Funai typical

Mike Tirico does such a great job handling golf coverage for ABC to start the season. He’s a pro play-by-play guy, covering the events on the course, a steady presence who offers the kinds of questions that can rule to interesting observations and examination from whomever’s in the booth with him. For the last two years, Nick Faldo and Paul Azinger have picked up on Tirico’s queries and provided a two-headed color commentary team not before seen (heard, mostly) in golf. Faldo and Azinger bring a zest to the coverage, and particular insight because they’re former major winners. Johnny Miller, also a former major champion, brings sharp basic examination on NBC, but lacks the color of the aforementioned strange associate.

Now, Tirico is doing Monday Night Football. Maybe it’s because I’ve been muting Fox’s coverage of baseball’s playoffs due to their color tandem of Lou Piniella and Steve Lyons (who was fired last week “for making comments on air that the company found inappropriate,” though he should have been canned a long time ago because his ‘Psycho’ shtick was old after 15 minutes back in 1990 and his examination isn’t exactly what you would call insightful or interesting) that I’m especially sensitive to color commentary. Tirico’s color guys—Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser—have me pining for a button on the far away called Everyone But Tirico: Mute.

Kornheiser is good on PTI. He and Mike Wilbon make for an entertaining pair as they go by their stories in quick order. Kornheiser in the MNF booth is painful to listen to. In the debacle that was Monday night’s game (debacle, that is, if you’re a Cardinals fan), Charles Barkley tried to make the point that Phoenix was wasting opportunities to put the game away in the first half. At one point Barkley called a Phoenix possession pivotal, that they had to score a touchdown. He mentioned “the jugular.” Kornheiser said “I love you” to Barkley, and proceeded to debunk Sir Charles’s suggestion, with all due respect. Kornheiser was wrong, Barkley was right.

The Cardinals could have been up by three, maybe four scores at the half, which would have been much closer to Kornheiser’s pronouncements that it was Phoenix’s game to lose, that nobody in America would have expected this score at half time! (Kornheiser said that over and over again.) True, the latter, but Barkley, a basketball Hall of Famer, can speak to a sense of a game outside his sport perhaps more than Kornheiser can. This is not to say that someone who hasn’t played professionally can’t weigh in, but one would think that someone who has spent his career covering sports might at the minimum understand Barkley’s concern, instead of stridently oppose it.

Kornheiser didn’t stop at half time. When Theismann suggested that repeatedly handing off to Edgerrin James in the second half (the Edge had 36 carries for 5 yards, er 55 yards), instead of taking an aggressive approach, especially considering Matt Leinart was moving the ball effectively with the passing game, especially considering that it was abundantly clear that Urlacher et al patched into the game plan with incredible run-stopping success, Kornheiser saw fit to try to debunk again, this time Theismann. And again, he was wrong.

Faldo and Azinger managed to weigh in on matters in their own colorful ways, often silly, often with wit, often animatedly, often insightful and often right on the money. Pretty much the best you can get in color commentary. Why not follow this paradigm for Monday Night Football? Here we had two specialized athletes providing their insight, their gut sense of the way things were playing out on the field, both of whom turned out to be right, and a bozo who was more interested in winning a point, and when he lost his point(s), he re-doubled his efforts, yapping more insistently than before.

It made me miss the Tirico-Faldo-Azinger team. I bet Tirico does, too.

Last week: So close. Daniel Chopra made a clutch eagle putt on No. 16 at the Open last Sunday, followed it with another clutch birdie on 17 and missed a birdie try at 18 that would have put him in a playoff. He’s the best putter on Tour this year, and my bet was looking good after the eagle, birdie and an earlier birdie on 13 to rebound from a sloppy bogey on 11. The lesson learned is that he appeared to be much more in control (emotionally, especially) than he has been to this point in a substantial season in which he’s spent plenty of time on leader boards. Keep a close eye on Chopra. Jim Furyk winning the head-to-head over Chris DiMarco saved my week, but I needed the outright to have a chance to make up serious ground. I’ve been winning steady for most of the last three months but despite Tiger and Davis Love III ‘s outright wins of recent vintage, I haven’t been able to carry over the hole I dug over the many months prior to the last few. Three more official tournaments left in 2006. With Tiger not playing in the next two, there’s nevertheless a chance to make some long money. The 1-2 odds on Furyk at one unit made for half a unit, which offset the half unit bet on the head-to-head, which method I was flat for the week, which method my season total remains at -12.5 units.

At this week’s Funai typical at the Walt Disney World Resort, where one hole (no. 6) features a Mickey Mouse-shaped bunker, which reminds me of whale-shaped blueberry pancakes I once ate when I visited Nantucket as a kid, take Vijay Singh in the outright (10-1), 1/6 unit: His putting has improved. He’s had a few weeks off. Last year he played Disney with the same schedule and missed the cut, which nevertheless has to be considered an aberration. Year before last he finished T2 at Disney, but that was following three wins in a row (and he won the week after in ’04, too). What can we expect this week? Who can say, but I nevertheless wouldn’t bet against him and at 10-1 it’s a bet worth taking. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of Vijay, as evidenced by his win in June. I don’t think he’s content to hang it up, to play for a nice paycheck until he moves into the velvet coffin that is the Champions Tour, after compiling a Hall of Fame career in which he may be the only golfer to wrest world No. 1 from Tiger in his chief.

Take Greg Owen (50-1), 1/6 unit: I had him last week in the outright. He was in the mix all week, ended up T16, all four rounds in the 60s. His last round in Vegas started with two bogeys, but he rallied with six birdies from there for a 68. That’s three straight weeks in the top-20. And he’s returning to Florida, where he would have won Bay Hill, also in Orlando, if it weren’t for three putts from less than four feet on No. 17.

Take Robert Allenby (40-1), 1/6 unit:This is a long course at more than 7,500 yards but I don’t put too much stock in that when weighing picks, and Allenby’s no slouch in the distance department anyway. It’s overall game that makes him alluring. One of those guys who always hangs around. He doesn’t miss many cuts, and he can score (he’s under 70 on average for the year, ranked 11th in the category). He’s 49th on the money list, not too far from 30 and a identify at East Lake.

In the head-to-head, take Owen to finish ahead of Justin Rose (10-11), 1 unit : I’m losing confidence in Rose’s ability to close out a tournament. He’s been playing very well for months, but I think we might be witnessing DiMarco west with this Englishman.

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