Tiger, Nelly … and Brett?

April 8

When historians write the story of America, it will be divided into two segments: the era before 10:42 a.m. today, when Tiger began his comeback at the Masters, and the era that followed. Over the top? Slightly, but the buildup given to the first round of the Masters had the same feel.

No one heckled, just about everyone applauded, and Tiger 2.0 began the first day of the rest of his life. 2.0 was a lot like 1.0, and so was the atmosphere surrounding him, with a few exceptions. A plane flew overhead with a sign that asked whether Tiger mean “Bootyism” and not “Buddhism” at his February 19th address to the nation. That was a lot of money to spend on a cheap pun.

No one would be surprised if Tiger wins this tournament or at least contends after a five-month hiatus. Few expected him to do as well as he did today, a four-under 68, the first time he’s broken 70 in his first round at the Masters. Then again, the score looked rather pedestrian compared to 60-year-old Tom Watson firing a 67, and 50-year-old Fred Couples shooting 66 to take the lead.

In case you didn’t know it by now, Tiger’s life is about two main things: playing golf and making a lot of money. Sexapalooza was simply a side show, a diversion for him. Augusta is what he knows and where he feels comfortable. If his dad is asking him from the great beyond what he has learned, hopefully Tiger can answer “humility.”

But enough of the unsolicited preaching. I’ll leave that to Billy Payne. Shame on you Tiger, said the head of Augusta National, where blacks weren’t allowed until 1990 — and where I’m sure none of the heavy-hitter members have gone bed-hopping.

Oh, and about that creepy Nike commercial. Listen, my late father was an accountant, so he understood the need to make money, but there is no damn way I would ever include a tape of him in a commercial — regardless of the context or the intent. That commercial was an epiphany — an unsettling clue as to the way Tiger and Nike view the world. That view does not include “humility.”

Nike was capitalizing in a very crass and arrogant way on Tiger’s infamy. Tiger, at the very least, let it happen. At the very worst, he farmed the grave and used his dad to help his image — in a commercial. Tiger’s dad probably would have signed off on the spot because Earl liked the dollar as much as the next guy, and the next guy was Donald Trump — but that doesn’t make it any more tasteful.

Tiger also dropped the ball in the post-round news conference when he was asked what the day meant to him. He simply said it meant he was back and playing golf. Of course Tiger wasn’t going to over-dramatize the moment, but that was a time to acknowledge it was something a little more important.

I think he knows exactly how big this is. It gets even bigger if he’s in the hunt on Sunday. Want to bet against him ?

***

The NBA coaching wins record achieved by Warriors coach Don Nelson was not over-dramatized. It received just the proper amount of muted applause. It’s an accomplishment, to be sure, by a coach who isn’t as bad as he has looked and not as good as the new record would indicate.

I have criticized Nelson for not appearing to give a damn while he’s pulling in six million dollars a year. The laissez-faire attitude doesn’t work when you’re only going to win 25 games. However, he also had pneumonia this year and looked terrible for a while. Newspapers and newscasts showed some pretty bad images, only adding to the apparent malaise of the team.

Much of that malaise resides in the front office, and some of that is probably Nelson’s fault too, since his buddy is General Manager despite never being more than an NBA assistant. Make no mistake: Nelly is very much interested in hanging around. The NBA lifestyle is what Nelly has known for nearly 50 years, and no matter how tiring it becomes as he approaches 70, he’s hooked on the game and on making money.

His tenure may be out of his control if the Warriors are sold, but he’ll get his money no matter what. A new owner will want to clean house. Could Nelly pull one more rabbit out of his hat with a healthy Warriors team next year ? It’s possible, but a new owner will want to try with another coach. The status of Monta Ellis this summer will also be something to watch.

I actually think Nelson has done a terrific coaching job with the makeshift roster he’s been forced to put together in the last few weeks. Not as good as the We Believe year, but he showed that when he’s interested he can still do the job. Cynically, you could say he was interested because he was close to the record but it’s also fair to say he mined some talent and let those players blossom.

Injuries gave these players minutes and a chance to work into the NBA routine in a way they might never have, and Nelson’s style allowed them to fill up the stat sheet. That can fire up any player with any amount of hunger, and this group has played hard down the stretch. That doesn’t mean Nelson is the coach of the future.

There has been too much water under the bridge, too many trades, too much front office maneuvering, too much fan anger. The fact is, even without the injuries this was probably not a playoff team. It’s wrong to say Nelson doesn’t teach defense, but his style can only take a team so far.

That’s the glaring omission in his resume: no finals appearances. It’s partly due to the talent he’s had but also a function of his style, which is fun for players and fans but not conducive to long playoff runs. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach. He’s very creative and his ability to find good matchups is well known. He’s just not on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore, even if he’s on top of the wins list.

***

I’m getting ready for the Giants home opener Friday, always one of the fun days of the year. I’ll be out there so early, it will be late. We’ll open up the new restaurant with Murph and Mac, then I’ll hang out with Gary Radnich. We won’t have to worry about rain, at least for tomorrow, and I won’t need to rely on the Doppler Radar on the scoreboard like last year.

By the way, the Bay Area is now 6-1 for the season. The A’s took three of four from the Mariners, including today’s 6-2 victory, and mark these words: Brett Anderson will be the ace of the A’s staff before long, if he isn’t already.

Last week I raved about him to a Seattle radio station prior to the series, and his six-plus shutout innings today with just one walk didn’t hurt his reputation. Anderson is mature beyond his 22 years and has four pitches. He’s the centerpiece in the A’s formula of pitching, defense and aggressive baserunning.

The Mariners aren’t a murderer’s row but they are expected to contend in the American League West this season, so it was important for the A’s to establish respectability at the start of the season. They’ve done that. How long they stay in contention is an open question.

As for Anderson, hopefully Billy Beane will resist the urge to deal him for prospects in a few years. Maybe by that time the A’s will be contenders and have a new home. Just call me Pollyanna.

Last night one of the A’s prospects stood out. Tyson Ross struck out Ken Griffey, Jr. and threw 2 1/3 shutout innings in his big league debut. The Oakland product kept the A’s in the game during the middle innings, demonstrating a 95 mile an hour fastball and a devastating two-seamer that has tremendous sink. Griffey can tell you about that pitch.

***

Pardon me now. I have to remove a long sharp object from a sensitive orifice. Just paid my property taxes.

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