Notebook > Sports

Weathered win

Sports | The only true victor of the tournament? Augusta National golf course

Issue: "Food fight," May 3, 2008

To the surprise of many prognosticators and the disappointment of many fans, heavy favorite Tiger Woods fell short of capturing his fifth green jacket at the 2008 Masters. Fellow golf stars Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, and Vijay Singh likewise delivered underwhelming performances. Even first-place finisher Trevor Immelman, who limped in with a final round 75, appeared something less than champion-like.

The only true victor of the tournament? Augusta National golf course, which yielded just four sub-par rounds on Sunday, none to any player with a reasonable chance of winning. The top seven competitors posted a combined final round of 14 over par.

Wind gusts up to 25 mph greatly contributed to that wobbly finish. Augusta National's staggering length, marble-like greens, and intimidating mystique did the rest, raising questions as to whether the course's high degree of difficulty diminishes the tournament's entertainment value.

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Only in such challenging conditions could an even-par round from Woods constitute a charge up the leader board. The world's greatest golfer passed four players on the final day and moved from six shots back of the lead to three en route to a second-place finish. Trouble is, impressive comeback bids get little notice when fueled by a string of unimpressive pars.

Grade deflation

Each year, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida releases a so-called racial and gender report card on Major League Baseball. And each year, columnists eagerly scramble over one another for top honors in making the most politically correct remarks on the results.

The tsk-tsks this year proved especially obnoxious in the wake of mixed grades. Baseball earned its highest score ever, an A-minus, for racial hiring practices but received a C-plus on gender. What's more, the report card indicated that the number of black players in the game has plummeted to 8.2 percent, less than half of where the figure stood 10 years ago and the lowest since the institute began reporting two decades ago.

In a column for ESPN.com, report author Richard Lapchick presumes to speak for Jackie Robinson in lamenting the lack of African-Americans on the field and women in the front office-as though Robinson's vision for baseball were about changing numbers rather than changing hearts.

The reasons for the decline in black baseball players are manifold-competition from other sports, fewer college scholarships, limited access to fields and equipment in inner cities. Racism is not a factor. No player with Major League skills appears to be left off a roster or impeded from progress due to race. That kind of foolishness ended decades ago to the credit of pioneers like Robinson.

In the same way, women are not systematically excluded from front office jobs. The pool of qualified women interested in such positions is simply small. That men are generally more interested and involved in a game played by men is no blight on society. It does not need correction. It is not even noteworthy. And it requires no report card.

Hoops rising

Fan figures from the NBA's now completed regular season reflect one of the healthiest years in league history, according to reports from the Sports Business Journal. Though game attendance dipped slightly by about 2 percent, it still represents the third-highest total ever. And television ratings ticked upward by 13 percent for games on TNT, 12 percent for those on ESPN, 9 percent for those on ABC, and 11 percent for local broadcasts. Internet traffic to NBA.com has spiked up 57 percent from last year to 5.3 million visits per day.

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