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Looking into the crystal ball

Daily file photoChris Freud
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, although the only thing Christmas-like is the weather.

Baseball’s started. We’ve got the Masters and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are under way. (Yes, there’s the NBA, but if you grew up with the Golden State Warriors, you wouldn’t care either.)

So with this extravaganza of sport upon us, some predictions:

The Masters

This is the best golf tournament of the year. Although few of us will ever play at Augusta National, you know the holes and the history with each one ” Larry Mize on 11, Gene Sarazen on 15, Tiger Woods on 16 and Phil Mickelson on 18.

The U.S. Open is fun to watch because it makes the best golfers in the world cry. (By the way, to the powers that be at Augusta, don’t juice up the course too much this week. Last year’s winning score was plus-1. The winner should be in red numbers. Don’t turn the Masters into the U.S. Open.) The Open (British) is the world championship and is the most storied major. The PGA likely has the best field, but sometimes seems like a glorified Buick Open.

The PGA will likely only be elevated to the status of its three brothers if Tiger Woods comes into it looking for the Grand Slam. Yes, a lot of people are saying that it’s Tiger’s year to win all four in the same calendar year, but let’s slow down here.

He is the best golfer of our time. He will doubtless smash Jack Nicklaus’ record for major (18) and Masters (six) wins before he’s done. Tiger ” if he isn’t already ” will be in the echelon of premiere athletes of sport like Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Jim Brown and Wayne Gretzky to name a few.

But there is the rest of field, and I’m not just talking Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and so on. As a reminder, Zach Johnson won the Masters last year. It was a nice story, but who the heck was he? The rest of the field is not just going to stand by and play for second place.

While you can say you make your luck, it’s a big factor in winning majors ” see Tiger’s shot on the 16th in 2005; it was a tremendous shot, no doubt, but you also need a little fortune on your side. As brilliant as Tiger is, one bad day or one unlucky bounce and his Grand Slam is done.

That having been said, take Tiger this weekend.

Baseball

The Colorado Rockies will not repeat as league champions this year. They won’t even come close. Merely by the grace of my putrid San Francisco Giants will the Rockies stay out of the cellar.

Colorado went on a spectacular run last year and was able to parlay that into pennant in the weak National League. This is a .500 team at best.

Despite their slow start, look for the New York Mets to emerge from the senior circuit. As for the American League, anybody but the Boston Red Sox, please. As shocking as it may be to Boston fans, the Red Sox have become utterly obnoxious. I mean “Red Sox Nation?” It was cute when the team had gone 86 years without a title.

Unfortunately, the Sox are loaded ” and my original pick of Detroit isn’t looking too good. Boston gets its revenge for 1986 by beating the Mets and we’re stuck with more Neil Diamond.

Stanley Cup

First, a moment of silence for the Buffalo Sabres, who, to sports writer Ian Cropp’s sorrow, are not in the playoffs. The news room here is actually grateful for that fact.

The bad news is that the Sharks are in the playoffs, and this, kids, is the year. San Jose takes Calgary in six, beats the Wild, which dumps the Avs. Meanwhile, Detroit has to face the winner of Anaheim-Dallas (likely the former). Detroit emerges from that bloodbath and the Sharks take care of what’s left of the Red Wings.

Who wins the East? Who cares? OK, the NHL would love it to be Pittsburgh or Washington, so the league can show off Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, but it’s the Habs with the Sharks taking Montreal in six.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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