Golf, BC and Bruins

Three things: First, the golf.

In the end, the very likeable “Lefty,” with a huge assist from his family, left Augusta awash in tears and charmed the nation. But it was a mighty strange week of sport amidst all the towering melodrama and it abounded in irony to the very end.

Midway through the final round of the 2010 Masters, ESPN was running an internet poll asking the great unwashed public to indicate its preference for champion. Astoundingly, 55 percent of the respondents were choosing Tiger Woods, with 33 percent voting for the pet of the “anti-Tiger” block, Phil Mickelson, while the remaining 12 percent were opting for the third alternative, which was named “someone else,’’ otherwise known as “anyone else.” Please, on bended knee!

Granted that it’s ESPN’s sworn objective to trivialize every sporting issue it can gets its mitts upon. Nonetheless this ad hoc survey -- though of perhaps dubious scientific merit -- was not an entirely irrelevant index of public opinion on the transcendental question of how much majesty Mr. Woods has lost with his epic philandering, compounded by his notably limp efforts at atoning for his debauchery.

ESPN’s national sample -- at that given moment -- was 116,805, which is fairly hefty considering that it was a lovely Sunday in Spring, blissful and balmy most everywhere, and people presumably had better things to do than sit around responding to some dumb poll about some decadent golfer. But this is America, after all, where jock parables are readily embraced for their deeper meaning even when there is none and with the Masters being the solemn high mass of the sporting events. Moreover, no Biblical tale charms the masses more readily than the weepy saga of the prodigal son.

Back at Augusta, the Tiger was mounting his inevitable charge. The stage seemed set. You pictured 55 percent of America doing cartwheels as he eagled the seventh and then again, the fifteenth. But the Lefty declined to buckle and methinks we should be mighty thankful for that.

Yearning for Woods to lose was hardly fun. Cheering for his comeuppance was becoming tiresome. Schadenfreude is never pretty even when it’s entirely justified. We should be especially grateful to Phil Mickelson for sparing us all that, for getting us off the hook as it were.

For in the end, it was not so much a matter of the Tiger losing as it was of the Lefty winning. And having him win as he did with such memorable elan and genuine inspiration was simply grand. It was good for him. It was good for his game. It was maybe even what was best for Tiger, who hardly needed the twisted debate that would have surely ensued had he beaten the likeable Lefty with the gallant family and the flawless resume who is fast becoming rather beloved. For it would have invited invidious comparisons that Woods didn’t need. Tiger’s redemption -- at least on the golf course -- is utterly inevitable. We just didn’t need it this week. And neither, I suspect, did he.

For all of that we can deeply thank Phil and Amy Mickelson. And then we can move on.

“Page two,” if you will; as the man used to say.

In the wake of his third NCAA championship -- his second in a mere three years -- it is worth wondering if Jerry York, coach of the exemplary Boston College hockey team, may be the best coach of anything in the entire country. What’s beyond dispute is that with surpassing art, class, insight and wisdom, Jerry York sets the highest possible standard for the scholar-athlete engaged in the rightful pursuit of academic excellence through the discipline of sport. And that is some achievement, mate.

Coincidentally, even as York’s splendid hockey team was rolling through the Frozen Four, BC was also celebrating the landing of a new and esteemed basketball coach, Steve Donahue, ex of Cornell no less. Donahue was something of a prize given his stunning achievements in the Ivy League where the priorities of amateur athletics are rarely in doubt.

That is not the case at too many other academic groves where basketball programs have been a source of scandal. Boston College surely knows all about that. The annals of their basketball grief extend back more than 30 years. In theory, Donahue seems a brilliant response, much overdue. Many schools yearning to bring some luster to their tainted programs were lusting after this fellow.

But if the BC athletic director can take bows for landing Donahue might he also explain why the former basketball coach, who is now being so widely discredited, was paid over $2.2 million for coaching the team last season. If he was as flawed as he is now being portrayed why did BC grace him with a contract that paid him roughly five times as much as Marquette, Northern Iowa, and Butler (to name but three schools that had rather better seasons) were paying their coach? Even more to the point, since when did the Jesuit educational concept of “ratio studiorum” embrace such egregious excess? Do any of these questions ever get asked at BC? Or can the AD simply do no wrong?

Old Eagles will protest such impertinent comment. They always do. But outsiders will continue to wonder. In the meantime, you only hope the magnificence of Jerry York’s achievements are properly appreciated at the Heights. In all of his years he has brought only distinction to his school and done it with an uncommon dignity. If the new basketball coach seeks an exemplar he need only look across the hall to his new colleague.

“Page three”

It’s Stanley Cup time! And admittedly that’s not quite the clarion call it once was.

There’s some luck opening with the Sabres, whom these Bruins could beat, if they were healthy. But they aren’t. Nor is it likely Buffalo’s snappy goalie, Ryan Miller, the toast of North America two months ago, will fail to come up very big. It may be his year.

But it’s the injuries on defense that will bring down the Bruins. Their four best defensemen are either MIA or damaged goods. The severed wrist tendon of the new boy, Dennis Seidenberg, was ruinous. Also down are Mark Stuart, a much improved kid, and Andrew Ference, who is always hurt. Then there’s the matter of Zdeno Chara, who is of course indispensable.

The Big man will play, even if he’s not at his best. He was back on the ice within minutes after having his face re-arranged and his nose broken in an unpleasant encounter with the high stick of the notably nasty Washington Capital Alexander Semin, whose surgical brilliance with his sharpened blade is firmly established.

Whining about officiating is tedious as well as the last recourse of chronic losers. Still, the unevenness of the officiating in the NHL this season has been galling; much as it was in the baseball post-season last fall, and much as it’s always been in the NBA, etc., ad nauseam.

In their dubious wisdom, NHL poobahs have cluttered the ice with four officials when for a century they got along much better with three. There are now two Referees equally empowered to call penalties. In the Semin/Chara matter, the huge Boston defenseman was battling for the puck. Thus one of the Refs had to have his eye on the action centered around the puck unless, of course, he was counting the house or winking at some damsel in the third row. Chara is so tall Demin’s stick had to reach the rafters to clip the Big Guy in the face. Any stick to the face is an automatic penalty, upwards to five minutes.

But none was called even as Chara limped off leaving a trail of blood. It was a game the Bruins, desperate to win, lost in overtime. The non-call conceivably could have cost them a playoff berth. How does it come to this again and again? You hope the playoffs, however long or short, don’t turn on something so dumb. But don’t bet against it.

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