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National | Philly fans want a winner and Tiger's major slump continues

Issue: "George W. Bush: Gut check," April 24, 2004

BROTHERLY BOOS

Philadelphia fans sure know how to christen a stadium. The boobirds flocked to newly opened Citizens Bank Park to pick up where they left off-booing the Phillies. Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers fans are noted for their quick jumps on and off the bandwagon. Nowhere was this more viscerally felt than in Veterans Stadium, the previous home of the Eagles and Phillies. There's a myth that one particularly vicious Veterans Stadium crowed even booed Santa Claus. That's not true-Philly fans booed Santa at the Vet's predecessor, Franklin Field in 1968. And it's popular legend that Pennsylvania politician Ed Rendell helped his career once it became known that he counted himself among the snowball throwers who took aim at Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.

The city of Philadelphia imploded Veterans Stadium (and its small municipal court within) in late March. NFL running backs and major-league shortstops probably won't miss the concrete-style turf that ripped up knees and caused errors. Fans shouldn't miss the large building's cement charm or concourse rats. The Vet of course had its good moments. The Phillies won the World Series with Tug McGraw on the mound in 1980. And that's why current Phillies coach Larry Bowa understands why fans briefly booed the home team this year: "They can boo. They're frustrated. They want to see a winner."

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TIGER TRAINING

This year's Masters tournament just about had it all. It was the last march of Arnie's Army. Jack Nicklaus hinted that this too may be his last Masters, but who believes that? No less than four golfers torched the back nine at Augusta. And Phil Mickelson, after losing 46 majors in a row, finally won the big one. The Masters had everything except Tiger Woods.

Mr. Woods's recent troubles have been well documented. He's riding a very un-Tiger-like drought in majors. He recently dumped swing coach Butch Harmon, which in the golf world is like breaking up with your girlfriend.

While Mr. Mickelson headed down Magnolia Lane for the first time, Mr. Woods took a much different path. So disappointed in his Masters finish, Mr. Woods left the Augusta tournament bound for boot camp. He enlisted in four days of basic training with the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C., following his meltdown. He didn't tell reporters what he hoped to gain from the daybreak running and pushups. Will rifle shooting help him make the fairways more often? He's also canceled his plans to play in the Deutsche Bank Open in Germany. Yet, the golfer maintains he's close to putting it all back together and regaining his prior form. Mr. Woods says he's not worried about his slip from the top of the leader board. "It's part of playing golf to not always be up there," he said.

What happened to the Woods confidence or the Mickelson self-doubt? Mr. Mickelson faced several challenges on the back nine at Augusta. Hard-charging challenger Ernie Els nailed an eagle just before Mr. Mickelson shot from the 12th tee. "When I stood up on tee boxes, I just knew the ball was going to go in the middle of the fairway," he said. Tiger Woods used to say things like that. Now it's Mr. Mickelson who exudes calm and confidence, while Mr. Woods grasps for anything that might make him a champion again.

AROUND THE HORN

Cubs manager Dusty Baker has said that youth is on the side of Mark Prior as he recovers from off-season surgery. Now Cubs officials say they aren't certain when the young star will pitch again. That's a rocky start to a career for a pitcher who has Cy Young potential.

Steroid and supplement abuse has developed primarily as a major-league baseball story. And when a judge banned ephedra nationally, Steve Bechler came to mind. Mr. Bechler's death last year during spring training was linked to ephedra. But National Hockey League locker rooms have also been flooded with ephedra products.

Making the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA's Western Conference may be a meager accomplishment, but for the Denver Nuggets it must be like striking gold. Nuggets management may now fashion thank-you cards to the Detroit Pistons for passing on Carmelo Anthony and taking a 7-footer named Darko Milicic from Montenegro.

Famed broadcaster Pat Summerall received a fresh liver after the 72-year-old waited more than a week on the transplant waiting list. Mr. Summerall is a recovering alcoholic who covered 16 Super Bowls, eight with colleague John Madden.

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