Is Merion Set Up for Tiger Woods to Break His Five-Year Drought in Majors?

Is Merion Set Up for Tiger Woods to Break His Five-Year Drought in Majors?

It’s almost hard to believe, but the last time Tiger Woods won a major championship was in 2008. In ’08, Maurice Cheeks was head coach of the 76ers, Brian Dawkins was wearing an Eagles uniform, and the Phillies were winning the World Series. Yeah, it’s been that long.

Woods is on the comeback trail though. He has four PGA Tour wins under his belt this year already to build off of his three from 2012, this after winning none at all for two straight years. Clearly Tiger has recovered, and he is on the prowl.

[ For more on The700Level's 2013 U.S. Open, click here ]

A healthy, scandal-free Tiger Woods is probably the favorite to win any tournament in which he participates, and the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club this week is no different. Those of us who have not experienced the privilege of playing there have heard what a challenging course it is, but it is short, especially by Open standards at 6,996 yards – a length Golf analysts say could work to Woods’ advantage.

In Mark Cannizzaro’s Tiger-centric preview of the Open, the New York Post writer examined why Merion could be the place where Woods finally picks up his 15th major victory, and renews his quest to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18.

Merion should set up well for Woods for two reasons: 1, the weakest part of his game is his driver, and using a driver is not necessary on many Merion holes; and 2, no one thinks his way around the course better than Woods.

Woods’ victory at The Players Championship last month seemed to provide a blueprint of how he will play Merion. Woods surgically maneuvered his way around the tight and treacherous Sawgrass Stadium Course using many irons off tees to position himself for easier approach shots, hitting a driver only once in the final round.

Because Woods was striking his irons beautifully and putting well, it worked to perfection.

“Any time you can give Tiger a course that he doesn’t need to use his driver, I think, is to his advantage,” NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller said. “The way he won The Players Championship is very similar to what he’s going to do at Merion. If he doesn’t have to hit the driver, I think he’s going to be tough to beat.”

Of course, Tiger still has to go out and actually win the thing, which is always much easier said than done in this game. While he put up a solid effort at the Masters this year (tied for fourth), Augusta ultimately proved uncooperative, extending his slump to 0-for-15 in majors.

Whether you root for him or against him, Woods is always one of the guys you follow, and Cannizzaro says the pressure will be on this week. We’ll find out whether or not he's all the way back in greatest-golfer-in-the-world form.

>> After five years without major win, Open course sets up nicely for Tiger [NYP]

The Sixers are for real (and Sam Hinkie had nothing to do with it)

The Sixers are for real (and Sam Hinkie had nothing to do with it)

The biggest sports story in town in the Sixers, winners of 4 of 5 and an exhilarating team on the floor, led by a superstar player who seems to actually get us as a fan base. And to think, all it took to bring us to this point was getting rid of Sam Hinkie.

Look at what a dark place the Sixers were in a year ago. They were in last place, with the league’s worst roster and no hope for the future except for a bunch of ill-defined future draft picks. And they were led by a general manager with absolutely zero interest in winning, explaining himself, or (worst of all) appearing on the WIP Morning Show. 

But now, there’s hope. Joel Embiid is the real deal. The supporting cast is rapidly improving, with guys like T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington and Dario Saric looking like valuable supporting players, and Ben Simmons joining them very soon. 

I know the Hinkie apologists are going to say these improvements are because of him and that he deserves credit -- please. To credit Hinkie with drafting Joel Embiid is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of in all my years of watching Philadelphia sports. We all know Hinkie wanted Andrew Wiggins -- therefore, he gets no credit for drafting Embiid. And as Bob Brookover pointed out last week, Embiid is a Sixer because of luck.  

Ben Simmons, of course, was drafted by Bryan Colangelo, who also acquired the best Sixer since Thaddeus Young, Ersan Ilyasova. And if the two first-round picks next year turn out to be stars, Colangelo will get credit for those, too

Hinkie did things like draft three centers in a  row, take Jahlil Okafor over Kristaps Porzingis, trade valuable players like Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels for nothing, and sign no veterans at all for three years. 

Joel Embiid is a winner, Sam Hinkie is a loser, and that’s all there is to it.  

In other Sixers news, it was nice to see Simmons warming up on the court last week against Boston- when Embiid did that, it meant he was 16-18 months away from returning to action. In the last two years, the Sixers lead the league in pre-game social media posts featuring players who aren’t active for that night’s game. 

And speaking of records, congrats to Nerlens Noel for breaking Shane Victorino’s longstanding local athlete record for use of “you know” in a single interview, when he talked to Woj last week

Other Philly sports takes: 

The Cowboys’ loss to the Packers on Sunday proves two things: Dak Prescott is a fraud, and the Cowboys were never very good anyway. The only reason they went 13-3 was the easy schedule. 

Can you believe Allen Iverson getting photographed in a Cowboys jersey? Doesn’t he know the rules? If you play in Philly, you must root for every one of the city’s teams, regardless of circumstance, for the rest of your life. 

Even so, shame on the Knicks’ Derrick Rose for no-showing a game. If you want to be a legendary NBA guard, you’re supposed to skip PRACTICES, not games. Not a game. 

Angelo made a good point: Embiid is so perfect as a Philadelphia athlete that it makes me notice how much Carson Wentz isn’t. Hunting trips? Shotgun gifts? Getting locked in a gas station bathroom? That’s just not cutting it. Carson, immediately, needs to start drinking Shirley Temples, imitating pro wrestler entrances, and insulting porn stars on Instagram, or else I fear he won’t last in this town. 

Another good column by Marcus Hayes -- the Eagles must sacrifice multiple draft picks to trade up for wide receiver Mike Williams. Whatever it takes. 

Come on Eagles- no room on the staff for either of Buddy’s sons? How about both? 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. 

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

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AP Images

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

At 16-2-1, Penn State's men's hockey team is ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions have improved each of the last four years under head coach Guy Gadowsky. 

Their record by year:

      2013-14: 8-26-2
      2014-15: 18-15-4
Last season: 21-13-4
This season: 16-2-1

Penn State received 30 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO Division I poll. Denver is ranked No. 2, followed by Boston University, Minnesota-Duluth and Massachusetts-Lowell (see USCHO poll).

Penn State was ranked fourth last week before sweeping Michigan State.