By Dan Walk
1 Some athletic performances leave you with little choice but to sit back and shake your head. That happened Sunday when Phil Mickelson, down five strokes entering the final round on a tough British Open course, came back to win by three shots after sinking four birdies during the final six holes. He shot a 5-under 66, quite possibly the best round of his career just one month and one major after finishing a hard-to-swallow second at the U.S Open. Mickelson wasn’t even in the picture as the third round came to a close. Just 18 holes later, he was front and center.
2 Ever since Tiger Woods started dominating in the late 1990s, he was known as the best golfer in the world, save for the infidelity scandal and his time away from the game that dropped him down a few pegs. But as far as just majors go, you can argue that Mickelson, now No. 2 in the world, has been every bit as good as top-ranked Woods since Mickelson got the “major monkey” off his back in 2004. Since then, Mickelson has five majors to Woods’ six. Tiger hasn’t won a major since 2008 — and he fell apart once again on Sunday after he was just two strokes back entering the final round. He finished tied for sixth.
3 I’ll be the first to say that I do not like the New York Yankees. But I’m a fan of closer Mariano Rivera, as are many others. But he didn’t deserve to be named the MLB All-Star game MVP. I know this is Rivera’s final season after a career as the best closer of all time, but the All-Star MVP award isn’t a lifetime achievement award. Why not give it to Jason Kipnis, who had the only run-scoring hit in the game? Or Miguel Cabrera, who doubled and scored the first (and winning) run? It shouldn’t go to a guy who recorded an eighth-inning hold.
4 The hottest team in baseball right now is the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won 21 of 25 and trail division rival Boston by 1/2 game for the league’s best record. A big reason for Tampa’s surge has been improved pitching by its dynamite staff — recently getting David Price back off the disabled list certainly helps. The promotion of highly touted rookie Wil Myers has been just as important. The Rays are 23-8 since his promotion. Tampa doesn’t spend much, but it always seems to have a great eye for talent and develops its players well.
5 Seattle and Houston, bottom dwellers of the AL West, played on Saturday in one of the most unusual games I’ve ever read about. It’s one of those games that isn’t explained by the box score. Seattle won 4-2, yet it had just one hit. The Mariners’ first two runs scored of passed balls, while Houston pitcher Erik Bedard took himself out of the game with a no hitter through 6 1/3 innings due to a high pitch count and a career of arm troubles. A few batters later, Seattle’s only hit, a two-run double, was the winning blow. What’s more unusual — a pitcher taking himself out with a no hitter or a team collecting a 4-2 win after registering just one hit?
6 Why are we already talking about the 2014 NBA offseason? Reports are already out that the Lakers will pursue Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James if they become free agents next summer. Some analysts are already speculating how important the Cavaliers’ signing of Andrew Bynum was for 2014 because some media members believe Bynum and Kyrie Irving will be enough to bring James back to Cleveland. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. How about living in the present?
7 These 2014 NBA free agency stories remind me of a great voicemail I received just days after I lauded LeBron during the Heat’s second straight championship. The gentleman, Richard Craine, talked about how it’s wrong in basketball these days that the individual has become more important than the team. Craine, a basketball purist, grew up watching the Celtics win year after year — back when team ball was more apparent. His voicemail is a great example of why some people are already talking about next season’s possible free agents. These days, the NBA is a superstar-driven league; most fans don’t care enough about mid-level free agents who are so necessary to help form a winning team. Right or wrong, that’s the way the league has been for a while. And some might say that individualism has seeped too much into college and high school basketball as well.
8 Going back to Andrew Bynum, Cleveland fans are going to have some fun with him. Do you notice the sarcasm there? All I can say is “good luck” to the Cavaliers, who brought in a guy who hasn’t played since May 21, 2012, and said in his introductory press conference that “Getting my career on track is my only goal for the season.” Helping your team win is so overrated anyway. Just throwing $6 million guaranteed at Bynum makes it a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cavs. But he’s not even worth that much.
9 Is it time to start paying attention to the U.S. men’s soccer team? After winning its ninth straight game — a 5-1 win over El Salvador on Sunday — I believe it’s time to at least give the squad a chance. I really feel as if coach Jurgen Klinsmann has the team headed in the right direction. What really makes this team go is veteran Landon Donovan, who had three assists and one goal Sunday. Calling the Americans a 2014 World Cup contender would be very premature, but they appear to be in a much better place than in 2010 under Bob Bradley.
10 The UFC returns to action Saturday with great free fights on network TV. The headliner of the Fox card is champion Demetrious Johnson versus John Moraga for the flyweight title. But the most interesting fight on the card is between welterweights Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger, two of the UFC’s top competitors who have yet to fight for a title. Whoever wins will more than likely be next in line for the welterweight crown. If Johnny Hendricks can’t knock off Georges St. Pierre, MacDonald and Ellenberger are certainly capable of capturing the upset. I’ve got MacDonald, but Ellenberger has one-punch knockout power.
The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.