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The 'People's Choice' Has the Gift of Gag

The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

April 11, 2004|T.J. Simers

I know this might come as a surprise to some of you, given the emphasis that's usually placed on the positive in sports in this space, but I'm rooting for the guy with "SAP" spelled across his cap and golf shirt, and isn't that appropriate, to keep the pressure on the Choker today until Phil Mickelson gags once again and loses the Masters.

There's no poorer sap in sports, of course, than Mickelson, unless you take into account any free agent who signs with the Clippers.

Mickelson's sheepish smirk after failing again in a major golf tournament has become as much a part of the sport as Tiger Woods' thrusting his fist into the air.

I know everyone is a sucker for a Lifetime movie, but I would remind you that if Ernie Els fails me and Mickelson wins, you're going to have to listen to a syrupy/sappy Jim Nantz talk about the courage Mickelson has shown in winning millions and millions of dollars every year while enduring the pain of never posting a major win. And he'll talk reverently while he says it.

Now I don't buy for a second the TV images of cheering patrons at the Masters urging Mickelson on, as if they really want the Choker to finally win.

"I think without question he's the people's choice," croaked Verne Lundquist on Saturday as Mickelson walked to the 16th green, but I believe Lundquist is mistaken.

I think most people are cheering wildly in the hopes that Mickelson will take the lead into the final round -- setting him up for another great fall.

I've never been to an Indy 500, and I would imagine no one says out loud they're hoping for a crash, but deep down I'm pretty sure everyone would agree there really isn't any other reason to watch.

Mickelson has never led, or been tied for the lead, in a major golf tournament entering the final round until now, giving him the chance to cement his image as one of sports' all-time chokers.

Asked about the chance to finally win, Mickelson said all the right things in an interview with CBS, prompting Nantz to gush, "Listen to [the fans] cheering just for the interview, and it's not just in the boundaries of Augusta, but you can feel it everywhere." That's what you're going to get from The Amazing Kreskin today if the Choker hangs tough.

There's no question Mickelson is a nice guy, and you know where they finish. Mickelson will gag, of course, which makes for titillating reality TV, and is why I maintain most of you won't be telling the truth if you say you're pulling for him to win.

Think how much fun you've had watching Mickelson go up in smoke over the years -- maybe most memorably when he defiantly told an interviewer immediately after a major loss that he would continue to play aggressively (and stupidly) no matter what anyone had to say about his game.

I admired those same qualities in Ryan Leaf, throwing into double coverage -- convinced he could squeeze a pass in to a Charger receiver -- when you and I knew that even if he was successful, the Charger receiver was going to drop the ball anyway.

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OBVIOUSLY I know something about chokers, given the amount of time I've spent with the Dodgers every September. That's why I'm so fond of the Choking Dodger Dogs, because like Mickelson, they are a constant reminder that for all the natural ability an athlete or a group of athletes might have, it takes something more to be truly great.

You know what I'm talking about. You've seen Devean George play basketball, Peyton Manning fall short of leading his team to the Super Bowl and the Avengers ... no, I haven't seen the Avengers either.

Asked what he will have to do to win the Masters, knowing he will start a few strokes behind the leaders, my man Els told a CBS interviewer, "I've been in this position two or three times," paused and added, "but I was chasing Tiger."

The grin on his face said it probably won't be the same as chasing the Choker.

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THE LOS ANGELES Sports & Entertainment Commission is offering a chance to listen to and chat with John Wooden at Riviera Country Club on May 17. The commission is going to present Wooden with its Ambassador Award of Excellence for his accomplishments in sports and the community.

The presentation will follow the fifth annual Celebrity Golf & Tennis Classic at Riviera, which still has a few open spots. It might be a chance for Mickelson to beat somebody. For further information contact the sports and entertainment commission at (213) 236-2361.

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THOROUGHBRED L.A., which is consistently the best radio show ESPN (710) has to offer every week, features hosts Mike Willman and Kurt Hoover on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9.

Hoover pointed out the perfect hunch play Saturday, noting that Flamethrowintexan was starting from the gate in the third race at Santa Anita alongside Tenace, the perfect battery mate exacta, featuring Nolan Ryan and Gene Tenace. One problem: Teton Forest won. I didn't say Hoover and Willman could pick winners.

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THE SACRAMENTO KINGS beating the Lakers with so much on the line, Mickelson winning the Masters on the same day and knowing things come in threes -- I can't even imagine.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Rhys Thomas:

"To the editors of the Los Angeles Times: After reading today's blatantly misogynist column by T.J. Simers, I am personally convinced it is time for The Times to consider action against an employee who does not represent the best interests of the newspaper nor the community at large...."

Congratulations on your appointment as spokesperson representing the best interests of the newspaper and the community at large.

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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