Weekend Winners – by a nose!

Another fantastic sports weekend just occurred.  In case you were busy with yard work or partaking in other springtime activities, I’ll get you caught up on this weekend’s biggest sports news.

Mystik Dan slides into second in Preakness

In thoroughbred horse racing, the second leg of the annual Triple Crown was held last Saturday in Baltimore at Pimlico with the Preakness Stakes.  As you might remember from two weeks ago, the trainer of Mystik Dan (winner of the Kentucky Derby) said that he was going to let the horse tell him whether he was ready to run in the Preakness.

Mystik Dan apparently gave his OK.  Though he tried valiantly, Mystik Dan came up short with a second place finish at the Preakness on Saturday.  His trainer was still amazed by the Kentucky Derby winning horse.

“My colt’s a fantastic colt, and [I’m] proud of him,” Kenny McPeek said. “It just wasn’t his day, but he’ll live to race again.”

Live to race again?

Watch out, Mystik Dan!  If your trainer is inferring a trip to the glue factory may be in your future, perhaps you should communicate to your trainer that you are considering following in the footsteps (oops, I mean “hoof prints”) of TV’s iconic Mr. Ed and taking up baseball next!

Golf’s PGA Championship was an even better horse race – including a photo finish

PGA Tour golfer Xander Schauffele is just 30 years old and had won seven PGA events already.  However, he has struggled at times to win golf tournaments when holding the lead coming into the final round.   A regular finisher in the top ten on the PGA Tour, Schauffele was considered by many to be one of the best players without a major title.

Just last week in Charlotte at the Wells Fargo Championship, Xander Schauffele held a two shot advantage over Rory McIlroy as they took to the course for the final round.  Rory zoomed past Xander with a closing round six-under par 65 as Schauffele faded with a 71 to finish a distant second.

Last Thursday at the PGA Championship in Louisville, it was Xander Schauffele who raced out of the starting gate like horse racing’s Mystik Dan with a record-tying opening round of 9-under par 62.  He was still in the lead at 15-under par starting Sunday’s final round.

It all came down to the 72nd hole on Sunday

Playing just ahead of the leader, LIV Golf’s long driving Bryson DeChambeau and Norway’s Viktor Hovland put on an incredible show of low scoring golf on Sunday to put some serious heat onto the leader.   Both players were 5-under par on their final round coming into the par-5 18th hole and just one shot behind Xander Schauffele.

DeChambeau’s birdie putt on 18 fell into the cup in slow motion to move him to 20-under par (a score which would have been good enough to win most major tournaments).  With the birdie, he moved into a tie for the lead.  Victor Hovland three-putted the final hole to finish in third place alone.

Standing on the 18th tee now tied with DeChambeau (the 2020 US Open champion), Xander Schauffele’s drive on the final hole landed about one foot short of a fairway sand trap.  In order to hit his second shot, he had to place his feet down into the adjacent bunker.  He took a big swing (and a big risk) but was able to land the golf ball about 30 yards short of the green.  From there, Schauffeler pitched his third shot within six feet of the hole and then rolled a birdie putt in to capture a one-shot victory and his first major championship.

Xander Schauffele’s 21-under par final score at the PGA Championship set a new all-time record low score in a men’s golf major.

With his strong second place finish, 30-year old Bryson DeChambeau’s emotional bond with the massive crowds in Kentucky transformed the LIV golfer into a true fan favorite by the end of this weekend.  DeChambeau (known as “The Scientist” as the SMU Physics major is always looking for an edge on the golf course) said that he was grateful for the crowd support.  He confessed that he has gained some personal maturity over the past few years.

“When I was younger, I didn’t understand what it was”, said DeChambeau afterwards.  “Yeah, I would have great celebrations and whatnot, but I didn’t know what it meant and what I was doing it necessarily for. Now I’m doing it a lot more for the fans and for the people around and trying to be a bit of an entertainer that plays good golf every once in a while.”

NBA – Where having the home court is becoming a disadvantage

On Sunday, two Game Sevens were played to determine second round playoff winners.  The New York Knicks and the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets were playing on their home court for the series finales.

For decades, the home team in an NBA Game 7 playoff game usually prevails as the home crowd vocally propels them to great play and victory.

Not so in today’s NBA.

During Sunday afternoon’s Eastern Conference semifinal finale, the #6 seeded Indiana Pacers should have been renamed the Indiana Fire.  The team shot an NBA playoff record 67.1% from the field to eliminate the hometown New York Knickerbockers 130-109 and send the Madison Square Garden fans home very unhappy.  Indiana won the series four games to three.  New York was already short-handed with several injuries in this series and then lost their top scorer, Jalen Brunson, with a broken left hand suffered in Sunday’s third quarter.  Ouch.

The Fire (I mean Pacers) advanced to play the top seed in the Eastern Conference finals.  The Boston Celtics dispatched Cleveland four games to one in their series and have been resting since last Wednesday.  Boston will now have the home court advantage (?) in the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana.  Game One in Beantown is Tuesday night at 7PM (CDT) on ESPN.

Unfortunately, the Boston Celtics have played much better on the road than at home during the playoffs in recent years.  While a stellar 25-12 playoff record on the road, the C’s are just 19-20 at home in TD Garden over the past five NBA seasons.

Perhaps they should consider moving their home playoff games to a neutral court???

The other NBA Game 7 on Sunday was played in Denver.  The home court did not help the defending NBA champion Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals against the Minnesota Timberwolves, either.

After Denver built a 20-point advantage early in the third quarter against Minnesota, the Nuggets appeared to run out of gas.  The Timberwolves rediscovered their shooting touch to outscore Denver 54-24 from that point and grabbed a ten point advantage late in the fourth quarter.  Denver would score a measly 37 points – at home – during the second half of Sunday’s Game 7 collapse.

Overcoming the largest halftime deficit (15 points) in NBA Game 7 playoff history, the Minnesota Timberwolves howled with joy following their 98-90 comeback victory.  The team advanced into the Western Conference finals for just the second time in the T-wolves’ 35-year history.   The #2 West seed Minnesota will now host the surprising #5 seed Dallas Mavericks beginning Wednesday night (7PM CDT on TNT).

Caitlyn Clark is the WNBA’s gold mine

For Caitlyn Clark basketball fans, there was some good news and bad news this week.

First, the good news.  The WNBA’s Indiana Fever (whom Clark plays for) and New York Liberty established the highest regular season game ticket revenue in league history on Saturday afternoon.  A Brooklyn crowd of 17,735 fans spent more than $2 million for game tickets to watch the former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball star score 22 points in a 91-80 loss.

Earlier last week, ESPN2 featured the first regular season televised game for Caitlyn Clark and her Indiana Fever women’s pro basketball team.  The game established a new record for a WNBA regular season game on cable television with more than two million television viewers.  As further proof of Caitlyn Clark’s popularity, the second game of ESPN2’s opening night doubleheader saw viewership drop all the way to 460,000.

Now for the bad news.

Caitlyn Clark injured her ankle in Monday night’s 88-84 home loss to the Connecticut Sun and had to be helped off the floor by teammates and into the locker room.  She returned to the game in the third quarter to finish with 17 points as Indiana’s record dropped to 0-4.

The WNBA’s executives breathed a collective sigh of relief as Clark’s ankle injury was not as serious as it first appeared.  Regardless of how many games her Indiana Fever team loses this year, you should count on getting a weekly dose of “The Caitlyn Clark Show” on ESPN for the remainder of this summer.

As The Godfather once said, “It’s good for business!”