Golf

Tiger Woods brings sports fans together more than any athlete ever has

tigercrowdap.jpg
AP

Tiger Woods brings sports fans together more than any athlete ever has

After global scandal and physical decay prompted a multitude of instant judgments drawing dire conclusions, nearly all of them predicting his personal and professional demise, Tiger Woods roared again Sunday.

Roared louder than he ever could at any time in the wake of his many past successes.

And the world roared with him, louder than it ever could have before.

Coming from two strokes off the lead, Woods trampled the challenges offered by his colleagues, as well as that of hallowed Augusta National Golf Club, to win the Masters for the first time in 14 years and the fifth time since he blasted into celebrity with his first victory there in 1997, when at age 21 he immediately became the young king of American sports.

His triumph back then was seismic, with implications beyond golf and beyond sports. That was the event that put Tiger, his toothpaste-ad smile and his unique backstory into the hearts of millions of folks who had spent their lives ignoring golf.

Tiger on that Sunday in ’97 did what his father, the late Earl Woods, said he was ready to do, even as so many others said he was not.

Tiger on this Sunday, with his two children in attendance, did what only he knew he could do, with so many others skeptical and more than a few thinking he simply could not.

Not after the serial philandering and resultant domestic shame that busted his family into fragments. Not after the four back surgeries --  including spinal fusion two years ago -- that diminished his power and tested his perseverance, pushing him to brink of retirement. Not after missing the cut in garden-variety tournaments, skipping his beloved Masters three times in what should have been his prime and dropping to No. 1,199 in the world rankings.

And certainly not after 11 years without winning a major and entering this one at age 43.

He was done, right? Didn’t we all hear that? And have good reason to believe it?

Yet when Tiger decided to enter this tournament, there was a kernel of hope among his fans and CBS TV executives. No individual or team in American sports galvanizes an audience quite like Tiger. If he could be in contention entering the weekend, the eyeballs would follow.

If he was anywhere near the lead Sunday, he would dominate TV from coast to coast.

The Warriors, preparing for Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, were so captivated that coach Steve Kerr delayed video study to watch Tiger play the last two holes.

“Pretty amazing,” Kerr said.

What’s more amazing than Tiger’s win is the reaction, far and wide. His victory walk through the gallery was a trek of adoration, with a mass of humanity straining touch or be heard by a man who not so long ago surely felt unloved.

“I think Steph [Curry] almost cried,” Kevon Looney said of the team’s reaction.

Curry went straight to his phone, tweeting that what Tiger did Sunday represents the “Greatest comeback in sports.”

That Americans love a comeback story is cliché but true. Almost anybody with the right combination of gifts, with the exception of O.J. Simpson, can come back from the depths of despair.

Tiger, if only for now, is back on top because we’ve never seen anyone like him. It’s not every century that a little brown kid conquers golf. It’s not every athlete that can, in most salient ways, transcend race, religion, sexual identity and even, in this day and age, political affiliation.

[RELATED: Steph Curry shouts out Tiger Woods after historic 2019 Masters win]

Michael Jordan didn’t do that, and Tom Brady can’t do that. Neither can LeBron James nor Kevin Durant nor Curry. Only Tiger can bring this country together for a few hours with only the most vitriolic not feeling the moment.

He’s back. And we’re right back at his side, ready to eat from the palm of his hand, not because we love him but because we know what he has is so rare and special.

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

On Monday, we detailed three minor league pitchers who could help solidify the A's starting rotation and bullpen for the stretch run. Now we want to focus on position players.

While it's a less significant group, Oakland does feature three talented minor-league infielders who are just about ready to make an impact at the major league level:

Jorge Mateo

The A's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is having a phenomenal season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mateo, 24, is slashing .302/.339/.537 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 72 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Mateo has spent the majority of the year at shortstop but has also started 14 games at second base. Of course, Marcus Semien owns the A's shortstop position, but Mateo might get an opportunity at second base come September, especially if Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto continue to struggle.

At the very least, Mateo should serve as a valuable pinch-runner. His speed has always been his best attribute, with MLB Pipeline ranking it as a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scale. That will definitely come in handy during the final month of the season.

Sheldon Neuse

Oakland's ninth-ranked prospect is also having a terrific season in Las Vegas. Neuse, 24, is slashing .321/.387/.543 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, and 84 RBI. His biggest problem is the position he plays -- third base happens to be occupied in Oakland for the next several years.
 
However, Neuse has moved around the infield a bit this season, starting six games at shortstop and three at second base. He's even played three games in left field. That type of versatility will help Neuse's chances of getting playing time at the big-league level this year, particularly at second base.

Even if Neuse doesn't get many starts, he could provide the A's with a dangerous power bat off the bench in late-inning situations.

[RELATED: Report: A's have called Mets on potential Syndergaard trade]

Sean Murphy

The A's No. 3 prospect is undoubtedly the team's catcher of the future. Murphy is ranked as the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The 24-year-old has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but returned to the Las Vegas Aviators last week and went 6-for-12 with four home runs and nine RBI in his first three games back. Overall, Murphy is slashing .349/.422/.640 with six homers and 18 RBI in 22 games this year in Triple-A.

Incredibly, Murphy's hitting is not even his best attribute. His defense is MLB-ready and would rank above average already. Now that his bat is coming alive too, he has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game.

Murphy will almost certainly take over the A's starting catcher job next season, but he has a chance to make an early impact in September this year as well, especially if Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann falter.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports, where you can watch the MLB Trade Deadline Show at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday. Also check out our comprehensive coverage of the Giants, A’s, 49ers, Raiders, Warriors, Kings and Sharks!

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return.