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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. Let’s bikini wax the greens and get ready for the Masters. Who doesn’t like golf in November? We check in on the new Russian Rocket and start the finger pointing as the Seahawks pass the midway point. 

Augusta in Autumn – It’s Masters Week in November. Doesn’t that seem odd? It’s normally a rite of spring and the unofficial start of the golf season here in Canada. It’s weird to be watching the Masters with snow on the ground in many parts of the country. It’s even stranger with no patrons and without the azaleas and the rhododendrons in bloom. Still, it’s the Masters and there’s always drama.

All the pre-tournament hype surrounded Bryson DeChambeau who promised to overpower the golf course much like he did in capturing the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. However, bulky Bryson is finding out that living dangerously at Augusta may not be the best strategy. He had a pair of sevens in the opening 21 holes. On Friday, his strategy of trying to drive the green on the par-4 third hole back-fired, resulting in a triple bogey seven.  The carnage led to a front nine 39 that’s left him at +1 and outside the even-par cut line. For the second straight day, play had to be suspended by darkness with Dechambeau having completed 12 holes so he still has time to make up ground in the morning.

Defending champion Tiger Woods had a solid 4-under 68 in the opening round but is still on that number with eight more holes to play to complete his second round. Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas share the lead at 9-under with Australian Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer of Mexico. DJ and Thomas look like the favourites but they have plenty of company. Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm are both at 8-under with more holes to complete. Xander Schauffele and first round leader Paul Casey are both at 6-under and yet to finish their second rounds. Corey Conners is the top Canadian at 3-under. He was 5-under for the day on Friday with two holes still to play. Nick Taylor is sitting right on the even par cut line. Mike Weir (+1) and Adam Hadwin (+2) still have to complete their second rounds with an outside chance to make the cut.

Golf fans often criticize the Masters for allowing past champions a lifetime exemption to play each year. At times it can be borderline embarrassing but what about performances like the 2-under 70 posted by ’87 champion and 62-year old Larry Mize in the opening round on Thursday. 63-year old Bernard Langer (68-73) is at 3-under and will play the weekend, becoming the oldest player in Masters history to make the cut. Having players like Mize and Langer participate is part of the Masters unique charm and steadfast deference to history.

The weather for the weekend looks fabulous so it’s shaping up as another memorable Masters. Enjoy!

In case you missed it, Spain’s Jon Rahm deliberately skimmed a shot over the water on the par-3 16th hole during a practice round and jarred the sucker. What a way for Rahm to celebrate his 26th birthday. Check it out for yourself, it is astonishing!

Tracking Vasili – The Canucks have to be encouraged by the reports from Russia on prize prospect Vasili Podkolzin. He was team captain and a standout for the Russians at the recent Karjala Cup, leading the tournament with five points in three games. It was a relief to see Podkolzin shine because he’s been seeing limited ice time with KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg. It could also be a preview of what’s to come in late December when Podkolzin travels to Canada to play in the World Junior Championships. He’s been getting shafted by his KHL club team who frown on players who are bound for the NHL. It’s not unusual for teams to take away ice time from players leaving at the end of the season and that’s exactly the case with Podkolzin. The 2019 first-rounder has scored only one goal and three assists in 19 KHL games this season.

The plan is to bring Podkolzin over as soon as his season in Russian is over with which may be sometime in March depending on his team’s playoff fortunes. If the NHL season does not get underway until January 1 or later, it should provide plenty of time for Podkolzin to make an impact. The nice part is he speaks good English so the transition should be a smooth one.

NHL Notebook – Regardless of when the NHL starts the 2020-2021 season, there’s a stark reality. The more games that are played, the more money NHL owners can expect to lose. That’s why we should not hold our breath waiting for a full 82-game schedule. The consensus is the season will likely be between 56 and 72 games. While the prospect of using Hub cities is again likely, there’s a strong desire to play games in home rinks because of dollars accrued from arena naming rights. And then there’s the worrisome chasm with the NHLPA over what percentage of total salaries will be paid if the season is shortened considerably. It would not be surprising to see acrimonious negotiations between now and the start of the season. You have to really question whether it’s even worth starting again without fans in the stands. The economics certainly don’t favour NHL owners. They should all be praying for a vaccine…and soon.

Exactly 89 years ago, Maple Leaf Gardens opened in Toronto with Chicago beating the home team by a score of 2-1. The iconic arena closed on February 13, 1999 with a 6-2 loss to those same Black Hawks. The 68 years of games, shows, concerts and conventions was made possible by Conn Smythe who built Maple Leaf Gardens during the Great Depression for $1.5 million dollars, the same amount the Leafs will pay Wayne Simmonds, their 14th highest paid player, this coming season.

Seahawks Mid-Season Report – Here’s all you need to know about the Seahawks messy defeat in Buffalo. Over the past decade, teams that give up four or more turnovers in a game are 2-and-129.  It was a very un-Seahawk-like performance right across the board and certainly one of the worst in recent memory. Even the usually positive Pete Carroll, who signed a five-year extension prior to the game, had no answers.  The game started with a 60-yard kickoff return by the Bills on the opening play of the game. Three plays later, the Bills were in the endzone and the rout was on.

It’s very strange watching a Seahawks defense this bad. The Legion of Boom seems like a distant memory. This year’s defensive backfield is the Legion of WTF! Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is under fire and his job is likely in jeopardy once the season is over. If it doesn’t work out, maybe the Seahawks can replace him with Larry Holmes Jr. or George Foreman Jr. I’m sure they are available.

Letting Bills quarterback Josh Allen have his way with you is completely unacceptable. Allen was 24 of 28 in the first half for 282 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was the highest first half passing total by any QB this season. He finished 31 of 38 for 415 with zero turnovers. The Bills scored on their first four possessions and never looked back. The 44 points surrendered is the most ever by the Seahawks during the Pete Carroll era. Through the halfway point in the season, here are the yardage totals from Seahawks opponents: 506, 464, 522, 415, 449, 519, 351 and 420. The Seahawks are dead last in total defense, giving up 362.1 yards per game in the air. In four of the last eight games, they have given up an average of 397 passing yards. They remain on pace to break the single-season record held by the 2012 Saints of 7,042 yards allowed.

When you live by the blitz, you die by the blitz and while the steady diet of blitzes led to seven sacks against the Bills, it left Seattle vulnerable to big plays like the third and 16 call in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had two other sacks nullified by penalties so if there is any silver lining, it’s that the Hawks finally found a pass rush. Newly-acquired end Carlos Dunlap looked outstanding in his debut, registering a sack, three QB hits and three tackles for losses. The Seahawks were killed by soft coverages. Quinton Dunbar played with a bad knee and was targeted repeatedly. Both starting corners, Dunbar and Shaquille Griffin, are expected to be out of the lineup on Sunday so things may get worse before they get better.

Needless to say, it was not an MVP performance by Russell Wilson who accounted for all four turnovers with two interceptions and two fumbles. He’s now had seven turnovers in the Seahawks two losses. He’s on pace for 16 interceptions. He’s never had more than 11 in a season. This is what happens when the burden to carry the team is place squarely on Wilson’s shoulders. The Bills had demonstrated they were vulnerable against the run but Seattle failed to take advantage with both Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde both sidelined with injuries. Wilson threw the ball 41 times against the Bills and was knocked down 16 times, the highest number against any quarterback this season. What did we say last week about a balanced attack? When you are playing from behind and throwing the ball that often, turnovers are going to happen. Seattle scored 34 points. Wilson was 28 for 41 for 390 yards and two touchdowns. You should win most game with those totals. The Seahawks have to get Carson back to rejuvenate the run game and take the heat off Wilson. Carson rushed for 1,230 yards last year and may not reach half that total this year. He had six 100-yard games in 2019 and has none this season,

The Seahawks travel to L.A. to meet the division rival Rams on Sunday. Expect a much better effort which shouldn’t be very difficult.

NFL Notebook – With COVID-19 numbers skyrocketing in the U.S., the NFL has to be very concerned with a potential stoppage of the season at some point. Positive tests among players and team personnel have been rising each week. The average per week so far has been around 10. Unlike major league baseball, at least the NFL is punishing teams for violations. The Raiders were fined $500,000 and docked a sixth-round pick for recent protocol violations. The Steelers and coach Mike Tomlin were fined $250,000 and $100,000, respectively, for mask violations.

“Hang Down Your Head” Tom Brady looked every bit like a 43-year old quarterback in the New Orleans Saints beatdown of Tampa Bay on SNF. Brady was held to 209 yards passing and served up a trio of interceptions. He had “happy feet” under a relentless Saints pass rush. Tampa Bay went three and out the first four times they had the ball. We can now maybe tone down all the MVP talk around Brady and all the Super Bowl talk around the Bucs. The Saints led 31-0 at halftime and had twice the time of possession in the game. New Orleans took both head to head meetings with the Bucs this year, the first time Brady has been swept by a division rival in his 21-year career.

At 6-and-2, the Saints now have the lead in the NFC South. The 6-and-3 Bucs have to travel to Carolina to meet the Panthers in a game that suddenly takes on much more meaning. The Panthers had an excellent showing in Kansas City last Sunday despite losing to the Chiefs.

The Saints offence is incredibly multi-dimensional. Drew Brees connected with 11 different receivers against the Bucs. Backup quarterback Taysom Hill played running back, quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. He rushed for 54 yards (a team-high) and got a short-yardage first down, passed for 48, and caught one pass for 21. And he played on two special teams. Sounds like Jim Thorpe.

At the halfway point in the NFL season, it looks like there are two teams in the AFC, the Steelers and the Chiefs, who are a cut above everybody else. Can’t really say there’s a top calibre team in the NFC.

Has quarterback play in the NFL ever been better? Yes, there are still lots of stiffs but the addition of rookies Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa has made the overall quarterbacking depth perhaps the best ever. Add in established stars like Wilson, Brady, Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes and the array of high quality quarterback talent is very impressive.

Pat Mahomes is only 25 and already has 101 touchdown passes. At the same age, Brady had 27 and Brees had 29. Mahomes has 25 TD passes so far this season with just one interception. The Chiefs are 8-and-1. Look no further to find your MVP. He makes passing for 350 yards seem ho-hum. It’s inconceivable to think how the Chicago Bears could have passed on Mahomes to take Mitch Trubisky. Just check out this hi-lite tape from Mahomes’ college career at Texas Tech and you will have all the proof you need.

Miami is suddenly in the playoff hunt after topping Arizona 34-31 for their fourth win in a row.  It’s a shame we won’t get to see Tua vs. Kyler for another four years because of the quirky NFL schedule.

The Los Angeles Chargers have lost six games by a total of 24 points. Head coach Anthony Lynn will be out of work as soon as the season ends. To keep your job in the NFL, you have to win close games.

The ‘feel-good’ story of the week is from Alex Smith. He came on in relief of Kyle Allen and nearly rallied Washington past the New York Giants. Smith went 24 for 32 for 325 yards and a touchdown. But three INT’s ruined a Cinderella comeback including one late in the first half and another late in the game that could have altered the outcome. It was Smith’s first real playing time since the gruesome injury two years ago that nearly cost him his leg.

NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung died on Friday at the age of 84. The Green Bay Packer star epitomized ‘all-around’ athlete. Vince Lombardi called him the greatest player he ever coached. Hornung won the Heisman Trophy while playing for a 2-and-8 Notre Dame team. In becoming the only player ever to win the Heisman while playing for a losing team, Hornung led the Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff returns, punt returns and punting. Oh yes, he also played defense and led the team in passes broken up and was second in tackles and interceptions. What a throw-back!

Baseball GM Meetings – What does it say for baseball when A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora are hired back as managers almost immediately after the conclusion of their suspensions for sign-stealing? Hinch has been hired by the Tigers while Cora has been rehired by the Red Sox. Cora was part of the Astros staff when the sign-stealing scandal took place.

Tony La Russa has been charged with DUI in Phoenix, Arizona just days after being named the new manager of the Chicago White Sox. We predicted La Russa’s hiring would spell trouble but not this quickly. The Sox fired manager Rick Renteria after the season despite the fact he was one of the three finalists for AL Manager of the Year along with the Rays Kevin Cash and the Jays Charlie Montoyo.

This isn’t the first police lineup for La Russa. He pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Florida in 2007 after police found him asleep inside his still-running SUV at a stop light. Reports from his latest arrest say he was argumentative. That’s a surprise! Somebody might point out to La Russa that arguing with police is not like arguing with umpires. According to the incident report, La Russa flashed a World Series ring at the arresting officer and said “I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person, brother.” This, of course, reminds us of the time singer Glen Campbell was arrested for DUI and told the police “Don’t you know who I am?” The response from the arresting officer was “Yes, you’re a drunk!” When training camp opens, we suggest the White Sox assign La Russa uniform number (point) .08. Joking aside, no one winds up with two DUI’s without a significant drinking problem. Managing a baseball team should not be La Russa’s number one priority this year.

Major League Baseball held its annual General Managers meetings virtually this week and while no major trades were completed, you can be sure several teams laid the groundwork. Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said he was close to at least one deal. The Jays are owned by Rogers Communications and it’s important to note the company has not been negatively impacted by the pandemic. There’s plenty of speculation the Jays are ready to spend freely in free agency this off-season. Our wish list includes Cleveland lefthander Brad Hand to bolster the bullpen, Yankees leftie James Paxton to help the rotation and either Jackie Bradley Jr. or George Springer to fill the massive void in centerfield.

Random Leftovers – Raptor fans are waiting anxiously to see if the team can get free agent guard Fred Van Vleet signed to a new contract. It’s probably going to take in excess of $20 million a season. The Detroit Pistons are one of the many teams interested in signing Van Vleet. Let me think – Detroit or Toronto?  Where should I sign? That choice should not take long.

Howie Meeker RIP – We lost a true Canadian original with the passing of Howie Meeker at the age of 97. For the last several years, Howie had lived in a hospice in Nanaimo. He was a player, a hockey broadcaster and a hockey educator. Meeker was synonymous with the game he loved.

He won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie-of-the-year in 1947 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Meeker would win four Stanley Cups in his eight years with the Leafs. During two of them, he also served as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament. Can you believe that? Meeker ran and won a by-election in Waterloo South in 1951. He chose not to run again in 1953.

Howie retired from playing after the 1968-69 season. He coached the Leafs for one season before embarking on a 30-year career with the CBC and later TSN. He’s famously remembered for wearing the powder blue CBC jacket and for introducing the telestrator to review key plays. Who can forget Meeker offering up drills and tips during his “Howie Meeker Hockey School” sessions on CBC?

I had a chance to meet Howie many times over the years in various arenas and press boxes around the country. He was always gracious. Howie continued to play Oldtimer’s hockey and skate well into his 80’s. I often ran into him at the rink in Parksville, BC named in his honour while working for the City of Parksville. He would always draw a crowd and serve up a story or two. “Golly Gee” Howie! You will ever be remembered with great fondness.

Music Video of the Week – We thought we would serve up something a little more obscure this week. It’s the Shuggie Otis story. He had an early brush with fame before fading into the music business backwater. Shuggie Otis was born Johnny Alexander Veliotes, Jr. in Los Angeles in November, 1953. He is the son of R&B pioneer and impresario Johnny Otis who was of Greek descent. His wife was of African American and Filipino descent. According to his mother, the name “Shuggie” was short for sugar and she coined it when he was a newborn. Otis began playing guitar when he was only two years ago and started performing professionally with his father’s band when he was eleven, often disguising himself with dark glasses and a false moustache so he could perform in after-hours clubs.

Otis eventually gravitated toward the music of artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. You may remember him from the ‘Super Session’ album with Al Kooper. His biggest self-penned hit was ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ which was recorded by the Brothers Johnson and rose to #5 on the Billboard charts in 1977. Shuggie sat in on numerous recordings over the years including ‘Peaches en Regalia’ from Frank Zappa’s infamous “Hot Rats” album. He also released several solo albums including ‘Inspiration /Information’. After the album’s release, Otis was approached by Billy Preston on behalf of The Rolling Stones, asking him to join the band for an upcoming world tour. He declined the offer saying he preferred to just play with his own band. Shuggie Otis still tours internationally although I am not aware of him performing in Canada recently. There’s very little video available on YouTube of him performing live.  Here he is at the Stern Grove Festival in 2013 which is held each year in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater located at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in San Francisco.

Check him out performing ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ back in 2014.

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