NBA titles he has won with the Heat.
Chris Bosh will be honored somewhere down the road, too, just like Zo and Tim Hardaway before him.
Is Shaq still really a part of that royal family? Doesn’t seem to matter to Heat ownership. Michael Jordan’s number is retired at AmericanAirlines and he’s related to this franchise by NBA bloodlines alone.
Rice averaged 19.3 points per game during his six Miami seasons. That’s No. 4 in franchise history, right behind LeBron, Dwyane and Shaq. What’s more, Rice drove the Heat into the playoffs for the first time, back when he carried a far greater load than any of the Big Three did individually during Miami’s later championship run.
Seikaly, meanwhile, holds a special place in franchise history because he was there from the start. Miami took the Syracuse center in the first round of the Heat’s inaugural draft in 1988 and received in return six seasons of overachievement.
Seikaly averaged a double-double during his time in Miami – 15.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. Nobody, not even Shaq, averaged as many rebounds in a Heat uniform. Seikaly blocked a ton of shots, too, coming in third in franchise history behind Zo and Shaq at 1.4 per game.
Now maybe I’m too liberal with my view of which numbers should be retired, but no more so than Riley is in honoring Shaq.
Maybe we’ll be in agreement one day in retiring Udonis Haslem’s number. It’s not always about stats when it comes to identifying a franchise’s most valued members. Udonis is the soul of the Heat, a gritty force from Miami, of Miami and for Miami.
Shaq, he was just a traveling star, and LeBron a manipulator of rosters and of minds. Both came to Miami to get what they wanted, championship rings, and both left when it was convenient to them.
I’ve got a column in the Palm Beach Post today predicting Carolina will win the Super Bowl 31-21. This prognostication business can be dangerous, of course, and not only because nobody remembers or cares when you are right.
The second issue is that it’s so darn habit-forming. Sitting here right now, with the game still to be played, I’m actually thinking about predicting how many Super Bowls that 26-year-old Cam Newton will win before his career is done.
Heck, let’s do it. I’ll say Cam wins a couple of them, whether today’s game works out for the Panthers or not.
It’s a guess based on his physical size and strength, which point to longevity, and his remarkable progress in reading defenses and discovering how best to torture them, sometimes with his arm and sometimes as a steamrolling runner.
Two rings would put Newton in a class with some pretty big hitters, like Bart Starr, John Elway and Bob Griese. Admittedly, that’s shooting pretty high.
No matter how good Cam looks now, there are any number of things that could get in his way, from injuries to poor long-range personnel decisions by the Panthers to the arrival of other great young quarterbacks operating in Cam’s same supersized style, or in a completely different one. This game is always evolving. It wasn’t too long ago that everybody thought Colin Kaepernick was the answer to every question.
It’s all conjecture on Cam, then,, but there are probably 10 more years to see if it all bears out and I probably won’t be working here anymore for you to rip me for being wrong, so there’s that.
In the meantime, here’s a list of Super Bowl quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins, plus the age they were when the first title was won.
Name SB wins Age at 1st
Joe Montana 4 25
Terry Bradshaw 4 26
Tom Brady 4 24
Troy Aikman 3 26
Eli Manning 2 26
Jim Plunkett 2 33
Bob Griese 2 27
Roger Staubach 2 29
Ben Roethlisberger 2 23
John Elway 2 37
Bart Starr 2 32
(One important note on Starr. His career predated the creation of the Super Bowl. The great Green Bay quarterback previously won NFL championships at the ages of 27, 28 and 31.)