Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Big Cat has still got it

The Big Cat was back Thursday at Panthers practice, and he looked lean and mean.

Jerry Richardson’s surprise appearance had the same sort of effect on Carolina’s workout as it used to when the principal unexpectedly walked into the room where your teacher was teaching to “observe” the class. Everyone sat up a little straighter.

SO every Panther seemed to run a little faster Thursday while Richardson looked on from a golf cart, old banking buddy Hugh McColl Jr. at his side. Richardson has obviously lost weight since his heart transplant in early February. He looked fit.

As I wrote in Wednesday’s paper, Richardson could and should give PR lessons to Michael Jordan if Jordan ever ends up joining him as a majority owner of a Charlotte pro sports franchise.

OThe thing about Richardson’s people skills, though, that can't be duplicated – they aren’t the least bit fake. Richardson has always been a genteel Southern charmer, arm-twisting so adeptly that people find themselves going along with him before they’re even sure what they’ve agreed to.

A crowd of about a dozen media types awaited Richardson on his golf cart at the end of practice, hopeful of getting one of Richardson’s rare group interviews.

Richardson wasn’t about to give one of those, you could tell. But rather than zipping by with a quick, royalty-inspired wave (par for the course for most owners I've been around in this sort of situation), Richardson stopped the cart, got out, shook everyone’s hand and introduced himself to the few media members he didn’t know. Then he made a little small talk and thanked everyone for their thoughts, prayers and letters during his surgery and recovery.

Then Richardson got back in and sped off in the golf cart, leaving an aura of good feelings – without ever giving the interview.

I’m telling you, the Big Cat has still got it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hello Panthers (but not Peppers)

The Panthers are back in summer school, and not because they didn't pass their EOGs. This is only another in a seemingly endless series of NFL minicamps that pop up in May and June prior to Panthers training camp, which starts Aug.2 this season in Spartanburg.

Anyway, it does give those of us who pine for the NFL a little dose of the sport. It's always good to see Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams run around a little and Jake Delhomme throw some (and to his own guys this time! There's no other choice in summer school).

2 quick impressions after watching the first day of Panthers' summer school Wednesday:

1) Rookie DE Everette Brown looks very quick and has some veteran observers of the Panthers nodding their heads. His work ethic has already gained some positive reviews.

2) While the Panthers all publicly say they expect Julius Peppers on the first day of training camp in Spartanburg (he wasn't practicing Wednesday and isn't expected in summer school at all), I'll remain the naysayer on that one.

I just don't think Peppers will show up on Day 1 in Sparkle City. I think what's going on now is a silent protest, a "I-wanted-to-leave-and-you-didn't-accommodate-me-so-even-though-you'll-pay-me-a-million-a-game-in-2009-I-want-to-make-sure-I-get-my-feelings-across" kind of move. I don't think Peppers will actually hold out for any regular-season games, no, but as much as fans don't want it to, I think this will continue to linger.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Time for MJ to step up

OK, Michael Jordan, you have said for years you want to own a team.

Now there's one for sale in your homestate -- a team whose roster you have helped overhaul, a team that you already have a minority ownership stake in and a team that really should make the playoffs next season.

Time to step up.

Having talked to both Jordan and Bob Johnson one-on-one in the past few months about the possibility of MJ at some point becoming the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, I think there's nothing stopping this deal -- other than a few hundred million dollars and maybe some ego issues.

Johnson disclosed to me in our exclusive interview a month ago that he would be happy to sell the team to Jordan. Johnson also told me that he still owns "north of 70 percent" of the team.

As for Jordan? I asked the Bobcats that day (Wednesday April 15) if I could talk to MJ again about the ownership issue. Michael had told me in a one-on-one interview in November: "When Bob wants to step aside, I have no problem stepping in and saying, 'Hey look, I'd love to take control of this franchise.'"

Well, I'm still waiting for my next Jordan interview. The Bobcats tell me occasionally they are "working on it."

But to me, this situation is fairly clear-cut. After all, Johnson is obviously ready to sell. "I know Michael wants to own a team, and I want to assist him however I can," he told me in that interview a month ago.

Jordan needs to find some partners with deep pockets to share the risk. Then he needs to buy the majority interest in the team.

And then he needs to sink or swim -- MJ is famously competitive, and here's a chance to literally "own" another chance at competition.

The Bobcats would get a fresh start, Michael would get a team instead of just a small piece of one and Johnson could cash out. It makes too much sense, really. That's one reason why it might never happen. But it should.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On John Wall and Joey Logano

A couple of thoughts on a couple of teenagers who are about the same age and who are both considered prodigies in their respective sports:

John Wall says he's going to the University of Kentucky and playing for its new coach John Calipari, which has been the rumor since Calipari left Memphis for Lexington.

Wall and Calipari will probably be a good fit for a variety of reasons and here's what is going to happen next.

Incidentally, Duke and UNC will somehow survive this. N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe might not, but Duke and UNC have had players better than Wall before and will have players better than he is once again. All the boo-hooing to the contrary is just plain silly and partly a product of the fact that Wall dragged out his recruitment for so long, even into college basketball's dead period where there's nothing much else to talk about.

Wall will play for the Big Blue at Rupp Arena for a season and, ultimately, expectations won't be met. You know why? Because in Lexington, only a national championship will do. I covered the Wildcats on a day-to-day basis for 3 years for a Kentucky newspaper back in the day. Believe me, it's even worse there in terms of unrealistic expectations than it is in Chapel Hill or Durham.

And then Wall will be gone to the NBA. One and done, I'm still predicting. I just don't think this kid is cut out for college long-term.

And that will be that.

In any case, I'm so-o-o glad his recruitment is over. Talk about an endless process. I'm ready to watch Wall play, but I'm mostly glad I don't have to read another story detailing his incredibly long list of "finalists."

2. I wrote a column on NASCAR driver Joey Logano for Wednesday's Charlotte Observer. Here's the link.

Unlike Wall, the 18-year-old Logano is already competing in his sport's top series. He has struggled in the Sprint Cup so far -- he's currently 30th in points -- but has finished in the top 10 in 2 of the past 3 points events and is a force on the Nationwide Series.

Some people undoubtedly are tired of both Wall and Logano. Mark Martin said Logano could be one of the "all-time greats" when Logano was only 15, and the hype machine has been cranked up on high most of the time since then.

But Logano is refreshing in person -- he knows he hasn't done anything in Sprint Cup to write home about yet, but he thinks he may be getting close to doing it. He turns 19 on Sunday, when he will race the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Charlotte -- a 'swim hub'?

On Thursday, before the Charlotte UltraSwim began, Mayor Pat McCrory declared he wanted Charlotte to be a "swim hub."

I found that comment a little too sunny, but hey, that's what mayors do, right? But there's no doubt it's more possible now than it was Thursday, after Charlotte pulled off the best UltraSwim of the 25 that have come so far. Michael Phelps praised the meet lavishly in his post-meet press conference Sunday after he finished his races.

Would Charlotte as a major swim hub really be possible? Yes. Cities like Indianapolis and Omaha have a major edge over Charlotte in terms of tradition and facilities when you talk about hosting the biggest meet on American soil -- the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, which comes only once every four years. (Omaha had it in 2008 and likely will get it again in 2012).

But Charlotte could do it. The dream among the swim community here would likely be to hold bigger meets than the UltraSwim at Time Warner Cable Arena. You'd be amazed at what they can do with temporary pools these days -- that's what Omaha did in 2008, just put a huge one on at a major arena and then got more than 10,000 people to show up every day.

Charlotte has taken major strides in this direction with the formation of Mecklenburg Aquatic Club's Team Elite, a place where post-college swimmers can train for the Olympic dream full-time (it produced 2008 Olympians Mark Gangloff and Cullen Jones).

There would still be much to do -- infrastructure, dollars, etc. -- and it's questionable whether the community at large would get behind it. This is a NASCAR and Carolina Panthers town, ultimately. Swimming made its biggest splash yet this weekend, but that was partly due to weird circumstances (Michael Phelps returning to his first competitive meet since Beijing after the 3-month "bong photo" suspension).

Nevertheless, it was really cool to see. Charlotte has produced a great crop of swimmers over the past few years (Ricky Berens, Scot Robison, Lauren Smart and Jared White are all current NCAA stars, and there's more than that coming down the pike in the 16-18 age group).

It'd be nice to see those guys swim a few more huge meets here from time to time rather than always going off somewhere else to do so.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Great race coming tonight at UltraSwim

Michael Phelps -- with a lot more facial hair than he had in the 2008 Beijing Olympics -- talks to the media after one of his races at the Charlotte UltraSwim this weekend.

The best -- and most-publicized -- Charlotte UltraSwim in the 25-year history of the meet will come to a fitting conclusion Sunday night with what could be the best race of the meet.

In the men's 100-meter freestyle, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will face a trio of worthy challengers -- France's Fred Bousquet, Charlotte's Ricky Berens and Cullen Jones, who went to N.C. State and now swims for Charlotte's Mecklenburg Aquatic Club. The race is scheduled for approximately 7:45 p.m. Tickets are sold out.

In the Sunday morning preliminaries, Phelps and Berens qualified the fastest. They won their separate heats, each in a time of 49.50. That's a couple of seconds off Phelps' best time in the event, but it was only 1/10th of a second off Berens' personal best, and Berens was very happy with it.

"It's going to be a fantastic race," Berens said, "and I'm glad I'm going to be in the middle of the pool for it." Berens and Phelps will get two of the preferred inside lanes by virtue of their times. Berens, who grew up in Charlotte and is now a rising senior at the University of Texas, had the tougher heat in the morning but bested Jones and Bousquet with a superb final 25 meters.

Jones qualified third-fastest at 49.75. Bousquet was fourth at 49.81 but in some eyes will be the favorite tonight. Bousquet won the 50 freestyle here Saturday and holds a world record in that event. His personal best of 47.15 in the 100 is not a world record, but it's better than anyone else in the field.

The race will conclude both the UltraSwim and Phelps' participation in it, which has ramped up the attention (and the crowds) considerably. Phelps has won 2 of 3 events here and swam only the preliminary in the fourth (getting beaten by Charlotte's Jared White in his heat) before scratching out of the final. His one loss in a final came to backstroke king Aaron Peirsol Saturday night.

Phelps and Jones will both continue to try out a new, straight-armed stroke (one that has been used by Bousquet for years) in tonight's final.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Charlotte kid who beat Phelps

Have you ever heard of Jared White?

Unless you are a total swimming nut, it's doubtful you have. White, from Charlotte, just finished his sophomore year at Auburn. He's a good college swimmer, but not a high-profile one like Ricky Berens (also of Charlotte and now of Texas).

Yet White beat Michael Phelps Saturday morning in a 50 freestyle heat. Yes, a 20-year-old Charlotte kid swimming for Mecklenburg Aquatic Club beat Phelps.

It was only a preliminary race, and the 50 freestyle is one of Phelps' weaker events. But it's not White's best race, either -- he's considered more of a backstroker.

Both White and Phelps made the 50 final with their swims -- White with a career-best time of 23.04 in the heat and Phelps at 23.24. But Phelps isn't going to swim that 50final tonight. As he had tentatively planned the past few days, he instead will swim the final of the 100 backstroke, where he had the second-fastest time in the morning prelims to backstroke king Aaron Peirsol.

Phelps, incidentally, would have no chance to win that 50 free final. He qualified eighth-fastest. He is not a sprinter -- at least not yet.

Meanwhile, it's been a big meet for Jared White, who is a relative unknown but also made the final of that 100 backstroke. This is a kid who basically walked on to the Auburn swim team this season (after an unsuccessful freshman season at Minnesota, he transferred) and helped lead the Tigers to a national championship.

I'll have a story on White and his win over Phelps in Sunday's Charlotte Observer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Phelps 2-for-2 so far in Charlotte

Michael Phelps won both of his finals Friday night at the Charlotte UltraSwim, making a fine return to the sport after not swimming in a competitive meet for the past nine months.

Phelps won both the 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly Friday before a sellout crowd at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center, and neither race was terribly close. He won the 100 butterfly in 51.72 seconds, beating the rest of the field by more than a second. He won the 200 freestyle in slightly closer fashion, edging Peter Vanderkaay, 1:46.02 to 1:46.71.

Phelps said after the race he thought he was "ahead of schedule" and was smiling a lot, obviously pleased with his finals. He had only had the third-fastest time in both events in the morning preliminaries, but that's not terribly unusual. Like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, Phelps always seems to turn it on when it matters.

Mark Gangloff of Mecklenburg Aquatic Club won the 100 breaststroke in 1:00.18, nearly breaking the one-minute mark he has dreamed about for years. It was one of Gangloff's fastest times ever and he was still very happy about winning before the hometown crowd.

Phelps now heads into more uncharted territory. In his final three events at the UltraSwim, he will be swimming events that he did not try in Beijing when he won eight gold medals. (He plans to swim only two more finals however, dropping out of either the 50 freestyle or the 100 backstroke after Saturday morning preliminaries).

To stay perfect at the UltraSwim will be difficult for Phelps. But the way Phelps is swimming, he certainly could be perfect in Charlotte, just like he was in China.

Phelps rips suit, cruises to finals

Michael Phelps' first couple of swims at the Charlotte UltraSwim Friday morning went about as expected. Obviously taking it easy, Phelps cruised into tonight's final of the 100 butterfly and the 200 freestyle.

What was unexpected was seeing Phelps laugh out loud at the starting blocks just before his qualifying heat of the 200 free began. Normally he is completely serious in those moments.

Why did he laugh? "When I pulled my suit," Phelps said of the moment before his race began, "I found a little hole in the top part of my suit. I was laughing at that, hoping it wasn’t going to rip when I bent down to start."

It didn't. The hole in Phelps' suit was so tiny that it was pretty much unnoticed by the 1,000 or so people inside the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center. It wasn't nearly as big as, say, the hole in the back of Jake Delhomme's uniform pants in that Panthers game awhile back. That one was rated PG-13.

Phelps' coach Bob Bowman said his star swimmer continues to be somewhat awed at the attention his return to swimming has generated.

Said Bowman of Phelps: "I think he said something to me like, ‘Are there really five cameras in my face at the Charlotte UltraSwim? I didn’t even have that at the Olympics.’”

I think Phelps will lose once in Charlotte rather than go a perfect 4-for-4 in finals -- I wrote about the reasons why here in today's column.

But he looked very fit today, and there are some very knowledgeable swim experts here in Charlotte who think Phelps will win every event in which he races the final. It should be fun to see. Phelps had the third-fastest time in each of his preliminaries Friday, but that doesn't matter. He's still the overwhelming favorite in both of tonight's events -- the playing field will be more even for his events Saturday and Sunday, however.

Also tonight, Charlotte's Mark Gangloff qualified No.1 in the 100 breaststroke. He should have a spirited final against Eric Shanteau, with several other swimmers also a threat.

In the 200 freestyle, Matt Patton of Charlotte (who now swims for Club Wolverine out of Michigan) also made the final and will be seeded No.8. Scot Robison of Charlotte (now a fine collegiate swimmer at Virginia) had the ninth-best time and also might sneak in the final if someone in the top eight has to drop out.

General admission tickets for tonight's finals at the Charlotte UltraSwim are sold out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Phelps' revised Charlotte schedule

Michael Phelps' news conference in Charlotte was quite an event, with about 50 media members anxiously leaning in to ask questions of the 14-time gold medalist Thursday afternoon.

There wasn't much news in the 16-minute press conference, but Phelps seemed anxious to get in the pool and compete after not swimming in an official meet since the Beijing Olympics in August 2008, when he went 8-for-8 in gold medals.

Phelps' coach Bob Bowman later clarified the star swimmer's schedule for me. Bowman said Phelps will swim the 200 freestyle and the 100 butterfly on Friday, meaning Friday night will be the only time he is in two finals.

Then, on Saturday, Phelps will swim the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke in the morning preliminaries and then pick only one of those to swim in the night final "because they are back to back," Bowman said.

Bowman indicated Phelps would most likely pick the 100 backstroke for Saturday night, where he would be on a collision course with 100 backstroke king Aaron Peirsol.

Then, on Sunday, Phelps swims the 100 freestyle, where he should meet up with Charlotte's Ricky Berens and Cullen Jones in a scintillating final.

So to sum up, that will mean Phelps should swim four finals here (not five, as was previously thought, since he won't do the double on Saturday night). That's barring any more changes.

Tickets are going fast or already gone for a number of sessions -- check for more details.

How will Phelps do in Charlotte?

"I have no idea," Phelps said. "We’ll see. I’m just going to hop in the water and see what happens."

Phelps flew in to Charlotte Thursday morning, but this isn't the first time he has competed here. The last time came in the UltraSwim meet in 2006. I remember walking over to him at the pool in uptown Charlotte then and asking for a one-on-one interview. No other media folks were around. Phelps took off his headphones and cheerfully complied.

He wasn't unknown then, either, having already won six gold medals. But now, of course, he transcends his sport, which is part of the reason why reporters from Europe and Asia also are covering him here, as well as reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and many others.

It should be a fun weekend. Look for much more on Phelps' visit here and the UltraSwim meet in Friday's Charlotte Observer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Remember gold medalist Melvin Stewart??

In the course of a journalism career, you run across some really enjoyable characters who also happen to be elite athletes. Charlotte's Melvin Stewart was one of those -- an Olympic swimmer with an Olympic-sized personality to go along with it.

Stewart, who was born in Gastonia and grew up in Fort Mill and Charlotte, was once won of the best swimmers in the world. He won two gold medals in the 1992 Olympics and was undefeated in his signature event -- the 200 butterfly -- from 1989 to 1995.

Stewart will be back in town this week to do some video work for on the Charlotte UltraSwim, the local swim meet which is garnering major attention this year because Michael Phelps is involved. (Go to for more information).

Stewart, 40, lives in California now. He is married and has a nine-year-old daughter. He made a decent living as a movie screenwriter for awhile, he said, "working on movies that for the most part never saw the light of day." But now he works for USA Swimming, the national organization based in Colorado, promoting and marketing the sport as well as in alumni relations.

In 1995, we took a picture for The Observer of Melvin walking in uptown Charlotte in only his Speedo during the lunch rush. Watching the people in suits and ties look at him while he strode confidently along was hilarious. Some people would veer away from him. Stewart was fine with it, saying that a Speedo was basically his business suit. "I want people to have an opinion about me," he said.

Read my 1995 column on Stewart.

I'll write more about Stewart -- and the event he will be covering, the UltraSwim -- in Thursday's Charlotte Observer.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sorry, Peter: Panthers in Top 10

My friend Peter King of Sports Illustrated has the Carolina Panthers ranked 18th in his current power rankings for 2009.

That, of course, is too low. As currently constructed, the Panthers have 21 of 22 starters back from a team that went 12-5 last season. Now you can take that one of two ways. The Panthers haven't lost anybody (even No.90, despite all the offseason gnashing of teeth) but they also haven't gained anybody outside of the draft (which is why Everette Brown needs to help immediately on the pass rush this season).

If you're looking for ammo against Peter and/or Sports Illustrated, there's plenty. Peter picked New England to beat Dallas in Sept. 2008 in the 2009 Super Bowl -- ouch. SI has in past seasons gone as far as to pick the Panthers to win the Super Bowl in seasons where Carolina hasn't even made the playoffs and to err just about as far on the other side as well.

But to dismiss Peter's opinion as misguided is too simplistic. He's one of the most insightful writers in the business. He has great sources. If he picks the Panthers at No.18, that to some extent reflects the conventional wisdom around the NFL.

Where would I put the Panthers right now? My Top 10 is below, and I've put the Panthers at No.10. (And of course, I've missed the Panthers' outcome big-time in some past seasons, too).

My first 3 for 2009 would be Pittsburgh, New England and Indianapolis, in that order, followed by the N.Y. Giants.

I'd put Atlanta slightly ahead of Carolina right now if I were to guess who is going to win the NFC South, because the Falcons have really done a nice job filling their needs in the offseason. But I definitely wouldn't drop the Panthers all the way to No.18.

Here's my 2009 top 10 as of right now:

1. Pittsburgh
2. New England
3. Indy
4. N.Y. Giants
5. Tennessee
6. Baltimore
7. Atlanta
8. Philadelphia
9. San Diego
10. Carolina

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stephen Curry, rap star??

OK, the words "Stephen Curry" and "rapper" probably don't mesh too well in your mind.

But the former Davidson basketball star has a fun side, on display in this YouTube video posted a couple of days ago where he plays a supporting role (wearing big black glasses at one point). Curry's only solo comes about a minute into this 5-minute rap, which is basically a shout-out to the Davidson "Commons," the on-campus place where Curry loves to eat (along with a lot of other Davidson students, apparently).

Curry actually mentioned in his "I'm going to the NBA" press conference that he didn't decide to leave Davidson for good until he was eating an omelet at Commons with current Davidson starter Stephen Rossiter the morning of the press conference.

Rossiter has a bigger part in the video. It's G-rated and the chorus is kind of catchy... "Man, I love Commons..." The song is a remix of the rap "I Love College."

Again, here's the link.

On Rucker, GBS and Manny Ramirez

3 quick thoughts on a Thursday:

1. Mike Rucker will do fine in his preseason gig as a color analyst for the Carolina Panthers. He will be a B-minus analyst at the worst -- he already has some TV experience, which will come in handy -- and could move himself much higher than that if he...
a) Finds himself able to criticize former teammates when warranted and
b) Can cogently explain something in 20 seconds between plays.

That second one is tough -- there's a natural break during the huddle that the analyst can fill, but it's not very long, and you can't just say: "That last pass was too high." You've got to give people something that they wouldn't normally pick up on.

But the first one may be even tougher. "Ruck" is one of the nicest guys ever to walk into that Panther locker room and plenty verbal for the job. But if you're doing the TV broadcast, you have to call them as you see them. Even when you're working for the team, your first obligation is to your viewers. I hope Rucker can see that clearly.

2. I wrote a column today about Tennessee Tech men's head basketball coach Mike Sutton, who was afflicted 4 years ago with a rare nerve disease called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Sutton speaks in Charlotte Saturday. If you want to know more about Sutton (who went to East Carolina) or GBS, check out this 5-minute ESPN feature on him via YouTube. Here's the link.

3. The Dodgers' Manny Ramirez just got suspended 50 games by MLB for a positive drug test. His explanation -- that a doctor gave him a medication that was thought to be legal -- rings hollow.

And so baseball just keeps fouling fastballs directly off its own foot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tiger and the little girl

Victoria Davis, 7, holds the golf ball that she was given by Tiger Woods during the second round at Quail Hollow Friday. A close-up of the ball is above. (Photo courtesy of the Davis family)

Here’s a small story about what kind of ripples a small gesture can make – especially when Tiger Woods is the one to make it.

On Friday at the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods had just finished parring No.11. As he approached the No.12 tee, a 7-year-old girl named Victoria Davis said “Hi, Tiger.”

Woods is famous for his laser focus during rounds, which generally includes treating all golf fans like wallpaper. But Woods noticed the first-grader, said “Hello” and handed Victoria the golf ball he had just been using.

Monet Davis, Victoria’s mother, started crying then. She is a single parent. She and Victoria used to live in Charlotte, but had moved to suburban Chicago for family reasons. They flew back in last weekend to attend the wedding of a friend and to see Tiger play.

“A simple act of kindness like that,” Monet Davis said, “can make an indelible mark on someone’s life.”

Monet Davis sent me a picture of Victoria and the golf ball (which reads “Tiger” on one side). She plans to save both in a frame.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thoughts on Quail Hollow finish

Some Sunday night thoughts from my seat in the pressroom at Quail Hollow, where Sean O'Hair just won this PGA tournament by a stroke over Bubba Watson and Lucas Glover:

-- “The Green Mile” – holes No.16-18 -- is lauded time and again by everyone here as the sort of dramatic, incredibly difficult closing that every tournament needs.
You know what?
Call it heresy, but I could do with it being a little easier. It made for an anti-climactic finish – especially on Nos.17 and 18. The only way the best golfers went on Sunday when they reached those two holes was either sideways or down. You could just about forget making a birdie at either place.

O’Hair went bogey-bogey on those last two holes and still won. There were only two birdies on No.17 all of Sunday. Two! I understand making the course a test of the world’s best golfers, but there needs to be more of a risk-reward balance there. As it was, it felt like the final round was won after a couple of missed field goals or something -- sort of anti-climactic, despite the closeness of the scores.

-- Quail Hollow does seem to produce a worthy winner each year, however. O’Hair certainly was that. Anyone who turned pro while still in high school, struggled through the sort of golf boot camp that his unbelievably demanding father put him through and came out whole on the other side is fine in my book.

-- Zach Johnson’s shot directly off the tree at No.2 was one of those cringe-worthy golf moments that heartens hackers everywhere. When you saw Johnson looking back over his own left shoulder to find his ball – that just doesn’t happen very often. He ended up with a triple-bogey and that pretty much knocked the third-round leader off his game -- that and a splitting "headache," Johnson would say later.

-- When Tiger Woods drove the green at No.14 but then three-putted for par from 23 feet Sunday, that was it for him. He ended up finishing fourth and losing to O'Hair by two shots, and he had two strokes he could have gained there had the eagle putt dropped.
Tiger never recaptured his first-round magic here – shooting a 65 Thursday and then three straight rounds in the 70s after that.


Friday, May 1, 2009

No.90 a no-show -- get used to it

Julius Peppers wasn't there for the first day of the Panthers' minicamp Friday. And I would bet you he won't be there Saturday, or Sunday, or for any of the workouts in late May and early June that will attract just about everyone else in a Panther uniform.

I consider this a silent protest from Peppers, who wants to be unleashed to roam elsewhere but is being restrained by a $16 million yoke. Peppers doesn't want to be in Charlotte or with the Panthers anymore -- he's made that clear both through his agent and during the one interview he has given about the situation.

But the Panthers are also within their rights to restrain his freedom, and so they have. Now we've got a stalemate -- Peppers is also within his rights not to show up at minicamp, because he hasn't signed the "franchise tender" that will obligate Carolina to pay him $16 million this season once he does. (Can you imagine? There's $16 million waiting for you and you purposely avoid signing that contract? What a life.)

Now Panther head coach John Fox said Friday that he expects Peppers to be here "no later than training camp" and that he's hardly missing anything at this point. Fox, in other words, minimized the situation, which he always does whenever there's a hint of controversy around the Panthers. It's always just "part of the process."

But since I guessed correctly that Peppers wouldn't show up Friday on this blog last weekend, I'm going to make another guess now.

I don't think Peppers will be there for the first day of training camp, either.

I think No.90 is frustrated. I think he will try to force the issue a little more before just giving up and saying, "OK, never mind, I'm playing for you guys -- forget I ever said anything."

In other words, I don't think the Peppers situation will resolve itself anytime soon. Now I could be wrong -- perhaps Peppers will move into his dorm room at Wofford, happy as a lark, in late July with the rest of his teammates.

Somehow, though, I don't think so. My guess is that Peppers, at least briefly, becomes a training-camp holdout in Spartanburg as well.

A worthy cause at Davidson

Here’s a nice story: Davidson junior guard Bryant Barr is spearheading a charity event to raise money for “Nothing But Nets,” an organization dedicated to preventing malaria in Africa by providing anti-mosquito bed nets for families to sleep under.

The main event is Sunday, May 3, from 2-5 p.m. at Belk Arena on the Davidson campus. A lot of other Davidson basketball players will be helping run the tournament and live auction as well.

There will be a 3-on-3 tournament for kids from third to eighth grade (the deadline has already passed to enter that part), plus a live and silent auction. Included in the auction are items signed by LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Here are the relevant links and this one too – you can bid on some of the items now via eBay (there's some really cool stuff in there that you can bid on without ever leaving your home).

The live auction, though, will be at 4:45 p.m. Sunday at Belk Arena, and you have to be in attendance for that one (to get a shot at the LeBron jersey, Curry's game-worn shoes and more).