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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tiger Going to Play the TPC - Pau Gasol: Rumors caused 'suffering'

Tiger Going to Play the TPC
At a venue where the only certainty about the winners over the years has been the unpredictability of their identity, Tiger Woods went back to work Tuesday.
He played his first nine holes since the Masters, and hit balls for only the second time since playing four weeks ago at Augusta National. The first time he dumped a practice bucket on the grass was ... Monday.
"It is what it is," he shrugged, offering his infamous catch-all phrase.
As for his game, knee and other myriad ailments, it's more like, it's not what it was.
The former world No. 1 is still listed as the Players Championship favorite in the global betting parlors, though given the locale and his physical particulars, that seemingly represents pure folly.
After missing last week's PGA Tour event in Charlotte, N.C., because of multiple leg injuries, Woods reunited with swing coach Sean Foley on Monday at his home track outside Orlando for some needed tune-up work.
Foley hadn’t seen his prize pupil since the Masters, slightly over four weeks ago. Thus, this might represent the least that Woods has prepared for a tournament since the 2008 U.S. Open, when he had a blown-out knee and two broken bones in his leg. Of course, he won that tournament with sheer stubbornness and a wheelbarrow of Advil.
This time around, facing a daily post-round regimen that includes anti-inflammatories, ice, elevating his knee and soft-tissue massage, Woods is doing everything but changing the lug nuts on his wheels. He doesn't have a choice.
"I feel hot," Woods cracked after his nine-hole jaunt, where he walked at a very tempered pace in 90-degree weather. "Good enough to play. Here we are."
In the span since Augusta, Woods has been to China and South Korea on a manufacturer's publicity junket, and partied at Las Vegas gaming tables with musician John Mayer, who played at Woods' annual concert fundraiser. He can rock and roll, but can he roll the rock?
It's anybody's guess what we'll see Thursday at TPC Sawgrass, where Woods has amassed one victory, exactly a decade ago, and has cracked the top 10 only once since. In that victory at Sawgrass in 2001, NBC analyst Gary Koch supplied one of the most memorable moments in tournament history as Woods' rollicking putt on the fabled 17th rolled 40 feet into the hole, "Better than most ... better than most."
Since the win in '01, Woods has posted six rounds in the 60s and his performance can best be described as: Better than some ... worse than others. As Foley headed off to watch Woods play a practice round Tuesday afternoon, he said the former world No. 1 looked fairly solid in their session a day earlier at Isleworth Country Club.
"Pretty good," Foley said as he headed off for a practice round. "All things considered."
The list of "things" keeps getting longer with Woods, whose victory drought on the PGA Tour now stretches back a career-long 20 months. Woods hit four practice balls off the No. 2 tee, spraying a 3-wood all over the place.
In practice, Foley said Woods didn’t have any limitations with his swing relating to the knee and foot issues, but until he walks 18 holes, it's hard to predict how he'll manage. He didn’t enter the Wells Fargo Championship last week in Charlotte, N.C., where he is a past champion, because of nagging issues with a knee and Achilles. In fact, Woods spent some of the past month in a walking cast after hurting himself hitting a shot from under the Eisenhower Tree at the Masters.
Woods said Tuesday that the injury really took a bite out of him, and a trip to the doctor confirmed that he had badly tweaked his brittle left knee, which has undergone four surgeries.
"I just had to power through it," he said.
Eisenhower was a military general, of course, and right now, Woods can ill afford another retreat. After struggling to incorporate a raft of swing tweaks into his regimen, Woods seemed to be playing less robotically at the Masters.
A month-long layoff can’t have been good for his continuity, which in some instances has peaked and cratered over the course of a single round.
"That's the way it goes," he said. "Take some time off, listen to the doctors."
Despite the long absence from the victory circle, Woods said his current stretch pales in comparison to the swing work he did over parts of 1997-99 with former coach Butch Harmon. In that span, he won once, so he has found it easier to be patient this time around.
"It was brutal because I had never been through a stretch like that before," he recalled.
Given the lost time over the past month, Foley didn’t argue the point that the hiatus isn't ideal as it relates to building familiarity with the changes, though Woods is certainly fresh after his doctor-imposed time on the bench.
"You never know," Foley said. "Sometimes, when you lay things down...."
At this point, it seems pretty clear that Woods not only has fallen -- dropping another slot this week to No. 8 in the world ranking -- he just can’t seem to get up.
Woods, 35, has logged a thousand miles of road work since his teen years, so when he was asked whether his Achilles issues, which have affected his heels over past three years, were related to running, the answer was somewhat surprising.
And for his fans, quite possibly disturbing.
"No, just old age," Woods said.

There could be two impact players for the Buckeyes
9. Ohio State: There could be two impact players for the Buckeyes depending on how things shake out in fall camp. Quarterback Braxton Miller is certainly in the race to be the starter with Terrelle Pryor suspended for five games and showed flashes during the spring. Linebacker Curtis Grant was one of the top players coming out of high school and should be able to fill in right away on defense.

Pau Gasol: Rumors caused 'suffering'
Ramona Shelburne espn.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Lakers forward Pau Gasol denied recent internet reports and speculation in several major media outlets that there has been any conflict between Kobe Bryant's wife Vanessa and Gasol's girlfriend Silvia Lopez Castro.
One report even intimated that Gasol's situation had spilled into the Lakers locker room and caused an argument between him and Bryant because Bryant's wife became involved in Gasol's relationship issues.
On Tuesday, Gasol called rumors of a rift between he and Bryant or a breakup with his girlfriend "absolutely false."
"My girlfriend and I are fine, we're happy, we're doing well. Kobe and I are fine," Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com in the parking lot outside the Lakers training facility Tuesday, after his exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and coach Phil Jackson.
"She [Lopez Castro] was suffering because she saw me suffering. And I was suffering because I was seeing her suffering. When you add that to other stuff to what's already happening, it's tough."
Gasol said that he didn't realize the extent to which the internet chatter had spread as an explanation for his subpar play during the Lakers disappointingly short playoff run this year because he doesn't read articles about himself or the team on a regular basis.
"I didn't know to what extent it had become an issue," Gasol said. "During the playoffs I'm totally out of the media whether it's great or not so great.
"But you do feel it because your environment feels it, and they make you feel it."
Part of the reason the story spread and became somewhat legitimized in recent days were Gasol's cryptic comments after the Lakers 122-86 loss to Dallas in Game 4 Sunday night.
Gasol said that he needed to learn to handle "whatever goes on, on or off the floor" better and "not let it affect anything that goes on on the floor."
It was taken by some as an acknowledgement of off the court issues. Tuesday, Gasol clarified his remarks, saying that he was referring to the toll the viral story had taken on him and the team.
"Everything just seemed to get bigger and heavier," he said, referring to the wild story about Bryant's wife and his girlfriend.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm an easy target."
Gasol's teammate Derek Fisher said he too was stunned by the chorus of criticism of Gasol once he got back to Los Angeles and began to hear and read some of the stories about the Lakers disappointing sweep at the hands of the Mavericks.
"I don't read as much and listen to as much of the news and articles and blogs, so I don't think I or we as a team fully understood the things that were being said about what people thought was going on with Pau," Fisher said.
"If there's anything I regret, I regret the fact that I wasn't able to fully understand it and speak up sooner on his behalf.
"To say that I think it was ridiculously wrong to assume some of the things that were being assumed, and to place the burden of how successful we were or were not on his shoulders."
Lopez Castro attended Game 2 with Gasol's mother.
"She's been great," Gasol said. "A great help and support throughout this process. It's been rough for her, because it's been really unfair to her. I mean, forget about me."
Earlier, in an interview session with a large group of reporters, Gasol said he was deeply disappointed in his performance and the final outcome of the Lakers season. Gasol said Los Angeles' exit from the playoffs was "stunning" and that "this season has been pretty crazy and very emotional, not just for me, but as a team, and I guess it took it's toll at the very end, at the critical time."
Gasol averaged just 12.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the four-game series against the Mavericks, well below his season averages of 18.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. He shot just 42.2 percent in the Dallas series, also well below his season average of 53 percent.
"I understand that with player that I am and I consider myself to be, there are a lot of expectations. And once those expectations are not achieved, there's going to be criticism," he said.
"So it's time to get through it and stand up for yourself. I understand this is part of the deal, whether you consider it fair or not.
"The thing that makes me the angriest, I guess, is me not playing at my best and not being able to help my team accomplish its goals."
Gasol said he planned to spend the unexpected time off analyzing his own play and looking for ways to come back with "a clean cut" next season.
He also said he was "leaning toward playing" for the Spanish National team this summer as it tries to qualify for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Gasol has not played for Spain the last two summers because he decided he needed to rest after the Lakers deep playoff runs.
"My decisions the last couple years have been because of a lack of rest and time to recover from our runs to the championships before the beginning of the season," he said. "But this obviously gives me more opportunity of participating with my national team."
Spain is scheduled to participate in the Eurobasket European Championships from Aug. 31-Sept. 18 in Lithuania, where two teams will earn Olympic bids.

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