AT&T National: Adam Scott Cards 66, Military Parks Tank on Course

AT&T National: Adam Scott Cards 66, Military Parks Tank on Course

We're officially off and running at the AT&T National. Two men, Adam Scott and Hunter Haas, are tied for the 18-hole lead at 4-under-par, while a whole host of others are in contention and in red numbers. Unfortunately for those pulling for local favorites Sean O'Hair and Jim Furyk, neither man would find himself on the low-side of par after day one. The two currently reside at a combined thirteen-over-par.

Comments from co-leader Adam Scott and our picks for the best spots to camp out on the course after the jump...
Though Aussie Adam Scott may not have the local ties or, let's say, a membership at Aronimink (I'm looking at you, O'Hair), he is nonetheless familiar with the golf course. After draining a fifteen-footer for birdie on 18, Scott made his way to the media tent to discuss his own relationship with 83-year-old Donald Ross design. A participant in the 1997 U.S. Junior Amateur, an event also held on the grounds of Aronimink, Scott fondly recalled his experience as a seventeen-year-old in unfamiliar territory.

"I didn't know much at all about the style of golf courses in the Northeast of America back then. So, coming here to play was a real treat...I remember [it was] a lot more tree-lined back then. There were a lot of trees, I believe, taken out since...It was a good course back then, too. It was probably the toughest course I had seen at that point. The USGA...it's like going to a U.S. Open that Junior Amateur with the way they set it up. It was pretty tough. It still is. [Laughs] I think I lost pretty early back then."

If his memory of the course didn't help him to a share of the lead Thursday, perhaps it was his caddie. Steve Williams, the usual bag man for Tiger Woods, has been hanging with Scott the past few week as Woods' continues rehabilitation on his knee and Achilles tendon. To the benefit of those in attendance, particularly those in the photography business, "Stevie" doesn't seem nearly as hostile when he isn't with Woods. Scott and co-leader Hunter Hass tee off Friday morning at 8:15 a.m. and 8:37 a.m., respectively.

Should you be out there to take in their opening tee balls, we've put together a list of some of the better spots to hang out during the day at Aronimink. Sadly, the view from one of our favorite spots in 2010—the white fence behind the 9th tee—has been somewhat obstructed in 2011. Where before you could see both the par-5 9th and par-3 17th, members of the gallery now get a view of a massive freaking tank. It's been parked in that location so it may reside next to the Lockheed Martin chalet, a special tent for members of the military to take in the action. Is the tank cool? Yes. Is it in the way? Yes.

Rather than continue on about the tank, we'll simply do our best to pitch back into the fairway and make a four. In no particular order, here's our recommendations for the best spots camp out on the course. Many of the locations below represent the most convenient sites for accessing the greatest number holes in the shortest amount of time. Naturally, as the tournament progresses and the crowds increase, so will the traffic in many of these locales. As such, we've tried to mix a few gems that were left untouched from last year.

(1) The double-greens at 8 and 10. The green complexes of the par-3 8th and par-4 10th back right up against one another and are only separated by a small patch of fairway. The trees to the left of the 8th provide some shade while you get to watch the pros take aim from the top of a hill more than 240-yards away. Likewise, over on 10, the hole's front left pond makes for an entertaining moment or two. This is one of the most popular spots on the course and is usually the busiest area throughout each round.

(2) The bleacher seats behind the 17th green. The par-3 17th is one of, if not the best hole on the golf course. At 215-yards, the players are forced to either bail out to the right side of the green or flirt with a massive lake that drowns every golf ball short or left. This is, without question, the number-one spot to lock down come Sunday.

(3) The bleacher seats behind 18. Consider the rationale for sitting on 17, and then make the connection that the tournament ends on 18. Both spots are obviously prime, and that much harder to secure as the week progresses. Fortunately, you shouldn't have much trouble getting in either during the opening rounds.

(4) The shaded area behind the 14th green. This is particularly clutch. Not only are you under the cover of more than 100-year-old oaks, but you're within steps of both the 15th tee and 16th green. Previously, you could have also used this location to run over to the aforementioned fence behind 9. Now...there's a tank. Hooray!

(5) The rough behind the 15th green. Considering that its just paces from the 12th green and 13th and 16th tee boxes, you might ask, "why the hell is no one here?" Well, because it's kind of far and people are lazy. If you're up for the trek, it's a solid spot.

(6) The hill to the right of the 7th green. The steep hill makes for a semi-stadium effect, with each spectator clearly seeing over anyone below. Plus, the view from the 8th tee box, just a few paces to the right, is absolutely spectacular. This, like the whole golf course quite frankly, is crowded come Sunday.

(7) The driving range. It's, uh, pretty boss.

There are obviously more areas we could have included, but we'll let you find those of your own. We'll be back tomorrow with a rundown of the insane prices in the merchandise tent and other notes from the course. 'Til then.

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”