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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and an assist from Bill Myles and Edward Tait.  It’s a September like no other. U.S. Open Golf, NBA and Stanley Cup Finals, MLB playoff races and opening week in the NFL. How are you holding up? 

U.S. Open Notebook – Our favorite cheat Patrick Reed has the lead heading into the weekend at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. Reed is at -4 after rounds of 66 and 70, good for a one-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau, the only player to post two rounds in the 60’s. Only six golfers are under par after the opening two rounds. As per usual, the U.S. Open is a brutal test of golf where every par is reason to celebrate.

Glad to see the USGA put together an All-Canadian grouping for the opening two rounds of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in New York. It certainly made for a nice internal competition between Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Hadwin. This is Hadwin’s fifth U.S. Open appearance.  It’s the third for Hughes and just the second for Conners.  Hadwin and Canada’s other entry, Taylor Pendrith, are at +5 and T33 heading into the weekend. Conners and Hughes both missed the cut.

The USGA has their own way of doing things but it’s mystifying as to why Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor did not qualify for the U.S. Open. 13 amateurs are in the field and 10 players from the Korn Ferry Tour yet Taylor was not invited despite winning at Pebble Beach this season. Go figure!

Sports networks have fawned over Tiger Woods for the last two decades and for the most part, justifiably so. He has changed the game like no other golfer in history. But it’s time they started to wean themselves off the Tiger train. We no longer need an online Tiger Tracker for his every round. Six bogeys and a double in the opening round of the U.S. Open tells you all you need to know. A guy could have shot 59 in the opening round and the headline would still be “Tiger opens with +3 at the U.S. Open.” When are they going to wake up and admit his game has diminished to the point where he can no longer compete with the best in the world?  Woods shot 73-77 to finish +10 and four strokes over the cutline.

In the opening round on Thursday, Phil Mickelson had birdies on the first two holes and was immediately on the first page of the leaderboard. He proceeded to go 11 over for the remainder of the round. Phil spent more time in the forest than Robin Hood and did more exploring than Ponce DeLeon. Oh yes, he spent more time in the sand than Lawrence of Arabia. Poor Phil! He played the whole layout the way he played the 18th hole when he threw away the Open at Winged Foot in 2006.

Another notable to miss the cut was Jordan Speith. He was a train-wreck on Friday, posting an 81, a round that included 9 bogeys, a double and not a single birdie. Speith has no idea where the ball is going off the tee.  He needs to take a step back and figure out a way forward. It will start with getting his head straight.

No less than 10 players shot in the 80’s on Friday. Another 51 players shot 76 or worse. Yes, Winged Foot is showing its teeth and it will only get tougher over the weekend.

Bronx Beat-Down – Speaking of train-wrecks, how would you describe the Blue Jays right now? After losing both ends of a doubleheader to the Phillies on Friday night, the Jays have dropped five in a row and look completely disjointed. It appears as though they are still reeling from the pummeling they took in New York this week. The Yanks swept the Jays by scores of 20-6, 13-2 and 10-7. 43 runs in the three-game series. New York hit a whopping 19 home runs, the most ever in a 3-game series in MLB history. They also set a record with 5 home runs in one inning. It was painful to watch. (Glad I didn’t)

The good news is the Jays still have a comfortable lead over Seattle for the final wildcard playoff spot.  The bad news is they have to face the Yankees again next week in a four-game series in Buffalo.

Fisher’s Follies – Not sure what the Blue Jays see in outfielder Derek Fisher. He’s a butcher in the field and a strikeout machine at the plate. The Jays picked him up in the deal with Houston that sent pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to the Astros. They’ve given Fisher every opportunity to succeed to the point where they have now lost two other outfielders, Anthony Alford and Billy McKinney, on waivers this year just to keep Fisher on the roster. His blunders in right field on Tuesday night opened the door to the embarrassing 20-6 meltdown against the Yankees. The Jays defense is suspect enough.  Their 30+ errors are among the most in MLB.

You wouldn’t know it by the way they have performed this week but if the Blue Jays do reach the post-season, they can point to their improved pitching staff. Following injuries to Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays have had 46 of 50 starts made by pitchers who weren’t with the team last season. In the bullpen, closer Ken Giles has missed most of the season leaving high-leverage situations to off-season acquisitions Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis and A.J. Cole. Shun Yamaguchi, an off-season pick-up from Japan, has been effective after early season struggles.  The Jays have also got help from young starters Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch and Ryan Borucki who have made the transition to the bullpen. There’s no doubt improved pitching has sped the Jays move to playoff contention.

MLB Notebook – You have to question the wisdom of playing any sport under the current conditions on the west coast. The Air Quality Index at game time in Seattle prior to Monday night’s doubleheader between the Mariners and the Oakland A’s was 218.  That’s the fifth worst of six levels as described by the EPA. Many players wore N-95 masks.  The haze was thick enough to be seen on television even though the roof at T-Mobile Park was closed. It was negligent to go ahead and play a doubleheader on Monday night.

MLB had no alternative but to act. The two-game series between the San Francisco Giants and Mariners in Seattle scheduled for Tuesday night had to be postponed because of poor air quality caused by the west coast wildfires. The two-game series between the M’s and the Padres had to be shifted to San Diego.

NHL Playoff Notebook – Dallas head coach Rick Bowness is a hockey lifer. How can you not be cheering for him to win a Stanley Cup? This is his 31st season as an NHL coach. A few years ago, Bowness passed the immortal Scotty Bowman for most games coached as a head coach or assistant. In 2017, he worked his 2,165th game, breaking Scotty’s all-time mark. Bowness has coached 2,425 games but is yet to win a Cup. He’s reached two finals – in 2011 with the Canucks vs. Boston and another with Tampa vs. Chicago.

Of the 24 teams that qualified for this year’s play-in round and playoffs, Bowness has coached 65 of the players including at least one on 18 of the teams.  He has also coached two of the other head coaches, three GM’s and seven players’ dads. Fun fact – he was the Ottawa Senators first head coach. Bowness is one of the true nice guys in hockey and we wish him the best in the Stanley Cup final.

A lot of hockey watchers are still shaking their heads after Dallas knocked out Vegas in five games to reach the Stanley Cup final.  It was certainly a tough way for the Golden Knights to be eliminated.  Defenseman Zach Whitecloud was assessed a delay of game penalty in overtime that led to a power-play game-winner and series clincher. Whitecloud made an outstanding stick check in his own zone but inadvertently whacked the puck out of play. The NHL simply has to change that rule. There’s no way a team should be eliminated in that fashion.

The Golden Knights scored only 8 times in the series. Yes, you can point to great goaltending (Stars goalie Anton Khudobin was outstanding) but that just seems like a convenient excuse. Vegas coach Peter Deboer claimed his team lost their offensive confidence late in the Vancouver series when the Knights were stoned by the Canucks Thatcher Demko. How does he explain the fact Colorado scored 28 goals in their seven-game series with Dallas? That’s an average of 4 goals a game. I still maintain Vegas needed more out of their top two centers Paul Stastny and William Karlsson. Vegas now goes into an off-season with massive salary cap issues and a ton of players locked up in long-term deals. Good luck George McPhee!

NHL Random Notes – With a flat salary cap and no bums in seats, this could be an apocalyptic off-season in the NHL. You could see all kinds of player movement with teams looking to unload salaries and stay within an internal budget set by ownership. It certainly makes for entertaining speculation. It also provides a lot of opportunity for certain teams.

We should not be surprised that contract talks between the St. Louis Blues and veteran defenseman Alex Pietrangelo have broken off. The Blues probably have a number that they won’t go beyond. The 30-year old Blues captain has played 12 years in the league and may be seeking $8-$9 million on a multi-year deal.

There are all kinds of names out there on trade boards.  Laine and Ehlers in Winnipeg. Ekman-Larsson and Kuemper. Letang and Matt Murray in Pittsburgh. Max Domi in Montreal. Josh Anderson in Columbus. Justin Faulk, Tyler Bozek and Colton Parayko in St. Louis. The list is growing every day. Stay tuned.  The off-season is about to get very interesting.

Now that the Minnesota Wild have signed defenseman Jonas Brodin to a seven-year extension, you can bet there’s going to be more speculation around Matt Dumba. Rumours about a deal with the Canucks involving Brock Boeser or Thatcher Demko have already surfaced. If I am trading either one of those guys, I’m looking for someone other than Dumba. The Wild now have Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Brodin under lengthy contracts with no-trade clauses. You will remember the Wild had trouble protecting Dumba in the Vegas expansion draft and they don’t want a repeat next summer when Seattle comes on board. Minnesota ended up doing a side deal with Vegas in order to avoid losing Dumba. They sent Alex Tuch to the Golden Knights who agreed to select Eric Haula instead.

The delayed start of the NHL season is a windfall for European leagues. Numerous players have signed to play in various leagues just so they can be assured of getting in games. Two young Detroit prospects, Filip Zadina and Mortiz Seider, have elected to play in Europe. Nashville’s Eeli Tolvanen, New York Ranger Vitaly Kravtsov, Edmonton’s Raphael Lavoie, New York Islander Oliver Wahlstrom and Arizona’s Victor Soderstrom are other young players choosing to stay home and play. With the college season in doubt, Harvard’s Chris Drury, a Carolina prospect, has decided to play in Sweden. You may even see some junior players or players selected in the upcoming draft choose to sign in Europe.

The Florida Panthers have dismissed veteran assistant coach Mike Kitchen after he allegedly kicked a player on the bench during a game this season. The incident happened during a game against Minnesota in January. A Panthers player threw a water bottle into the bench in frustration, hitting Kitchen and causing him to respond. It makes you wonder if he would have been fired if the NHL has not instituted a zero tolerance policy following the Bill Peters affair. Something tells me he would still have his job.

The Voice of Reason – A prominent Canadian writer is taking Lanny McDonald to court over a book deal. Apparently, the mustachioed one had second thoughts about the contents of the manuscript. He said he made up his mind to back out of the deal after watching The Voice and taking a long walk. Note to self – don’t ever watch The Voice.

Lanny apparently thought the idea of a book deal was good enough to accept an advance up front. My question is – how many copies of a book about Lanny McDonald did they expect to sell?  Seven?

Seahawks Stomp – Any win on the road is a big win in the NFL. It’s even bigger when it’s an east coast game with a 10 a.m. Pacific start time. The Seahawks went into Atlanta on the opening weekend of the NFL season and put together one of their most efficient offensive performances in club history.

Russell Wilson was near perfect. He went 31 for 35 for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. His 88.6 completion percentage tied the best percentage in NFL history for a quarterback with a minimum of 35 passes. It would have been better had D.K. Metcalf not dropped a ball right in his hands. Seven different receivers had at least two catches. Seattle’s offense went 4 for 4 inside the red zone. The 38 points put on the board were also the most ever by the Seahawks in a season opening game. Seahawk fans would love to see the efficiency continue. Don’t forget, the Seahawks white-knuckled their way through last season, trailing at halftime ten times.

In the game, Wilson passed the 4,000 yard mark in career rushing. He joins Steve Young as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for over 30,000 yards and have 4,000 yards rushing. It certainly appears as though the Seahawks are prepared to open up their offense this season and “Let Russ Cook.” It’s great to have a power running game but you also need to be able to adapt to the opposition.

Jamal Adams was sensational in his Seahawks debut. He had 12 tackles including two tackles for losses. He had one sack and 2 QB hits. Seattle may now have the best safety tandem in football with Adams and Quandre Diggs. Certainly the hardest hitting duo. The end of game defensive numbers were not pretty for the Seahawks however. They surrendered 506 total yards including 434 yards passing. They did hold the Falcons to a respectable 72 yards rushing. The Seahawks led 31-12 early in the fourth quarter so a lot of the yards came after the game was out of reach and against several back-ups. When the game was on the line, the Seahawk defense did an outstanding job stopping the Falcons four times on fourth downs.

Next up – a Sunday night matchup with Cam Newton and the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks will have to keep tabs on Newton who ran the ball 15 times in the Patriots opening weekend victory over Miami.

NFL Opening Week Recap – The most obvious takeaway from the opening week of the NFL season is the fact the players are not in “game shape.” It looked like a lot of player were gassed in the fourth quarter. Without any hitting in training camp and without any exhibition games, you simply can’t replicate game action. The tackling in many games was very shoddy. Things should improve as players get more games under their belt. It’s also clear that home field advantage is out the window this season. Piped-in crowd noise is not the same as 70,000 screaming fans.

Week one delivered a few surprising upsets. Indianapolis should not be losing to Jacksonville! Phillip Rivers throws for over 300 yards but once again, serves up a pair of interceptions. The Colts cannot afford to have Rivers be among the league leaders in INT’s.  He needs to manage the offense, not be a turnover machine. Adding to the Colts misery, running back Marlon Mack went out for the season with an Achilles tear.

How about the Eagles losing to the Washington Used-to-be-Redskins? The Eagles are another team heavily hyped. They gave up eight sacks in the opener. What’s the over-under for Carson Wentz lasting six games? He has to be the most overrated QB in the NFL. The Eagles have been riddled by injury and played without running back Miles Sanders, receiver Alshon Jeffery, right tackle Lane Johnson and top pass rusher Derek Barnett.

Cincinnati wasted a solid debut from #1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow in their home opener against the L.A. Chargers. Burrow marched the team down the field in the final minute only to watch kicker Randy Bullock botch a 31-yard chip shot field goal in the final seconds. It would have tied the game 16-16 and forced overtime. Bullock limped off the field with an apparent calf injury suffered while making the kick. Don’t you just love kickers?

Many football analysts predicted the Dallas Cowboys would reach the Super Bowl this season. Hold on. The Cowboys defense stinks. They gave up 153 yards rushing against the Rams revamped O-line and 35 minutes of possession time. Great way for the Rams to christen their new $5 billion dollar SoFi Stadium, $3 billion more than any other stadium built in the last ten years.

There’s no doubt the NFC West is the toughest division in football. Arizona served notice they have arrived by topping the 49’ers in San Francisco. Kyler Murray found receiver DeAndre Hopkins 14 times for 151 yards. The 49’ers are reeling with injuries to their receiving corps. Richard Sherman is also out for up to a month with a torn calf muscle. Jimmy Garoppolo will struggle with the targets he has to work with. Do you really think Bill Belichick would have traded him if he thought Garoppolo was going to be an elite NFL quarterback?

Tom Brady looked all of 43 years old in his Tampa Bay Buccaneer debut against the New Orleans Saints. Brady threw a pair of interceptions in the Bucs 24-14 defeat including one pick that was returned for a touchdown. The Bucs will no doubt get better as Brady gets more familiar with the offense but a very tough schedule doesn’t favour their playoff chances.

The Detroit Lions led 23-6 heading into the fourth quarter of their game with the Chicago Bears. When you can’t hold a 17-point lead against Mitch Trubisky, something is very wrong. Matt Patricia could be the first coach fired.

Do you think the Kansas City Chiefs offense is any good? In the last six+ quarters vs. the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium including last year’s playoff game, the Chiefs 18 offensive possessions have produced 11 touchdowns and 3 field goals. Ridiculous numbers!

Buffalo got off to a good start against the dysfunctional New York Jets. It remains to be seen if Bills QG Josh Allen is the real deal. We will find out as the Bills face the Rams, Raiders, Chiefs and Titans over an upcoming 5-week period.

Baltimore looked the part of powerhouse in putting Cleveland away. The Browns have not won an opener since 2004. Can we stop the hype around Baker Mayfield? He threw for 168 yards on Sunday with one pick. The Browns are so bad they’ve signed Cody Parkey as their new placekicker. Yes, the guy who’s made a career of doinking kicks off the uprights.

The Raiders opened with a win at Carolina. Josh Jacobs had 95 yards rushing and is quickly becoming one of the top running backs in the game.

One of the biggest mysteries in the NFL is why John Elway can’t find a quarterback. You would think a Hall of Fame quarterback would be a good judge of talent. Not a chance. Since Peyton Manning retired in 2015, the Broncos have started Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco and Drew Locke. Before Manning, Elway churned out Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Chris Simms. Chiefs’ fans apparently refer to the AFC West rival Broncos as the Donkeys. Hilarious! We will have to use that.

Elway’s latest project is Locke who consistently overthrew receivers in the Broncos Monday night loss to the Titans. If Locke really works hard and keeps improving, he could be another Blaine Gabbert or maybe, Bubby Brister. The Titans won the game on a late Stephen Goskowski field goal after he had missed four kicks earlier in the game. Yes, he was doing his Cody Parkey imitation.

Pittsburgh took out the Giants in the other Monday nighter. Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool made his NFL debut for the Steelers.  He had 2 catches for 39 yards.

Brooke on the Brink – Sorry to see Canada’s Brooke Henderson fall just short at the Ana Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, California. The event is one of the LPGA majors. Henderson lost out to Mirim Lee in a three-way playoff. Lee got into the playoff with a chip-in eagle on 18, one of a miraculous four chip-in’s on the day. Henderson herself had to birdie 18 to reach the playoff.  You know it’s not your day when your opponent chips in four times. Brooke was left to lament her 30 putts in the final round.

Henderson was set to play this week at the Cambia Portland Classic, where she’s won twice before, but she elected to withdraw due to the wildfires raging in Oregon. Henderson flew back to her home in Florida and won’t play again until the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, N.J. starting on October 1.

Nurse on Duty – The Toronto Raptors have a ton of tough decisions to make this off-season. What is the salary cap going to look like?  Do they tie up their top three pending free agents?

The organization was smart to prioritize head coach Nick Nurse who signed a multi-year extension this week.  Next up? New contracts for President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster. Both are heading into the final year of their contracts. Getting the head coach and the top executives under contract should be the Raptors top priority. These guys have been instrumental in the team’s run of success. It all starts there. Give MLSE credit for realizing their futures were the team’s most pressing concern.

There is a ton of speculation around Ujiri and it won’t go away until he signs a new deal. Ujiri is a Canadian citizen and I still believe he wants to stay in Toronto.

NBA Playoff Notebook – The Denver Nuggets are writing the biggest surprise story of the NBA playoffs. The Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same post-season after their stunning ouster of the L.A. Clippers. In the decisive game seven, Canada’s Jamal Murray went 15 for 26 from the floor for 40 points while running mate Nikola Jokic had a triple double with 16 points, 22 rebounds and 13 assist.

A lot of people around the NBA questioned the Nuggets for giving Murray a ‘max’ contract but he’s certainly lived up to it in these playoffs. The Kitchener native kept the Nuggets alive in the first half with 25 points when they trailed by as many as 12 points. Meanwhile at the other end of the floor, Kawai Leonard finished with 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting. Paul George had 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and neither player scored a point in the fourth quarter. Doc Rivers is now the only coach in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead on three separate occasions.

Do you think perhaps Kawai Leonard is questioning his decision to bolt the Raptors and sign with the Clippers? Leonard found out that there’s more to team building than recruiting your buddy Paul George to come join you. Leonard earned the right to decide his future but it’s awfully hard for Raptor fans not to be thinking – “we told you so.” His best opportunity to defend the NBA title was in Toronto.

Music Video of the Week – There was a period of time when Steely Dan was one of my absolute favorite bands. Here’s a rare Steely Dan band and crew rehearsal at Sony Music Center in New York. Enjoy!

Another band that I really enjoyed back in the late 70’s was Little Feat. Lowell George and company were one of the truly ground-breaking bands of the era. Check out this great rendition of “Dixie Chicken” performed on the old Midnight Special TV show.

Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of old footage of Little Feat on YouTube.  We found this performance from the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1977.  There’s a killer version of “Old Folks Boogie” at the 40-minute mark and don’t miss “Apolitical Blues” starting around 45:00 featuring former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. Also looks like the Tower of Power horn section in the background.

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