Archive for March, 2012

Tiger Woods: Love him or hate him, he’s still the show

Tiger Woods may never fully return to form but he remains golf's biggest star going into the Masters. (AP photo)

Tiger Woods may never dominate the PGA Tour again, but he remains golf's biggest star going into the Masters. (AP photo)

If you can get past the circus and past the character defects, if you can get past Tiger Woods’ bizarre obsession with the Navy SEALs, and that three of his alleged former mistresses (porn stars) are releasing a movie Tuesday (“Notorious Tales of the World’s Greatest Golfer,” and we’re just assuming it’s not about No. 1-ranked Luke Donald), and that his former swing coach is pimping a book, here’s one undeniable truth: Woods is gold — for the PGA Tour, for the sports world, for us.

Other golfers tire of answering questions about him, but they know who moves the meter. They know who sells tickets and sponsorships and ultimately brings more money and attention to the sport, and therefore them.

Fans may be divided on him – some still clinging to the being (not human) who won 14 majors and 71 Tour events in 14 years, others refusing to let go of …

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Georgia’s problems reaffirm NCAA needs uniform drug policy

Bobby Bowden supports Georgia's drug policy but says it might leave team at a disadvantage.

Bobby Bowden supports Georgia's drug policy but says it might leave the team at a competitive disadvantage.

ATHENS – It’s fair to start with this: There is no excuse for doing something wrong.

There is no excuse for stealing money from a teammate’s dorm room, just because you’re short of cash. No excuse for getting into a physical altercation with a girlfriend, just because there was an argument. No excuse for getting high, just because … well, just because. No excuse for exploring the cannabis culinary arts and eating Alice B. Toklas brownies, just because you were on spring break and you were hungry and, really, honest, pinky-swear, you didn’t even know that there was marijuana in them (uh, right.)

These are some of the reasons why Georgia coach Mark Richt has been suspending or dismissing players at an alarming rate lately – eight since January. This is when nobody seems to remember how many stars were by a recruit’s name on national signing day. Funny how …

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Will Augusta National finally be forced to invite a woman?

Masters adheres to traditions. But Billy Payne, club may have to change one. (Curtis Compton)

Masters adheres to traditions. But Billy Payne, club may have to change one. (Curtis Compton)

The mild winter ensures full blooms on the azaleas. Five different winners in the last five years eliminates any hint of predictability. Tiger Woods’ first tour win in 2½ years last week teases us into believing golf’s preeminent figure can return to dominance and provide some red-shirt drama on Sunday.

Welcome to the perfect backdrop for next week’s Masters, bliss for the Lords of Augusta National.

Well, except this: That women issue.

If it had never quite died, it at least had gone dormant, like Bermuda fairways. But the question of whether Augusta National will finally open the doors to female members  — even if “at the point of a bayonet,” to reprise the charges of former chairman William “Hootie” Johnson – is bigger now than ever before. Even bigger than when Martha Burk first sent her little letter to Johnson nearly 10 years ago asking about the club’s …

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Grantham now providing the right highlights at Georgia

Mark Richt and Todd Grantham both received contract extensions. (Brant Sanderlin)

Mark Richt and Todd Grantham both earned contract extensions. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

ATHENS – Once you get past the standard, astronomic, cartoon-like expectations of spring — Will Georgia go 13-1 next season? Maybe 14-0 if the dang, cheatin’ refs ain’t from Bessemer? — it’s worth noting that Todd Grantham has accomplished something pretty significant in Athens.

Something even bigger than evolving from sideline sideshow on YouTube — and who knew that was possible?

The Bulldogs, the team headed by a former offensive coordinator (Mark Richt), the program that recently had produced the likes of A.J. Green and Matthew Stafford — only to too often get punched in the mouth by Alabama, Florida or LSU — has discovered the key to success in the SEC.

Defense.

Who knew?

It’s important to note that college football in general, and the SEC in particular, doesn’t mirror the changing NFL. The pros have become pass-happy on offense. That means nickel defenses are now the rule, not the …

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Joe Johnson finding his rhythm — and so are Hawks

The look says it all as Joe Johnson sinks a jumper to seal the Hawks' four-overtime win over Utah Sunday night. (AP photo)

The look says it all as Joe Johnson sinks a jumper to seal the Hawks' four-overtime win over Utah Sunday night. (AP photo)

There is a tendency in pro sports to measure pro athletes by the number of digits in their paychecks. It follows that expectations of what Joe Johnson is supposed to be reside somewhere just south of Zeus-ian.

So let’s start with this: Yes, Johnson makes a lot of money. He will continue to make a lot of money. He probably has an ATM in his pantry, just to the left of the case of Beluga caviar.

He is the only person in Atlanta who this week will drive past that billboard that reads, “Mega Millions: $356 million” and think, “You know, I just don’t know if I want to fill out all of that paper work for another direct deposit account.”

But in what is turning into a rather remarkable Hawks’ season, Johnson has been far more than a dollar sign with ears lately. The guy known for 2-ton-W-2, with too few big moments and too few big games, has been a …

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Appreciate Chipper Jones while you still can — Aaron does

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Henry Aaron says he knew Braves had made the right choice in 1990. (AJC photo)

Henry Aaron said he knew the Braves had made the right choice with Chipper Jones. (AJC photo)

(Updated: 2 p.m.)

Enjoy this season because it will be your last look.

Enjoy watching Chipper Jones because the chance to watch a first-ballot Hall of Famer – and if he’s not enshrined in his first year of eligibility, I’m surrendering my vote – just doesn’t come around very often.

Jones isn’t the best position player in Braves’ history. That’s only because there’s a guy named Henry Aaron ahead of him. Sometimes, being in second place is an honor — especially when the guy who is in first place is bowing in your direction.

“I remember when we took Chipper in the draft,” Aaron recalled Thursday. “There were a lot of people in the organization who thought we should take that pitcher [Todd Van Poppel]. But I saw star written all over Chipper, and I put my vote in. There were quite a few people involved in that decision. I can tell you this: Some are going to say now that …

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Goodell sends right message, slamming Saints, Payton

It was Gregg Williams' (right) bounty program, but Sean Payton allowed him to do it. (AP photo)

It was Gregg Williams' (right) bounty program, but Sean Payton allowed him to do it. (AP photo)

(Last updated: 2:20 p.m.)

Roger Goodell got it right Wednesday – not just for coming down hard on the New Orleans Saints in general and coach Sean Payton in particular, but for slamming somebody who doesn’t wear a uniform.

The NFL commissioner suspended Payton, the Saints’ head coach, for the entire 2012 season for his role in the team’s bounty program. He also suspended former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now with St. Louis) for at least one year, assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games and general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games. The Saints also will lose two second-round draft picks (2012 and 2013) and must pay a $500,000 fine.

The Saints will be allowed to keep their shoes.

Player discipline will be forthcoming. But the punishment against Payton and the team, while harsh, is justified. The Saints not only implemented a bounty program that …

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Hawks showing us something new — they can take a punch

Larry Drew never quite knows who is going to be in his huddle. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Hawks coach Larry Drew never quite knows who is going to be in his huddle. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

One guy has a strained hamstring. Another guy has a bad hip. Another has a bad back.

Another somehow found a way to make a road trip to Cleveland worse than even the usual road trip to Cleveland: He had an appendectomy.

These are your Hawks — or at least what’s left of them — after 46 games that seemingly should be wrapped in medical gauze and a mutant schedule created in David Stern’s nickel-squeezing torture chamber that has seen the team play nine consecutive games in nine different cities (two games were at home, but not in a row).

“Two or three years ago, we would’ve just quit — we would’ve folded,” general manager Rick Sund said Tuesday. “This year we seem to have more resilience. Frankly, before the game [Monday] night, it was amazing to me that we were seven games over .500.”

And that really is what’s worth talking about with the Hawks.

Are they flawed? Of …

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Furman Bisher: We lost a legend, I lost a friend

Not many are worthy of the word "legend" attached to their name, but Furman Bisher is one. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Furman Bisher: One of few worthy of "legend" being attached to his name. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Every few weeks, the same thoughts would roll through my head:

I just had a conversation with the man who sat on the front porch sipping ice tea with Ty Cobb.

I just exchanged emails with the man who scored the only interview with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

The man who watched Cy Young pitch, the man who saw Joe Louis box, the man who covered the very first post-bootlegging NASCAR race — one of the few people who legitimately deserved to have the word “legend” attached to his name — just dialed my cell phone to say, “Hello, young man. I like what you wrote . . .”

I’m sad today, not just because I lost a friend and former colleague in Furman Bisher but because this is like a door to history slamming shut  for all of us.

In a few weeks, I’ll be going to Augusta for the Masters and I won’t be able to turn to my right and exchange thoughts with the man who played golf with …

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Dimitroff: ‘Insinuation we’re not being active is incorrect’

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been trying to do the most he can with a limited budget. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has been trying to do the most he can with a limited budget. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

In his first four years as the Falcons’ chief architect, Thomas Dimitroff didn’t have to convince anybody that he was being aggressive.

There were screaming headlines every offseason as evidence: Free-agent signings (Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards), a trade for a Hall of Famer (Tony Gonzalez), draft picks for franchise anchors (Matt Ryan, Julio Jones).

Yet, here we are in mid-March, and the headlines haven’t been screaming. Re-signing John Abraham was significant. It broke the silence of spring. But whether that’s enough to douse perceptions that the Falcons aren’t doing nearly enough to improve their product is another matter.

To say that Dimitroff disagrees with those perceptions would be an understatement.

“The insinuation that we’re not being active and doing everything we can to improve our football team is, in my mind, …

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