Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Love Wins 2003 Players

When it happens in your town, it always seems so huge when weather stops play in the local PGA Tour event. But the guys on tour deal with weather every week. It’s no big deal to them. Sometimes we make a lot about the advantage of playing in the morning vs. playing in the afternoon, and the players know the “luck of the draw” does have an effect on the outcome, but over the course of a year, it probably evens out. That’s why the players were pretty non-plussed about the weather delay at the Players Championship this year.

“We’ll finish 72 holes,” Rocco Mediate said after Friday’s round. “No way this is a 54-hole tournament, they’ll play until they’re done, no matter how long it takes.” And that seems to be the prevailing attitude among all the players. Tell me when to tee it up and that’s when I’ll be there.

When was the last time you heard of a PGA Tour player missing his tee time? Darren Clarke wanted to finish on Friday night despite the darkness toward the end of his round. David Duval was one of his playing partners when they approached the 17th tee, Duval told Clarke he’d come back tomorrow to finish if Clarke wanted to. Clarke said he wanted to get done that night, that he didn’t like to get up early, especially to play one hole as tough as the 18th at the Stadium Course. The other player in the threesome, Garrett Willis agreed. Willis and Duval were not going to make the cut. Their tournament was over as soon as they were done. Clarke was four under par and in touch with the leaders. But they hatched a plan to get finished under the rules.

Knowing the horn was going to blow to suspend play because of darkness, Willis agreed to quickly putt out on 17, hustle to the 18th tee and hit his tee shot, putting their threesome in play on the 18th. The Tour rule allows a group to finish the hole they’re playing once play is suspended for darkness, if they choose. Willis did just that, hitting his tee shot on 18 before Duval and Clarke had even lined up their putts on 17.

“A little bit of a veteran move,” is how Duval described it on Friday night. “Darren said he wanted to finish, but I told him I’d come back tomorrow if he wanted.” As expected, the horn blew before Clarke and Duval had teed off on the 18th, but they were allowed to finish the hole. Clarke made bogies on 17 and 18 and in retrospect cost himself a lot of money and potentially a chance to win. “I wouldn’t do it again,” Clarke said after Saturday’s round put him in touch with the leaders, “but I was all for it last night.”

Maybe because the Players Championship isn’t considered a major by the media (it is by the players themselves) but somehow Davis Love’s final round won’t go down in golf lore as what it most likely is: the best final round in a big tournament ever played. David Duval’s 59 at the Hope a few years ago is pretty strong, but the TPC at Sawgrass’ Stadium Course is treacherous and unforgiving. Love striped it all day and after making birdie on 9, knew it was his tournament to lose.

“The drive on 10 was key,” Davis explained in the darkness an hour after his win, “but I killed my drive on 11 (303 yards, the longest of the day) and Freddie (Couples) said to me, ‘that’s the best drive of the day’ and when I hit my drive on 18 Freddie said, ‘OK, that’s the best drive’.” Love didn’t miss a shot all day and according to Couples, his playing partner, “everything was within a few feet. It was amazing.” By any measure, it would be hard to diminish Love’s career to this point. He’s won a major, he’s a zillionaire, and is considered among the game’s elite. But there is a gnawing thought that somehow his career has fallen short of expectations. “There’s no higher expectation than the one you have of yourself. We all want to be the number one player in the world and we’re not satisfied if we’re not. I know Tiger is a great player, but he doesn’t win every week. I’m going to continue to work like I have been and I won’t be satisfied until I’m ranked number one. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t, but that’s what I’m working for.”

A long list of players have been set up as Tiger’s foil: Duval, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, but never has Davis Love been mentioned as the man who can challenge Woods’ dominance, and Davis didn’t like that. “I’ve promised myself that I’m going to concentrate on every shot over 72 holes, to get focused in on the target, to work hard and be the best I can be.” Fred Couples, Love’s best friend on tour, says there’s no question Love has the talent to ascend to the top. “Davis likes to do other things, as we all do” Fred said after Sunday’s round, “but I think he’s committed to seeing just where his talent can take him. I know this; I’ve never seen anybody play a round of golf like he did today. It was amazing.”

There was a lot of talk about Love’s potential domination when he arrived on tour. His length, the distance between his head and hands at the top of his back swing, his ability to overpower a golf course, etc. He’s harnessed all of the physical ability, and perhaps his motivation as caught up with that as well. If so, we’re in for a show.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Gators Lose In 2003 NCAA

It’s not the worst-case scenario, but it’s close. Florida’s second round 68-46 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament is not the kind of ending to the season that Billy Donovan, the Gator players or fans expected. While it’s been an up and down year and the team is young, the expectations were high for the post-season. But that’s what happens with a team that’s built on speed, the three and the press. When things are going well, it’s exciting and fun to watch. When things aren’t going well, it’s painful.

Florida doesn’t have anything to fall back on if their original game plan doesn’t work. They try to press harder, hustle more and get better shots, but if they’re not going in, they’re just not going in. They can’t walk the ball up the floor and go into some kind of half-court inside-out game, because they don’t have that in their arsenal.

Since being ranked #1 in early February, Florida has been a .500 team, losing four of their last five, the only win coming against outmatched Sam Houston State. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, but Billy Donovan is going to ask and be asked some tough questions. Nobody expects you to win the National Championship until you’ve gotten to the Final Four, and nobody expects you to get to the Final Four until you’ve played in the NCAA Tournament and had some success. Florida has been to the Final Four, and even to the title game, but can’t seem to build on that and sustain an elite position in college basketball. Is it because Kwame Brown didn’t go to Florida? Throw into the mix Donnell Harvey and Mike Miller’s departure early, and add Teddy Dupay’s dismissal and you have some very solid building blocks gone while they were still very effective. So blame Florida’s recent failures on that, but that excuse goes away in time. Everybody’s losing players, and the Gators have lost some more than expected. Perhaps Donovan will alter his recruiting strategy a bit, looking for players who will stay and help build the program as well as the top talent that will be effective right away.

Florida is young and it showed in some of the big games. And maybe they raised the bar a little too high with their success throughout the regular season. If this group stays together, and that’s not such a big if, they’ll be a force, especially if Donovan’s Midas touch in recruiting stays golden.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Big Signing

“First off, move those microphones back some. I’d like to say first of all that the comment that was made earlier about being a little bit older and having a knee injury. I didn’t have knee injury. I had a bone bruise. I never had any knee surgeries, and I played the whole season. That happened the eighth game of the season; I played the whole season. As far as the age, I was 31 years old last year and I had 12-1/2 sacks, so I kind of beat the numbers as far as how 30 year old players are. So I’m not worried about that. I’m kind of like Merlot – I get better with age. I just wanted to put everybody’s mind at ease on that.”

That was our first introduction to Hugh Douglas, new defensive end for the Jaguars. Douglas had overheard Times-Union writer Gene Frenette’s question to Jaguars personell vice-president James Harris. “Does it concern you that you’ve spent a lot of money on a guy who is 31, soon to be 32 and hid a knee injury from the media?” was how the question was phrased. Douglas took exception to that, and let us know right away.

“I take stuff like that back to the laboratory and put it in the mix. I’ll use it as motivation to let you guys know you can kiss my ass.” Maybe he was mistreated somewhere else, but Douglas took control of the situation without excuse. Not to say he wasn’t smart, sometimes funny and very direct. He’s ready to play, and is anxious to get on the line with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. “The two tackles,” was his response to the thing that sold him on Jacksonville. “Marcus Stroud and (John Henderson), I was just like ‘Man!’ Not to disrespect Cory Simon and Darwin Walker, but being in a situation where you can play with some big guys in the middle that can really push the pocket, that’s really exciting. That’s something I never had a chance to play with, and having Marco Coleman on the other side, it’s just a great situation to be in.”

Harris was very thoughtful in his explanation of Douglas’ signing. “We’re in the player business,” Harris told the assembled reporters. “Hugh is a guy that wanted to come here. He played for Ray Hamilton in New York. I was with Hugh with the Jets and he played very well there. I knew what kind of character he was, what kind of player he was. The key thing for a player that is over 30 is that he is the right kind of guy with his work ethic and how tough a competitor he is. He does all those things. He practices hard, he plays hard and knowing the makeup of the player, that increases the real interest in signing a guy that’s 31. Guys are playing longer in the league because they are taking care of themselves and knowing Hugh like we do, we felt that he was the right kind of guy.”

Head Coach Jack Del Rio concurred, saying Douglas’ signing makes the team better, and that’s his job. “We are in the player business and we are looking to upgrade the roster and to make this as competitive a situation as we can. This is a good fit for us and a good player. We are happy to have him.” For the first time since his formal introduction in January as the Jaguars head coach, Jack Del Rio was not the affable, easy-going guy he’s been in other media situations. I’m not sure what he was uptight about, but there was definitely a burr under his saddle during his time with the media. Either way, he said he’s committed to doing what it takes to make the team better. “It’ll be now, during the draft and in the post-draft free agency period. We’ll keep doing what ever it takes.” As for the draft, Del Rio said he was pretty happy with the eighth selection overall. “We’d listen to offers to move up or down, but we’re pretty happy with where we are.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Harrick’s Demise

After a spate of college basketball transgressions have come to light in the last couple of weeks, the big hammer dropped on Monday when Georgia suspended their Head Coach Jim Harrick and withdrew the team from the SEC and the NCAA tournaments. Harrick has been suspended pending further investigation into academic fraud at the University, allegedly committed by his son and former assistant, Jim Harrick, Jr..

Harrick, Jr. was fired last week after allegations of grade fixing and extra benefits came to light during an interview given by former player Tony Cole. An investigation into those allegations showed some to be true, and in a pre-emptive strike, the University decided to fire Harrick, Jr. hoping the NCAA and the SEC would take notice of their quick action and give them some lenient treatment when it came to sanctions.

Apparently on Monday morning, the University President Michael Adams was made aware of more academic fraud, declaring two current players, Chris Daniels and Rashard Wright academically ineligible. Problems have followed Harrick during his career off the court. He was fired at UCLA for allegedly falsifying an expense report. At the University of Rhode Island, a sexual harassment suit was settled out of court, brought by a woman naming Harrick as the perpetrator. Now at Georgia, on his watch, the basketball program has been thrown into disarray after what looked like a promising season.

The Bulldogs were ranked 21st and had a third seed in the SEC tournament. Their withdraw gives Tennessee a bye into the second round and a second round game with Auburn. Vince Dooley knew of Harrick’s past problems when he hired him in Athens. At one point, Harrick couldn’t decide whether he was coming to Georgia or not. He wasn’t fired today because the Bulldog administration wants to have all of their I’s dotted and t’s crossed before they make a move that could be challenged in court.

Giving players extra benefits is something that’s almost a time honored tradition in college sports, especially basketball. But academic fraud is a whole other story. When Adams was given evidence about grades being handed out without a class actually existing, he didn’t have a choice but to make a bold move. They’re trying to salvage the future by giving up the present, withdrawing from the conference and NCAA tournaments. They’re falling on their sword early, hoping mercy will follow their actions. Firing Harrick, Jr. was the right thing to do. Firing his dad is the next step in the right direction.