Some “niche sports” thoughts as I watch some golf and soccer:

• The World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, played at the Blue Monster at Doral, is our first opportunity of 2016 to see the best players from around the world in the same event. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day are all in the same field for the first time this year. Since the groupings (much like the invitations) are based off the Official World Golf Ranking, that trio will play together for the first two days. Those three have combined to win five of the last six major championships contested. Even if it’s somehow a disappointing leaderboard on the weekend, the television coverage could be entertaining. Donald Trump owns the golf course, it’s Trump Doral, and the Republican frontrunner is, branding-wise, the tournament’s host. It will be fascinating to see how the broadcast handles the specter of his campaign, or an appearance from Trump himself. Rory McIlroy, when asked about the event’s host in his pre-tournament press conference, played the “I’m not an American” card. Savvy.

• We’re just over a month away from the Masters (first round – April 7th) and as is customary, a friend of mine who makes an annual late-February business trip to Vegas places our bets for us (if that’s somehow illegal, I’m lying, we just advise him……if that’s illegal, I give up). Four of us make four picks apiece, can’t pick anybody shorter than 10-1, submitted independently, so there’s some carry-over. We split any winnings evenly. Since the value isn’t there on the big three, we ended up with 3 bets on Bubba, and 2 apiece on Rickie, Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, and (to my dismay) Sergio Garcia. Every single year these knuckleheads chase the Sergio dragon. I have no idea what’s wrong with them. The rest are single bets on Brooks Koepka, Hank Stenson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, and, my personal favorite value longshot, Danny Willett at a juicy 80-1. We always end up wishing we could change our picks closer to the event (example…Willett’s wife is due with their first child the week of the Masters, and he’s already said he’ll skip Augusta National if she hasn’t delivered by then), but it adds a little fun every year. I’m pretty sure we’re still playing with house money after the guy who does the legwork picked Bubba in 2012. So…thanks to him.


• The week of the US Open at Oakmont coincides with the meat of the group stages of both the European Championships and Copa America. That’s more than a week of morning-til-night golf and soccer on tv. It’s Grau Hanukkah, but meaningless. It’s Graunukkah.

• Speaking of Copa America, Jurgen Klinsmann stated that getting through a tough group was the goal, “then taking one knockout game at a time.” For the second consecutive major international competition, the USMNT was drawn into the toughest group of the tournament. On paper, Group A (United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay) is by far the most difficult to navigate, but the Americans should still advance, especially considering the tournament is being played in the US. If Klinsmann’s team fails to get out of the group, or they get knocked out by an opponent they’re favored over, the pressure will really heat up on the US manager. The Gold Cup loss to Jamaica, followed by the loss to Mexico in the Confederation Cup playoff, has many people questioning if Jurgen is the right man to be leading the team into World Cup 2018. In fairness, if you’re going to have a down period while figuring things out, the past year was the best time in the World Cup cycle to do so. Personally, I think the best case scenario would be that Klinsmann stays on in his role as technical director and is replaced by a more tactically-minded head coach. The problem, of course, is that I don’t know who that mystery tactician should be. An overachieving performance at Copa America might make that scenario moot, anyway. June will be fun.


Obligatory, gratuitous Leicester City update: They’re still in first place, three points clear of 2nd place Tottenham, six points ahead of Arsenal in 3rd. There are 10 matches left in the season. Leicester have topped the Premier League for most of the season by playing the same style: organized defense, incredibly efficient counter-attack. They allow other teams to dominate possession, then hit on the break. Over their past two matches, Ranieri’s men have come up against bottom-table opponents who attempted to out-Leicester Leicester (I resisted the urge to say “outfox the Foxes”). Norwich and West Brom showed that Leicester City aren’t quite sure what to do when their opponent sits back and concedes possession to them. They needed to patiently pick their way through the buses parked in front of them, and struggled to do so. Although they still managed a draw against West Brom, and got a last-minute winner against Norwich, it may be a blueprint for Leicester’s remaining opponents. Took long enough. As it turns out, Tuesday’s home draw against West Brom didn’t even hurt Leicester in the title race. Wednesday, Spurs lost at West Ham (understandable, and kind of a harsh result), Arsenal lost at home to Swansea (inexplicable), and Manchester City were crushed by Liverpool at Anfield (City have a fight on their hands for a spot in next year’s Champions League, and that’s insane). Leicester City’s magic juju works in mysterious ways. An underdog story for the ages continues.

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