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Without Tiger Wood's roar, golf coverage rates only a yawn

Jul 1, 2008 7:02 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | A strange Sunday, this last one. With Tiger Woods gone for the year, golf is a bore and a yawn. Who but golfers could care who is playing, with the Mythic Main Man in temporary retirement? When he was in action, housewives and high school kids joined his worldwide charisma club. For the few who might have doubted his tremendous drawing power, watch what happens to the tournament television ratings.

So we turned to tennis, and rooted for the Williams sisters, the last American hope against the squadron of ladies with unpronounceable names from faraway places.

All the American men were gone, a strange feeling for anyone who grew up in the days of Don Budge and all of his sterling successors, guys like Pete Sampras and Jack Kramer, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, Arthur Ashe and Andre Agassi, who kept American pride burning brightly against all foreign challenges.

So, with no American men left at Wimbledon, we turned to soccer, with the European championship being beamed play by endless play from Vienna, and all Spain going goofy as its underdog warriors took down Germany.

Watching soccer takes a lot of practice for an American. The rules are hard to fathom and the penalty flags hard to decipher, but it is not difficult to understand the incredible skills and endurance of these remarkable athletes.

Running up and down and back and forth for an hour and a half on a 100-yard or bigger field, and unable to use your hands to handle the ball, is not to American taste, and effort after effort to sell the sport as a lasting professional league attraction here has failed.

High school and college athletes have learned to like it, but if you plan to bounce a ball off your head at 30 yards, or manipulate quick direction changes with your feet, or just stay alive for 90 minutes of extreme exertion, you better start training very young. And the Europeans and the rest of the known world beyond us do.

Football to them is just that, and as Europe’s Super Bowl unfolded on Sunday the wild international fervor became much easier to understand. Like all professional stars in this country, the appeal that makes soccer so popular in Europe is that these guys make something hugely difficult look relatively easy. Tough and grinding and fatiguing, but the skills make it look easy.

An hour and a half of this gets to be a bit much, however, with those 1-0 scores commonplace and less than 3 goals in the average game. How it got to be the world’s most popular sport, with 240 million reportedly playing in 200 countries, is hard to fathom, almost as big a mystery as how baseball got to be our "national pastime."

So we left the tube Sunday and picked up the daily rag, and there he was again. Or still. Big Brown’s trainer Rick Dutrow holding a press conference to say how tired he was of being accused of all those terrible things, and how the press was making a big deal out of nothing.

As Dutrow was talking, Kentucky was announcing he had another positive, this one at Churchill Downs, and gave him a 15-day suspension, marking the eighth straight year in which he has had some sort of difficulty with medication rules.

With Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Horse of the Year Curlin, also awaiting a medication violation hearing in Texas, we have a possible Triple Crown of Chemistry.

The principal owners of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, the IEAH crew led by Michael Iavarone, are trying to look respectable. They gained a few points with favorable publicity about the impressive state-of-the-art horse hospital they are building at Belmont Park, and at least one writer penned a piece about their worthy efforts for kids, their being good to their horses, and the fact that they have children of their own, a strange endorsement.

A lot of people have children of their own, including some with other serious shortcomings, and we hardly consider that a recommendation of rectitude.

Iavarone, speaking for his colleagues as usual, said their big stable of 50 horses or so would be drug free by Oct. 1. He did not explain why not July 1, unless it was because the stuff Dutrow said he used, but no longer does, may not have worn off by then.

Regardless, we have a suggestion for Michael Iavarone that could help improve his image immediately and immensely.

Take off those dark black glasses when you’re getting your picture taken, Michael. They make you look like one of the boys, or the Godfather himself.