3/16 & 3/17 PL Fixtures

SATURDAY

 

Everton vs. Man City

This match has the potential to be one of the most interesting of the weekend. Although Manchester City will be the favorite coming in, it’s still a match that has the potential to swing either way. Currently, I would say Man City are clearly the club in better form, after easily beating Barnsley in the FA cup 5-0, while Everton lost their match up against Wigan 3-0. Unfortunately for Everton, goalkeeper Tim Howard also fractured two of his ribs recently and will miss this match (as well as US qualifiers for the World Cup, most likely, but that is another problem entirely). My prediction is that Man City will end up winning, but if players like Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini have anything to say about it then it will be a hard fought match at least.

Final Prediction: Everton 1 – 3 Manchester City

 

Aston Villa vs. QPR

Maybe not a Battle of the Titans, but one that should be interesting, if for no other reason than it holds a lot of weight in the futures of these clubs. With the relegation battle as close as it is, and with five or six teams that could realistically end in the bottom three, every point counts, especially when it is against another team at the bottom. QPR (20th) currently sit four points behind Villa (16th) but this match-up could close that gap to just one point, and with similar strengths in the rest of their matchups (although I think QPR does have a slightly easier finish), this is a huge match for both clubs. In this one, I’m taking QPR, if for no other reason that Villa showed me nothing against Reading, even if they got the win, whereas QPR is coming off a nice win at Sunderland. So, in the end, I think QPR comes out with three points, and makes the relegation battle even more interesting.

Final Prediction: Aston Villa 1 – 2 QPR

 

Southampton vs. Liverpool

These are two clubs who are currently in very different form. Southampton has won only two games in the New Year (although, to be fair, one was against Man City). Liverpool, on the other hand, will be on a high from their stunning victory against Tottenham (3-2 thanks to a cool Stevie G PK).  The choice seems pretty clear to me. In their last three EPL fixtures, Liverpool has scored 12 goals while allowing only two. I also just can’t see Southampton having a solution that can keep Luis Suarez quiet for the whole game, especially with the form he’s been in. I’ll take Liverpool to win this game, in a match that if they play like they have been, Liverpool should take easily.

Final Prediction: Southampton 1 – 3 Liverpool

 

Stoke vs West Brom

Now this game is tough for one reason specifically – Stoke is home. And one thing that they have proved pretty consistently is that they are a tough team to beat at The Britannia.  I do not like the style of soccer Stoke plays. It is very defensive, very rough, and in my opinion, usually very boring. But they do seem to find a way to stay in most games with hard nose defending and playing strong, and I think that’s what is going to happen here. If West Brom can use Lukaku and his size to counter the strength of the Stoke defense, they may be able to pull this one out. For me, though, this game ends in a draw, and more than likely than not it will be a very low scoring one at that.

Final Prediction: Stoke City 0 – 0 West Brom

 

Swansea vs. Arsenal

This is a very interesting matchup, and one that should hopefully be entertaining. These two teams play in a very similar style – possession and pass heavy soccer. Their season series has also been entertaining; Swansea took their EPL matchup at the Emirates 2-0, and then Arsenal beat them in the FA cup 1-0 later in the season. In the end, I think this comes down more to which Arsenal team shows up. Will it be the team that dominated Newcastle in December, or who were in defensive shambles against Tottenham last week? With a midweek fixture against Bayern Munich (already down 3-0 on aggregate after the first leg) it will be interesting to see how the Gunners respond not only to their most recent losses, but also to the fact that their star player, Jack Wilshere, may be out due to injury. I’m biased here, but I’m going with my team and say Arsenal pulls themselves together and take the game, and hopefully get themselves back on track.

Final Prediction: Swansea 1 – 2 Arsenal

 

Manchester United vs. Reading

There isn’t really much to say about this one, Man U are at the top of the league and look poised to take home the trophy, while Reading are in the relegation battle. Although their last match was pretty epic (Manchester United taking away a 4-3 win after the game was tied 3-3 at half), in the end, I just can’t see Reading putting up a fight like that again. I’m more curious to see who Sir Alex Ferguson decides to start against a clearly inferior club, especially after their FA cup draw against Chelsea. With another match not far on the horizon, and with so many star options, particularly upfront, it won’t matter. Manchester United and Old Trafford will take this easily.

Final Prediction: Manchester United 4 – 1 Reading

 

SUNDAY

 

Sunderland vs. Norwich

One again, not exactly a clash of heavy weights here. Sunderland have not won a Premier League game in almost two months (January 19th, away at Wigan), and Norwich city have not been impressive either, scoring only two goals since January 30th. I’m not really sure which way to lean on this one, but I’m going to go with Sunderland, expecting them to hopefully step up to the plate and try and right their sinking ship. Norwich took the first matchup 2-1 and I think Sunderland may do the same this time.

Final Prediction: Sunderland 2 – 1 Norwich

 

Tottenham vs. Fulham

After their late loss to Liverpool, expect Tottenham to come out right from the beginning with guns blazing. Fulham are a mid-table team, while Tottenham are fighting to secure a Champions League position for next year. Unfortunately for Fulham, two of their better players from last season’s campaign are now members of the Spurs squad (Dembele and Dempsey). The only way that I can see Fulham taking points here is if they find a way to stop Gareth Bale, who is without a doubt the hottest player in the league right now (16 EPL goals and running the show for the Spurs). Don’t be surprised that they give him an inch, he will stretch it into a mile. However, I really can’t see Fulham stopping the Bale-train, or the Spurs in general. Tottenham won the first leg of this fixture away 0 – 3 in December and I expect more of the same here.

Final Prediction: Tottenham 2 – 0 Fulham

 

Chelsea vs. West Ham

I really don’t have too much analysis on this one. On paper, Chelsea is clearly far superior in practically every aspect. However, we all know that sports are never played on paper. If you remember correctly, West Ham shocked everyone with their 3 – 1 win over Chelsea back in December. Unfortunately for West Ham, I don’t expect this game to play out the same way. We’ve seen Chelsea have good games, and we’ve seen them fail to reach their potential, but in the end they’re just the better side and I don’t expect them to fall to West Ham twice this campaign.

Final Prediction: Chelsea 4 – 1 West Ham

 

Wigan vs. Newcastle

This has been a surprisingly disappointing season for Newcastle, after their strong campaign last year. Wigan on the other hand, seem to be in more or less the same position they were in last year – battling to avoid relegation. Newcastle has some real talent on their team, but just don’t seem to be able to play together on a consistent basis. Losing Demba Ba in the January transfer to Chelsea probably didn’t help their case either. Although I think Newcastle is the better team, I wouldn’t be shocked if Wigan pulled this one out either, because they somehow always seem to find a way to survive at the end of the season. So, for me, I’m going to go right in the middle.

Final Prediction: Wigan 2 – 2 Newcastle

Soccer: Your Guide to Fanhood

It seems that every day, soccer is becoming more and more of a “hipster” sport.  In recent times alone, LeBron James purchased a share of the European giants Liverpool, Amar’e Stoudemire was rocking a Man United hat in post-game interviews, and Steve Nash has tweeted his allegiance as a diehard Tottenham fan for some time now.  With every day that passes, Soccer is picking up more and more American fans, and rightfully so.  Soccer is so much more than a sport; it has stopped civil wars, and has unified countless people.  This article is solely about the English Premiere League (EPL), however.  By far the most popular league in the world, and the league that any young footballer wants to play in when growing up.  The sole purpose of this article is to guide you, the fan, to be able to pick an EPL team to follow.  I will try to do this in the most unbiased way possible, as I already am a diehard fan of one of these clubs.  If you check my twitter, you will find out very quickly who my favorite club is.

To me, I always compare picking an EPL team to the stock market.  You want to pick a team who’s not considered a top club, but has potential to climb the table.  With no connection to teams that are thousands of miles away, I understand the frustration with choosing a club to root for.  I will break down teams into 3 categories.  One being the “Undesirables”, which will be the teams that I would stay away from.  The 2nd category will be “Midtable” which will be clubs you can root for knowing they will always be a consistent club, but never with title dreams.  And finally the “Giants” which are the clubs that have most of the U.S support.  Clubs that will not only compete highly in the league, but also across Europe.

 

UNDESIRABLES

The title of these clubs is a bit harsh.  Everyone loves the underdog story, and a bunch of these clubs play very attractive and inspirational football.  The reason I would not pledge my allegiance to these clubs is solely on the fact you never know when they will get booted out of the Premiership (which can happen, 3 teams a year get relegated to a lower division).  I would absolutely suggest that you pick one of these teams as your “2nd club” which is mostly frowned upon because you only can have 1 club.  But everyone has that one smaller club they enjoy watching and hope they do well.

 

Wigan Athletic – Let me first off start by saying I absolutely love Wigan’s manager, Roberto Martinez.  If I could play for one Manager in the prem, he would be it.  Smart tactician, gets the most out of his players, and never plays scared against bigger opponents.  He kept a weak Wigan side up and avoided relegation in a tough EPL season last year.  But he alone is not enough to warrant your fan hood to this club.  Wigan will break your heart and not give you many highs, and more than likely, will be out of the premiership more often than not.

Main Rival: Aldershot Town (lower division team)

Best Player: Aurona Kone

 

Reading – Much like Wigan, I don’t see them staying up for very long.  They were promoted last year, and I see them going straight back down this year.  Don’t particularly play attractive soccer, so I would stay away from this club unless you want to be streaming Championship side games on your laptop in the near future.

Main Rival: Bolton Wanderers (lower division team)

Best Player: Adam Le Fondre

 

Southampton – Again, there is a trend here with the undesirables; they don’t have the talent nor money to be anything but feeder clubs.  While I think that fans should root for teams that will have highs and lows, there is no need to put yourself through the torment of supporting one of these clubs if you don’t have too.  Southampton though, has always produced great young talent.  Gareth Bale was a Southampton man before he became an absolute monster at Spurs.  They could potentially be in the Premiership for a couple of years, but don’t see them challenging for too much more than that.

Main Rival: Portsmouth (lower division team)

Best Player: Rickie Lambert

 

MIDTABLE

Midtables clubs are clubs that are just that, midtable.  These clubs are teams that will more likely than not be in the prem year in and year out.  They will even upset larger clubs like Man U and Chelsea from time to time.  Rooting for one of these teams you will get satisfaction that you don’t root for one of the giant clubs who don’t know heartbreak, but you’ll also have to accept that winning a title probably won’t happen in your lifetime.

 

QPR – I highly debated putting this team in the undesirables, but I just couldn’t do it.  You might look up the EPL table and call me crazy considering they are in dead last in the whole league, and you may be right.  But let me defend this selection before you get all up in arms.  QPR was able to stay up last year after a rough season, and lots of thrilling matches.  While QPR is struggling this year as well, they have so many things going for them that even if they do get relegated; I believe they will be right back up in no time.  For one, they have one of the best managers in England, in Harry Redknapp.  Redknapp was let go by Spurs last summer despite finishing 4th 2 seasons in a row (which is the goal for most clubs because it means Champions League qualification).  This was massively controversial because of the success he brought Spurs.  He then replaced Mark Hughes as QPR manager about midway through this season.  He alone would be enough for me to put confidence in this club.  But there’s more, unlike most smaller clubs, QPRs owners are willing to spend.  They want to compete and they will fork over any amount of money for players Redknapp wants.  This has been shown by signing Julio Cesar (one of the world’s top keepers), bringing in Loic Remy (not a superstar by any means, but a quality striker none the less), and even pursuing Dutch magician, Wesley Sneijder.  While they weren’t able to capture the stars signature, the fact they were even in the running is impressive.  So even with the great manager, and the owner’s willingness to spend, QPR has a great stadium in Loftus Road (one of my favorite pitches, also in London which is a big pro) and a flashy game changer player in Adel Taarabt.  Taarabt is one of those players you don’t hear a lot about because he is hit or miss with his games and plays for a smaller club, but YouTube his name and you’ll see the talent and flash he has right away.  For these reasons, I think QPR would be a great pick for any new fan.  This team has a lot of potential going forward, but they still can break your heart.

Main Rival:  Any London based team

Best Player: Adel Taarabt

 

Aston Villa – Oh has the mighty have fallen with this club.  A few years ago this team was fighting for a Champions League spot and had players like Stewart Downing, James Milner, and Ashley Young.  Now they have one of the youngest sides in the league.  While I wouldn’t recommend picking this club, I know a few Villa fans and they are as passionate as they come.  The future is unsure for them, they could just as easily be sent down this year as they could stay up.  But one pull that they have for an American fan is that they have 2 Americans in their squad.  One being keeper Brad Guzan, who consistently stands on his head and makes great save after great save.  He alone has numerously kept Villa in games with his heroics.  The other being Eric Lichaj.  Lichaj is an outside back who can’t seem to protect his spot in the lineup.  One week he will be the starting left back, the next he doesn’t even make the 18 for the game.  He is young however, just like the rest of the team.  If they can stay up, and buy some quality centerbacks in the summer window, this could be a team a fan could get behind and see some quality results in the years ahead.

Main Rival: Birmingham City (Lower division team)

Best Player: Christian Benteke

 

Sunderland – This is a midlevel team to a “T”.  This club is always right in the middle of the pack, has quality players, but just will never get over that hump and compete for trophies in Europe.  Sunderland is basically the club for players who could play for the likes of Man U and Man City, but would be players fighting for time to make the bench.  With players like Adam Johnson, Craig Gardner, and Seb Larsson on the squad, you will always see quality play from this side.  If you are a fan who doesn’t want to jump on a bandwagon of a team who people might question your fan hood, Sunderland may be a team for you.  They get fair results, never really in danger of being relegated, and play attractive attacking soccer most of the time.  They have underachieved so far this year though, I am a little surprised to see them sitting 15th in the league as of right now.  They have quality of a squad between 10-12 in the league.

Main Rival: Newcastle

Best Player: Stéphane Sessègnon

 

Norwich – Another club that I considered in the undesirables but just couldn’t do it.  Norwich is a small club that just seems to get results when they have no business in doing so.  While they don’t have any players that are going to blow you away when watching a game, they always seem to fight as a unit and grind out results.  And from time to time, they will play some beautiful soccer.  I would again not recommend this club for your allegiance because they could easily be sent down in the next few years, but there’s something about them that would give you a sense of pride in being a Norwich supporter.

Main Rival: Ipswich Town (Lower division team)

Best Player: Grant Holt

 

West Ham – Let me first start by saying this is a quality club to support.  Have great fans, solid history, and willingness to compete regardless of the opponent.  If someone asked you which club you supported and you responded “West Ham” you would have a lot of respect from the person who asked you that question.  They are nearly the perfect team to pick, because they are in the middle of the top teams and bottom teams.  They have players like Joe Cole, Diame, and Andy Carroll (on loan from Liverpool although) who all could play for bigger clubs.  If you picked this team, you could potentially see West Ham climb the table in the next few years and be a consistent top 8 team.

Main Rival: Any London based team

Best Player: Mohamed Diame

 

Stoke City – If you like scrappy and teams who play with heart, Stoke may be your pick.  Stoke is known as being the “anti-football”, and by that I mean they bunker down, counter attack, and grind results through great defense and frustrating opponents.  They are slowly becoming an Americanized squad with the recent signings of American internationals Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea.  American fans could get on board with them also because they play much like the USA international team played under Bob Bradley.  They know they don’t have the talent to just outplay you with precision passing and possession, so they do what they know. Defend like hell and punch you when you’re not expecting it.  As a fan of attractive soccer and passing, I’m not going to lie, when my team plays Stoke I get frustrated as hell.  But I see the appeal for new American fans.

Main Rival: West Brom

Best Player: Their Centerbacks (Huth and Shawcross)

 

Newcastle – If I wrote this article a year ago I probably would have them in the “giant” category.  Buy top quality players, have a great stadium, and were impressive a year ago.  But for some reason, this year has been very disappointing for the club.  I’m not entirely sure what has happened in the past year, but the results are not going the way that they should be for this club.  I often compare picking an EPL team to a stock market, in being that you want to pick a team whose stock is low, but could climb high in the near future. That you as a fan, were there in the lows and that makes you enjoy the highs that much more.  This team could be just that for you.  Currently, they sit 13th in the table.  I think they are in the 7-8 range in talent.  I expect next year that they will be more of the team we saw last year and it is not out of the question to see them maybe compete for Champions League if they can play to the level they are capable of.

Main Rival: Sunderland

Best Player: Hartem Ben Arfa

 

Fulham – This club already has a large number of American followers.  Up until recently, they were the team most Americans went to when making the move to England.  With the likes of Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Eddie Johnson playing for them in the past.  Most fans picked them because they were able to watch their beloved Americans play for the same club.  But recently, Fulham has parted ways with their American players and still competed fine without them.  Losing Dempsey to Spurs, and bringing in the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Fulham is still built to compete and consistently finish midtable.  I should also add that this London based club has the coolest stadium in all of England.  Nothing like playing at Craven Cottage.

Main Rival: Any London based team

Best Player: Dimitar Berbatov

 

Swansea – Honestly if I could recommend to any new fan who to root for, Swansea would be the first or second team I would say.  A small club who was recently promoted, and has done nothing but succeed while in the top division.  Swansea plays an attractive brand of football with young players who will probably move on to bigger clubs shortly (ie Joe Allen and Gylfi Siggurdson).  Being a fan of this team you will see great soccer, development of young players who will be household names in a few years, and have the pride that comes with rooting for a small club.  The only thing is, you won’t be seeing them in Champions League anytime soon due to them having to sell their best players to finance their team.  But they do have some draw for players to come play for them.  As much as they sell, they had arguably the best signing of last summer bringing in Michu.  Who has been a delight to watch for any soccer fan.  Also, Swansea is the only club in the EPL that is from Wales, could be a pro or con for you as a fan depending on how you look at it.

Main Rival: Cardiff City (lower level, Welsh side)

Best Player: Michu

 

West Brom – Basically reread what I wrote for Swansea and apply it to West Brom.  I think of these 2 clubs in the same sense.  Smaller clubs who compete with anyone, but will have to be feeder clubs to stick around.  Anyone who supports West Brom or Swansea is a knowledgeable soccer fan and is ok with me.

Main Rival: Aston Villa

Best Player:  Lukaku (on loan, however)

 

Everton – One player, two names, Tim Howard.  Most American fans root for this team solely because it is the home of the USA shot stopper Timmy Howard.  But along with Mr. Howard, this club has a lot to offer new fans.  In my opinion they have the best Left back in the EPL in Leighton Baines, and maybe the hottest midfield commodity in Marouane Fellaini.  This is also the club Landon Donovan served 2 stints on loan at while away from the Galaxy.  Everton is known for having great fans, and is a very family oriented and loyal club.  Most players say playing at Goodison is a treat and Everton is a special place to play.  I would recommend this club to new fans due to the support and the loyalty factor.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that they are consistently in the top half of the league.

Main Rival: Liverpool

Best Player: Marouane Fellaini

 

GIANTS

These are the clubs that are competing for not only Champions League, but also the League Title.  This is where the clubs of most American fans are going to be.  These are the clubs who have big budgets and can buy the best players in the world.  You will have a lot of highs if you chose one of these teams.

 

Liverpool – From my experience, this club probably has the most American fans of any EPL team.  I think this is a culmination of a few reasons.  First, Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, is one of a kind. In the past, most teams would just hope to come in and get a draw and leave. The fan support is as good as it gets, as they sing “You’ll never walk alone” before every game (YouTube it, it’s worth it).  They are one of England’s most prestigious clubs, as they have won 18 first division trophies.  Also, LeBron recently bought a portion of this club, and has attended a few of their games himself.  Over the past few years they declined slightly and are around the 6th position in the table.  They will always be a threat to compete though, and have one of my favorite players in Steven Gerrard.  Picking this team would result in you having a lot of other fans to converse with and you would be supporting one of the most prestigious clubs in the entire world.  The only downside, Luis Suarez.  Suarez is an infuriating talented player.  He is the Joakim Noah of the EPL, unless he’s on your team, you absolutely hate him.

Main Rival: Everton

Best Player: Steven Gerrard

Exciting Player: Luis Suarez

 

Arsenal – Along with Liverpool, probably the most liked club in the United States.  Has always been known for its passing and beautiful play (under Wenger at least).  Is routinely a lock for Champions League and can outplay any club in the world on any day.  With Arsene Wenger at the helm, he has made Arsenal a club that a lot of players would love to play for.  Recently however, the players who made Arsenal so great for so many years (Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie) have left for bigger clubs and Wenger has replaced them with younger inexperienced players.  This does not sit well with Arsenal supporters.  With this happening, many think Wenger is on his way out, and that Arsenal is not at the level it used to be.  While I think there is some truth in that, Arsenals history is too big to overlook and their commitment to great football is something every fan can enjoy.  If you like attractive soccer and want to watch how games should be played, Arsenal would be a great team to root for.

Main Rival: Tottenham Hotspur

Best Player:  Jack Wilshere

Exciting player: Theo Walcott

 

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) – One of many London based teams who have jumped from a midlevel team to a Giant in the past few years.  After finishing 4th the past 2 years and on pace to do it again this year, this club is on the rise.  But much like my stock market comparison, rooting for this one would be doing it on the wrong side.  Spurs fans have had a ton of heartbreak in the past, and now they are finally celebrating great performances.  Picking this team now would be hard due to the fact you missed the entire heart ache from the past.  With that said, if you want a trendy pick, Spurs are the way to go because while they are on the rise, they still find a way to let you down.  With young manager Andre Villas Boas leading a confident bunch, Tottenham might be the most entertaining club to watch in the entire league.  Spurs don’t have many USA fans due to they weren’t that relevant in the past, but now seem to be building support from everywhere.  Once star man Gareth Bale is gone however, it’s anyone’s guess where this club will go.

Main Rival: Arsenal

Best Player: Gareth Bale

Exciting player: Aaron Lennon

 

Chelsea – This team will always compete and be near the top of the table and have been for a while now.  The pros of this club are they attract young talent and don’t just buy players for the sake of it (ie Man City).  Bringing in youngsters like Eden Hazard and Oscar this past transfer window will give fans young talent to watch for years to come.  Mixed with these young players, they also have the legend Frank Lampard still roaming the midfield (although he might be gone in the near future).  So this team is a good pick for those fans who like to see young talent develop and grow while also having the big names like Lampard, Fernando Torres, and John Terry (pains me to include him in this) on the pitch.  One downside is that their owner, Roman Abramovich, is kind of a wild card.  He’s fired 2 managers, soon to be 3, in the past 2 seasons.  They won the Champions League last year with Roberto di Mateo, and after a somewhat poor start to the season, they sacked him, much to the chagrin of the fans.  You won’t get much respect pledging your fan hood to this team, as even in England their fans are looked at as bandwagon fans.

Main Rival: Tottenham/Arsenal

Best Player: Juan Mata

Exciting Player: Eden Hazard

 

Man City – The spending giants of the EPL.  Man City of the past 4 years is an entirely different club than the one of the past 40 years.  And if you’re going by my stock market idea, Man City would be the worst stock market pick of them all.  The best way to paint a picture of this team would be comparing them to the New York Mets, and then the Mets winning the lottery and buying every big name player they could find.  Having the history and heart ache for ages, Man City would have been a good pick about 6 years ago.  But today, they have bought countless players under the rich owners and manager Roberto Mancini.  With the likes of Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Kun Aguero, and arguably the best young keeper in the world in Joe Hart, Man City is a top club in Europe.  If you want to watch a bunch of dysfunctional players play together and still win regardless of team chemistry, this is absolutely your team.  The circus around them is like the New York Jets.

Main Rival: Man United

Best Player: Yaya Touré

Exciting Player: Kun Agüero

 

Man United – Unless you’re a Yankee fan and absolutely love being hated by everyone, don’t pick this team.  Easily the most hated club in England, with the whiniest manager in Sir Alex Ferguson.  They always are a top club and probably will win the league this year, barring something crazy.  Picking this team, you’re in for lots of happiness and very little heartache.  Not what I look for in a club, but I’m sure some of you fans like being the hated and being the hunted.  If that’s what you enjoy, Man United may be the side for you.

Main Rival: Man City

Best Player: Robin Van Persie

Exciting Player: Wayne Rooney

 

So after analyzing all 20 teams, here is my very vague description of each team and what they have to offer.  Feel free to tweet me @Schaeffer817 if you have any questions, or want more information.  Alongside the EPL, watch some MLS games and tune into any International USA games if you really want to watch the beautiful game.

Tiger’s Chances at The Masters After Win at Doral

by Chris DiLorenzo

What are Tiger’s chances to wear the Green Jacket after his win at Doral?

Tiger Woods was simply unstoppable this past weekend at TPC Blue Monster at Doral and once again proved to everyone why he is the greatest of all time while winning his 17th World Golf Championship title. With that look in his eyes that we all have come to love, you knew Tiger was not going to lose sinking putt after putt. Woods’ swing has looked as good as it has all year, possibly even better than his win at foggy Torrey Pines earlier this year. I bet Steve Stricker wishes he can take back those putting tips he gave Tiger earlier this week prior to the World Golf Classic. Talk about back to his old form, Tiger now has his 5th win in his last 19 PGA Tour starts while converting 51 of 55 third-round leads/ co-leads to victories.

Tiger was driving the ball with extreme power this weekend, blasting his longest 327 yards with ease. It is quite remarkable to see these professional golfers drive the ball further than any weekend hacker can even imagine while making it look like a walk in the park. It is difficult to drive with such power and hit the fairways consistently which is what led to Tiger hitting the fairways only 53.6% yet we have seen Tiger accomplish both in his career.  What made him so successful at Doral was his ability to save the drives in the rough consistently landing his next shots on or very close to the green. Woods’ GIR percentage (69.4%) was enough for the victory however only 1.3% better than second place Steve Stricker which made each of his sinking putts even more important (Woods also finished with a sand save percentage of 100). And once Tiger was on the green, it was game over for everyone else on the leader boards including his new putt tipper Steve Stricker. It took Woods an average of 1.5 putts to make the galleries by the greens roar like no one else has been able to do. Tiger finished with 27 birdies this week, one short of his personal best on the PGA Tour, and he took the fewest putts (100) over 72 holes in any tour event.

As for his expected competition at Augusta, Tiger will not be stopped if he continues to play at this rate come time for the Masters. For the first time in over five years, Tiger has two wins prior to the Masters both of which were dominant. Everyone on the tour should be nervous to see Tiger in old form because there is no one in the history of golf better when Woods is playing at his best.

Putting guru Steve Stricker finished the weekend 17 under par earning him sole possession of second place. Stricker definitely is kicking himself for those simple yet deadly putting tips he gave Tiger. Stricker and Tiger both put up a sand save percentage of 100, two of the best in the tour at that. Stricker was behind Tiger in average putts by one tenth of a percent (1.6%) which is what Stricker is known for, being the best putter of all time. Expect Stricker to contend in the Masters but only if he can keep up his known excellence of putting. We all know how tricky those greens at Augusta can be.

Rory McIlroy started slow this weekend before making a surge and looking like the Rory of last year. MIlory finished tied 8th at Doral shooting an impressive -10. Rory hit the fairways 51.8% of the time, something he will need to improve if he wants a shot at the green jacket.  His GIR, which was better than Tiger at 70.8%, is something we all enjoy to see Rory do well to put him in contention.

The lefty specialist Phil Mickelson possibly looked his best all year in Miami finishing tied for third shooting14 under for the round. Mickelson looked most impressive in his greens in regulation at 73.6% beating both Rory and Tiger. Phil drove the fairways 57.1% of the time which is what will be necessary for him to contend at Augusta. The galleries love Phil so look for him to feed and build off his success this weekend to please the crowds at the Masters.

Graeme McDowell, the second best player from North Ireland behind Rory MIlroy, started Sunday in sole possession of second place putting him in a spot to give Tiger a run for his money being paired together on Sunday. Getting off to a hot start birdying the first two holes, McDowell went on to bogey 5, 11, and a double bogey on 18. Finishing tied third at -14 look for McDowell to be in same form at Augusta hitting the fairways 75% and a GIR 72.2%.

As for Bubba Watson, the last golfer to wear the green jacket, his time at the World Golf Classic was not what he was expecting. Watson finished his weekend 7 under par T18th which won’t cut it for another jacket. Watson hit the fairways only 48.2% of the time while consistently driving the ball over 300 yards with an average drive going 309.3. One of Bubba’s biggest weaknesses at Doral was his sand game only saving it 45.5% of the time from the beach. He will need to work on this to see his name atop the leader boards this season. Watson is a great golfer who is as creative as it gets however I don’t see him making a run for a repeat in Georgia with Tiger looking dominant.

What this means for Tiger is simple; build off these two early and dominant wins so far this season for a chance to wear the green jacket for a fifth time in his career. Expect Tiger to continue to work on his putting but I’m sure he won’t get any more tips from Mr.Stricker (Tiger can spend some of the $1.5 million he won Sunday on putting tips). Woods will need to improve on hitting the fairways more consistently for he will not always be so dominant with his ability to save his shots in the rough. If Tiger’s swing at the Masters resembles what his swing looked like this weekend then expect Tiger to attract large galleries with rowdy and excited spectators. With his look of determination and poised calmness Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time which he showed us all this weekend at Doral.

Warriors Road Trip Recap

This past week the Warriors went on a five game road trip, three of which were against playoff teams well over .500

The Warriors started the trip with six straight road losses, hoping to turn things around. Their first stop was on Sunday afternoon when they visited the Timberwolves. The Wolves were only 13-13 on their home floor, and had lost both times they faced the Warriors this season. Kevin Love sat this game out as he continues to recover from surgery he had on his hand. The Wolves started the game hot, as they outscored the Warriors 32-18 in the first quarter and also led at halftime. The Warriors would bounce back, making it a close game all the way to the final seconds. Ahead 100-99, Jarrett Jack missed a jump shot leaving the Wolves with just under eight seconds to forge a victory. Luke Ridnour brought the ball down the court himself, his team with two timeouts left, but missed a desperation runner near the baseline. David Lee recorded a double double this game with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Derrick Williams had one himself with 23 points and 12 rebounds. It should be said that Jack had kept the Warriors in this game, though. He played more minutes than Stephen Curry, led the team in points with 23, shot 8-19 including 5-7 three pointers and 2-2 free throws. Not to mention his eight assists and five rebounds, oh, and his plus-minus was +15 too. Keep him in mind when you start hearing Sixth Man of the Year talks.

Two days later, the Warriors would next play the rolling Pacers, who had won seven of their last nine, in a hostile Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This game was practically tied until the Pacers went on a 20-3 run near the end of the 2nd quarter. Then, as the Warriors started to close in before halftime, Stephen Curry crossed up George Hill, making him fall around the foul line. Hill tripped up Curry, fouling him to save a basket. Indiana really started pulling away in the second half, where they have a 32-4 record while ahead after three quarters.

stephen-curry-dribble

Curry had an impressive night, though, leading the Warriors with 38 points that came from 14-20 shooting, 7-10 from beyond the arc, four assists, three steals, and two boards. Despite his performance, the real story occurred in the 4th quarter, when a benches clearing fight broke out, featuring David Lee and Roy Hibbert. At the 6:10 mark, David West missed a turn around shot from the block, but while the ball was still in the air, Lee and Hibbert started shoving each other. Curry tried to come over and contain Hibbert, but got thrown down and the mob of players spilled into some seats. A total of five players were issued technical fouls: Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, David West, David Lee, then Roy Hibbert got ejected from the game from a second technical. Both Lee and Hibbert would be suspended for one game each as well. The Warriors found their first loss this trip 108-97.

This fight would prove to be disastrous for the Warriors in having David Lee miss a game, especially when it’s the next night against his former team, the New York Knicks, who have the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Without their All-Star power forward, the Warriors didn’t have anyone to cover Tyson Chandler. Well, they do have seven footer Andris Biedrins, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be him either. Chandler dominated the boards in the 1st quarter, bringing down 13 rebounds all by himself. With Lee out, Curry would step up big time to keep the Warriors in this game. I thought he shot well against Indiana, but he literally could not miss in the Garden. He played every minute of the game and ended up with 54 points from 18-28 field goals, a near perfect 11-13 from downtown, breaking the franchise record of nine that Dorell Wright made two seasons ago, 7-7 free throws, seven assists, six rebounds, and three steals.

In the final minutes of the game, it was still close and both teams continued to exchange the lead. The game was just about over when Jarrett Jack got called for a traveling violation, after which Carmelo Anthony hit a turn around jump shot to seal the deal. Festus Ezeli made a weak inbounds pass and Raymond Felton stole the ball. On the last desperation chance for the Warriors, Klay Thompson, who struggled hard to find his shot all night, and had been crummy against Minnesota and Indiana, missed two three pointers as time expired. The Warriors fell short 109-105.

During the Knicks game, I, like many other Warriors fans I’m sure, was badly missing David Lee. I couldn’t help but think maybe we could have come away with the win if he didn’t get suspended for a fight that wasn’t even his fault. Then I read this article from Grantland explaining how bad of an interior defender Lee was. I guess I have never really noticed this, but I made sure to pay special attention to his defense during the Celtics game.

Two more days later, after a much needed break, the Warriors arrived in Boston to play the Celtics who are 20-9 at home. The Celtics themselves had just wrapped up a five game road trip, too, apparent as both teams looked a little tired this game. Avery Bradley made it his mission to shut down Stephen Curry, and Courtney Lee endorsed that saying Curry will not score 54 points in TD Garden. Curry only had two looks in the 1st quarter, first missing an off balanced mid-range jumper but then sinking a three pointer. Paul Pierce had a great quarter, posting 13 of Boston’s 31 points, and adding three assists and three defensive rebounds. Pierce would finish with 26 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. I thought David Lee played well facing up against Kevin Garnett. Lee had 19 rebounds, more than anyone else in the game, but did not shoot very well. A tired Stephen Curry still led the team with 25 points, though 10 of those were from free throws, and six assists. Again, the game was close until the 3rd quarter, where the Celtics saw the Warriors lead and went on a 9-2 run and went up by seven going into the 4th quarter. The Warriors would go on to lose 94-86 as they shot poorly trying to beat the Celtics’ second half zone defense.

The last game of the road trip was against the Sixers, on the 51st anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. The Sixers went into Saturday riding a seven game losing streak; the Warriors looked to prolong this and end their own trip on a lighter note. Nick Young did not play, Andrew Bynum did not play because of swelling in the right knee that has hindered him since he was traded to Philadelphia, and the former Warrior Jason Richardson sat because of surgery on his knee also. Richardson will miss the remainder of the season.

The Warriors looked refreshed, seizing the lead early and retained possession with some nice rebounding. Festus Ezeli got the start and helped when it came to grabbing boards. Royal Ivey had a bit of trouble guarding Stephen Curry and let him score 13 points and dish out two assists in the 1st quarter. The Sixers spent the 2nd quarter trying to shave down the Warriors lead, and they managed to make it a three point game at halftime. Philadelphia finally went ahead late in the 3rd quarter after Dorell Wright came on, and he and Evan Turner made it a ball game. The Warriors’ record when leading at halftime is 24-5, but only 8-23 when trailing after three quarters. Klay Thompson finally found his groove back this game but missed the shots he needed to hit in the 4th quarter. He also found difficulty containing Turner in the second half. Turner finished just shy of a triple double with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Wright forced Curry into a traveling violation with a minute left in the game, then Jrue Holiday sank a two pointer while being double covered. Carl Landry would miss a lay up to bring the Warriors within one possession, and on the other end of the floor Holiday made his lay up to sink the Warriors 104-97. In the end, Turner and Thaddeus Young had double doubles for the Sixers, and David Lee had one consisting of 13 points and 16 rebounds, plus seven assists. Curry and Thompson combined for 59 points, 22-38 shooting and 10-21 on three pointers.

Golden State finished their road trip with only one win followed by four straight losses. They are now 15-20 away from Oracle Arena this season and return home on Monday to begin a seven game homestand.

As for the playoff situation, the Warriors are still sixth in the West, one game ahead of the Rockets in eighth and 3.5 games up on the Lakers.

February 2013

Readers,

Above all, we would like to thank you for reading Sporting Gentlemen and hope you find it not only informative, but fun and engaging as well. We understand that there is an extensive world of sports blogs out there, but what sets us apart is our point of view and attention to detail in the articles that we present. We strive to put out high quality work and always keep our subscribers in mind.

Because I work as the blog’s editor, I do not really get to post articles on a regular basis as a contributing author. I do, on the other hand, also enjoy the part of sports that leans more towards pop culture and not always scores and statistics. I guess you could say this is like the “beyond” part in our motto, “Looking beyond the PPGs and TDs.” That being said, you may see a variety of content within my Letters from the Editor posts. Since this is my first letter, I want to take advantage of it to show my journalist side because I think it would be fun to do. Next month, though, I will most likely start a trend of writing about unconventional topics, such as what I thought about this player wearing a certain style of basketball shoes or perhaps strange facts about spring training baseball.

Today I feel like being relevant and current and writing about the future of the NFL.

With the NFL Scouting Combine having just ended, and the Draft being two short months away, many questions are being asked: Who will be drafted first overall? Who is the best quarterback available? Will this team trade up or down to get the player they want? Does this player fit this team’s offense or defense? A number of thoughts popped into my head after watching the workouts from this past week.

First, I am a big fan of Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel and am glad that he did well in the combine. I think he has an enormous upside and may fare even better than fellow Seminole and Vikings starter Christian Ponder. He does, however, need time to develop, as we saw him throw a few inconsistent passes during his drills.

I am going to stop myself now before I go on rambling about more prospects I like (Mike Gillislee, Keenan Allen, Dion Jordan), it must be said that this draft will be dominated by “non-scoring position” players. I did not know how else to phrase that, but what I mean is the offensive line or defensive line, or a position where a player would not typically record points. Many top draft prospects, such as Star Lotulelei, who is one of the top ranked defensive tackles this year, are obviously outstanding athletes, but may not get to see the national attention other big name players, such as Robert Woods, would because of the position they play. Many people would complain that this draft is “boring” because the first overall pick is not a star quarterback, running back or receiver, but any position player has the ability to provide an immediate impact to the team that selects them.

While I have casually watched the NFL Combine in the past, this year was the first time I really sat down and paid attention to it. I realized how important the 40-yard dash is and how it can positively or adversely affect a player’s draft stock. Speed and quickness is essential no matter what position one plays, as it could be the difference between scoring and not scoring. The main event at the Combine, the 40-yard dash measures a player’s explosiveness from a cold start, simulating the acceleration they could create from a snap during a game. Manti Te’o was under much anticipation going into his workouts and ran a rather slow official 4.82 sec 40. Other sources claim his time will not render him an unfavorable draft prospect, but he still has the opportunity to show off his skills at the Notre Dame pro day on March 26.

I was holding my breath on Sunday while the running backs and wide outs were running their 40-yard dashes. These are usually the fastest players on the field and it showed as four players in particular broke a few stopwatches. Texas’ Marquise Goodwin and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin ran official 4.27 sec and 4.34 sec times, respectively. Goodwin was only 0.03 seconds shy of Chris Johnson’s Combine record 4.24 sec dash from back in 2008. Then, the Auburn Tiger running back Onterio McCalebb posted an unofficial 4.21 sec time, which Chris Johnson himself thought to be “childish.” McCalebb’s time was too good to be true and turned into an official 4.34 sec, the same as Texas A&M wide out Ryan Swope‘s time. Mostly I was relieved that no one broke the dash record because Chris Johnson is my favorite football player, but I was happy to see these guys run fast times.