Golf season is in full bore mode now, with several 20 somethings dominating the circuit, but with some younger vets like Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler winning the past two weeks, D.J. at Riviera and Rickie at the Honda in Miami this past weekend. This week the tour alights in Mexico City for the WGC-Mexico Championship. This is a big time tournament usually played at Trump National Doral, but with POTUS's comments last year on the Wall, the Tour didn't take that very well, and moved the site. Kind of a shame that the players can't compete at the Blue Monster and that epic 18th hole, but maybe it'll come back and Club de Golf Chapultepec looks like an interesting, scenic venue with 50 of the top players in the world. I will have my prediction at the bottom of this column.
The Arnie is coming up, and the majestic 81st Masters is just over a month away. The Players will be in May at TPC Sawgrass, the 117th playing of the U.S. Open in June will take place at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, about 35 miles outside of Milwaukee. Erin Hills has never hosted a major, but has hosted the 2011 U.S. Amateur, won by Kelly Kraft, who is making a move on the tour now. The 146th Open Championship in July will be played at Royal Birkdale in England, which has hosted the Open 10 times, the last won in 2008 won by Padraig Harrington. The 98th PGA Championship will be played at famed Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C. which has never hosted a major, but is a classic venue and has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship, a regular event on the tour, for many years.
Will Jordan Spieth recapture the magic like he looks like he very well could? Will D.J, win a second major? With his length, Augusta National looks possible. Will Jason Day get his momentum back from two years ago? He certainly has that eliteness about him that allows him to win at any of the four majors. How will Rory come back from his rib injury? If he can, he wants the Masters to complete the career grand slam and win his 5th major title at 27 years old. Then there are guys like Rickie, Sneds, and others trying to capture their first major. Two guys you might call, as John Feinstein labeled those kind of players in his book, The Majors, "Best Players not to have won a major." Henrik, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker, the list goes on, all of them have captured a major title with Rose winning the U.S. Open in 2013 and Henrik and Walker both winning majors last year, Henrik at the Open Championship and Walker at the PGA. And, of course, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama are banging on the door to win not just one major, but multiple majors. Both are chomping at the bit to don the Green Jacket in Butler's Cabin on Sunday, April 9th.
So a lot of extraordinary storylines heading into the heart of the season. Will have major coverage the rest of what looks like an electric season.
This is such a sensational time of year in sports, and college basketball is at its best right now with the historically good NCAA tournament coming up. It's a pretty top heavy field this year with quite a few exceptional teams having a shot of cutting down the nets in Phoenix on Monday, April 3rd.
The four teams that really stick out to me right now are North Carolina, with their tremendous length under the basket, their ability to rebound, and their always prolific offensive ability. If they can defend well, they could very well be cutting down the nylon. Kansas is a superb team, led by All American guards Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham and superstar freshman small forward Josh Jackson. Villanova is superb again and going for back to back national titles, which would be the first time since Florida accomplished that under Billy Donovan in '06-'07. And I'm starting to get bullish on Kentucky. They're putting it together and with all that Parade All American talent, they're in the mix every year. They are peaking well.
But there are other teams that have a good shot at the national title and certainly the Final Four. Duke, Louisville, Baylor are all outstanding, UCLA and Oregon have super teams, Zona is very good. I'm not as big on the Big Ten teams this season. Virginia lost a lot off last year's team, but the way the play defense gives them a chance to make a run. I like Syracuse a lot, too, and Va Tech has a good squad that could knock some people off. Wisconsin and Purdue look like the best teams in the Big Ten, but not good enough to make the Final Four. Michigan State will be competitive, but they've been really hampered by injuries, so this is not their year. Wichita State has another really good team under Greg Marshall that can go some distance.
For SEC Cinderellas, I like Florida to do really well with a shot to make it to the Final Four. They're excellent. I see South Carolina making some noise and being a second weekend team. Arkansas is up and down, but pretty darn good when they're up. Vanderbilt is in right now, according to Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketologist, but they've got work to do. They have a huge game at home against Florida on Saturday, which they have to have, and then they'll need to win at least 2 games in the SEC tournament to get invited to the Big Dance. They have the No.1 non-conference strength of schedule and No.2 strength of schedule overall with victories on the road over Florida and Arkansas, and South Carolina at home, so it's a pretty good resume. But the Dores have work to do.
For real Cinderellas, Middle Tennessee State has a really good team as does Monmouth.
Will have my bracket out the Monday after Selection Sunday, which is March 12th.
I watched a superb game last night in the National Basketball Association as the Celtics defeated the Cavs, 103-99, at the "Gaaden," in Boston. I saw one of the best defensive players I've seen in a long time in Avery Bradley. Bradley was like stickem on Kyrie Irving, one of the most prolific offensive players in the NBA along with Steph, Bron, KD and Russ Westbrook. They used to call Gary Payton, who played many years for the Seattle Supersonics in the 80's and 90's, "the Glove" because his defense was as tight as a glove on an offensive player. He was a terrific defender. That's what Bradley looks like. And a really interesting part of the game happened with 1:08 left, when Bradley drained a trifecta, and the camera went into the crowd to show Bill Belichick, a huge Celtics fan. While the rest of the Boston faithful were going berserk, Bill immediately looked up at the clock in a calm, cool fashion like all the great ones do. His coaching job in the Super Bowl with his Patriots down by 28 in the third quarter was nothing short of sensational. He's a cool customer and knew there was a lot of game left. He wasn't satisfied until the clock struck :00. Isaiah Thomas, no relation to the great one, but certainly becoming a great one, canned a 30 foot triple with 49 ticks left and the Celtics sank some free throws and held off Bron and Kyrie to capture an electric victory. The Cavs got a good look with :05 left as LeBron found an open Deron Williams in the corner, with the Cavs down 101-99, for what could have been the game winning triple. But Williams missed, the Celtics got the board, and held on with free throws.
In my preseason predictions, I predicted the San Antonio Spurs to capture the Larry O'Brien Trophy winning in 7 over the Cavs. Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs was my MVP pick. The Dubs are still awesome with Steph, KD and Klay Thompson, and, at 50-10, look extremely formidable. But KD is out for four weeks with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in his left leg, but will be back a week or two before the playoffs start on April 15th, a Saturday. The Spurs are 46-13 and 3.5 games back of the Dubs in the west. The Cavs are 41-18 and have a 3 game lead over the Celtics, which are at 39-22. Still bullish on my Spurs over Cavs pick though it's tough to go against the Warriors with that eliteness they have talent-wise, and the Celtics have really come on. But going to stick with my prediction in October barring major injuries. Will have my updated predictions for the NBA playoffs that Saturday, 4-15. Kawhi hit a huge 12 footer last night with 2 seconds left to lift the Spurs to a 100-99 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Kawhi is averaging 26 points and 6 boards and is a prolific defender, much like Bradley. Should be terrific in April with the playoffs starting. Like that Big four to be in their respective conference finals.
In the NHL, I like the Chicago Blackhawks. They are a machine and have won the Stanley Cup most recently in 2010, 2013 and 2015 and have won 7 overall. Patrick Kane pulled off a hat trick last night in the 'Hawks 4-1 victory over defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh. Really like the way they're playing and have them in the west. I'm a little more uncertain about the east. The Washington Capitals have the best record in hockey at 42-13, and the most points with 91, but Washington was superb in the regular season last year and melted down in the playoffs. So while I like the Blackhawks over the Minnesota Wild in the west, I see the east as more of a toss up. Still believe in Sydney Crosby and the defending champion Pens, but the Caps, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have really good teams. The Montreal Canadians are good this season, too. Not counting out the Tampa Bay Lightning in the east either. They were in the finals two years ago and are starting to play well again. Anaheim is a challenger in the west. Will have NHL playoff predictions on Wednesday, April 12th, the day the playoffs commence.
MLB is in full stride in spring training. I like the Cubs again to do very well, but to be really challenged by the Dodgers. In the AL, I like the Indians and the Bosox with the Rangers and the Astros as key competitors. Also still like the Giants and Nationals in the NL. Will have those predictions on Saturday, April 1st.
In professional tennis, Roger and Serena were epic at the Australian Open. It was a masterpiece performance for both all time great superstars. Serena won her 23rd slam and moved ahead of Steffi Graf for most majors in a career in the Open Era, which started in 1968 when professionals were allowed to compete with amateurs in the slams. Margaret Court holds the overall record with 24, so Serena still has something to gun for. There are some good competitors challenging Serena in Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Carolina Wozniacki looks back. Garbine Muguruza won the French last year defeating Serena in a dominating performance. American Coco Vandeweghe is really coming on, and, of course, Venus, is still playing at a high level with her 7 slams under her belt.
It was pretty remarkable seeing Roger face Rafa again in a major final. Roger played like 39 year old Tom Brady does, who has a patent on the Fountain of Youth. Brady plays like a 25 year old and says he feels even better now than he did then, and that's what the 35 year old Fed did in beating Rafa in an epic 5 setter, winning the 5th, 6-3, in an unstoppable performance. Roger now has 18 slams. Rafa is tied with Pete Sampras for second at 14, and Joker is tied with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver at 12. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out this summer, whether Joker or Rafa can stay on Roger's heels, or if Roger can extend his all time lead. Next up is the French, May 29th-June 11th, where Rafa has won 9 times, the last one coming in 2014, so he would presumably be the favorite. Wimbledon is July 3rd-16th, where Roger has won 7 times, with the last coming in 2012. It's his favorite, so that should be compelling as always. Roger's won 5 times at the U.S. Open which commences August 28th with the finals on September 10th. Novak was a 6 time winner at the Australian, but fell early. He seems to be struggling right now. Andy Murray is always a factor, and he'll be in the mix big time this summer. There are other guys like Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, American Jack Sock, Milos Raonic and Dominic Thiem who will be major factors at Paris, London and the Big Apple. So a lot of riveting tennis coming up.
It was phenomenal when American Pharoah won the triple crown two years ago, in 2015. That hadn't been done since 1978 when Affirmed followed Seattle Slew, which won it in 1977. It had been 37 years since a three year old thoroughbred had won the Triple Crown. Of course, the greatest of all time, Secretariat, did it in 1973, and set the standard as the greatest horse ever. That still stands today.
The 143rd Kentucky Derby in May, the 141st Preakness in late May, and the 149th Belmont Stakes in June are always historically electric events. Will have more on the key horses once we get closer to post time for the Derby.
Prediction this week
The WGC-Mexico Championship
Club de Golf Chapultepec, 7,330 yards, par 71. Just outside Mexico City
TV: Today-Friday: Golf Channel, 1-6 PM CT/2-7 PM ET;
Saturday: Golf 11 AM-2 PM CT/Noon-3 PM ET. NBC, 2-5 PM CT/3-6 PM ET.
Sunday: GC, 11 AM-1 PM CT/12-2 PM ET. NBC: 1-5 PM CT/2-6 PM ET.
I'm going with the 37 year old from Borriol, Castellon, Spain to capture his 10th PGA title, and get closer and closer to a major. He's another guy in the mix this year. He's newly engaged and seems to have settled down pretty well. Going with El Nino.