Poults happy for second best – but is the media to blame for furore?

It seems I made a gross misjudgement about Ian Poulter in a previous post.

Following his now infamous interview with Golf World where he was quoted as saying he was the only player who, on his game, could compete with Tiger Woods, I actually gave him credit for being one of the few golfers with the self-confidence not to be happy playing for second place.

Thanfkully Poults has now clarified his position and claimed he was misquoted in the interview. Unfortunately, he is now adamant that he, along with every other golfer on the planet can only play for Woods’ leftovers.

As long as Woods is playing, Poulter claims, he can only ever play for second spot – which, he believes he is good enough to achieve.

Can you imagine if that had been David’s attitude when facing the mighty Goliath? The plucky youngster would have been beaten to a pulp, the Bible would have been a fable light and sporting commentators would have had to invent a new analogy for the triumphant underdog.

Golfing mortals (ie, everyone apart from Woods) should never allow themselves to believe that they cannot compete with him, let alone say it in public, even if it is the truth. I see no point whatsoever in teeing up in the same tournament with Woods if they have lost before even hitting a ball.

Poulter’s admission is yet another damning indictment of the professionals who are satisfied to make a living in Woods’ shadow without trying to tackle him head on in the spirit of sport.

However, the interview also flags up a worrying and deep-rooted trend in the media to string up (or lynch if I dare say the word) those who are prepared to speak their mind.

Too many sportsmen, not only golfers, are content to give the bland, run-of-the-mill stock answers to journalists’ questions. But is this because we are now breeding sportsmen completely lacking in personality, humour or charisma? Of course not. It is because they are petrified that if they open their mouths – even with tongue-in-cheek – then they can and will be crucified in the media for daring to have an opinion.

Of course, the media craves sensational headlines and will use the material it has to builds up as controversial a story as possible – and note, I admit that I have been guilty of this before. That’s what sells magazines and newspapers and certainly Golf World will have benefitted in the short term from the publicity this has caused.

However, the long term damage will be that no-one, not even Poulter will dare to stick their neck out and we will be left only with the monotone production-line sportsmen and journalists who have nothing to write about.

Who will buy the newspapers and magazines then?

Poulter’s hairspray goes to his head

Poor old Ian Poulter. Either he’s become delusional from sniffing the chemicals in his hair products or a tongue-in-cheek comment to make a dull magazine interview seem more interesting has gone badly wrong. 

 The English golfer – yes, the one with the funny trousers and the cockatiel hairdo – has been much derided for commenting in an interview with Golf World that he believes he is the only man who can compete with Tiger Woods.

“The trouble is I don’t rate anyone else. I haven’t played to my true potential yet. And when that happens it will just be me and Tiger.”

Self-confidence is an undoubted strength and a necessary trait for any top sportsman. Self-delusion on the other hand, is a terminal weakness and it is a fine line.

But I find it difficult to criticise Poulter for his comments. Chances are he was merely trying to liven up the traditional golf interview standard answers – I’m looking to force my way into the top 10/20/50 this year; I just need to play more consistently; I’m looking forward to the Ryder Cup but it will be much harder than previous years; There’s lots of great players out there and the standard is so high; I’m sure a Brit will win a Major again soon and so on and so forth.

I’m not sure how many more interviews I can stomach reading along those lines but one thing is for sure, as soon as I heard tongues wagging about Poulters interview, I was straight onto the Golf World website to find out  exactly why.

If the tongue-in-cheek angle was not what he was after, then surely Poulter’s worst crime is being a bit too vocal about his inner confidence. If he doesn’t believe that he can beat Woods then there’s surely no point in teeing up every week. Or, as Ricky Bobby eloquently put it in Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

There are too many golfers out there who are happy to fight for Woods’ leftovers rather than tackling him head on. Granted, with just nine professional victories and a tame 9th as his best finish in a Major, Poulter is probably not the name on people’s minds when they think about a challenger to the world number one.

He is a good player, sometimes a very good player, of that there is no doubt but he is not the only one who on their day can mix it with Woods. The trouble is that no-one can do it consistently enough to be considered a threat.

In that sense, Poulter would have been better advised to keep his trap shut until his record merits such an audacious boast. However Poulter has never been one to mince his words.

I am delighted that someone has at least shown the belief, albeit a bit misguided, that they can take on the Tiger and if every professional thought the way Poulter does then Woods would not have such an easy time of it.

I sincerely hope Poulter retains his self belief and continues to brighten up the game of golf – with his dress sense and personality if nothing else. However, at some point he will have to deliver on his promises – starting at the Dubai Desert Classic this week would be a good idea – otherwise he will look very foolish indeed, and I’m not just talking about his hair.

If he continues to plod along at his current level, he will be well advised to apply his hairspray/mousse/gel/gum/wax (or whatever he uses to keep that hair standing so tall) in a well ventilated room, particularly before giving any interviews.

Tiger’s Grand Slam bid a good bet – well who’s going to stop him?

It would seem that every golf journalist, blogger, columnist, analyst, pundit and golf fan is talking about just how good Tiger Woods is and whether this is the year he will complete the Grand Slam of all four ‘Majors’.

To be fair, it is a debate that surfaces at the start of every year because the famed Grand Slam is about the only thing Woods hasn’t yet done in his career (Jack Nickaus’ record of 18 Majors will be broken in time).

Therefore, it would be an admirable editorial stand for this blog to take should it decide not to join the hysterical debate and instead focus on other sporting matters rather than wax lyrical about Woods. However, the man is just too damn good to ignore.

Please accept my apologies now for following the crowd and adding to the already vast expanse of column inches and bandwidth dedicated to the world’s number one golfer.

There is no disputing Woods’ dominance of a game which is supposed to be difficult to play. He is so far ahead of everyone in terms of world ranking points that he could probably take a two year sabbatical from the game and still top the ranking table.

And, unfortunately for his “competitors” who are already failing to keep pace with him, Woods believes he is still improving as a golfer and says he can complete the Grand Slam this year – see BBC article here.

With most other sporting professionals you could blow that off as a player simply wanting to appear confident and gain a psychological advantage over his rivals. The hard truth is that Woods already has that advantage even before he steps onto the first tee and when he says it, you know it is because he believes it.

The statistics are also firmly in his favour. He has won the last four tournaments he has entered, including a seven week lay-off for Christmas, and since 2006 he has finished on top in 16 of the 32 PGA Tour competitions he has started. That’s an incredible 50 per cent success rate.

His most recent victory at the Buick Invitational, eight strokes ahead of his nearest rival, was his fourth in a row at the Torrey Pines course – the venue for this year’s US Open.

Of the other three ‘Majors’ he has already won five times at Augusta in the Masters and finished 3rd at Royal Birkdale, a course which is well-suited to his game, when The Open was last held there in 1998. If he finds himself teeing off in the USPGA at Oakland Hills in August with three of the four big ones already under his belt then he is not the kind of man who is likely to let that opportunity slip by.

The remarkable thing about seeing Woods play is that if you were to watch his 1st, 2nd and 4th rounds of the majority of tournaments he plays in, he would probably seem like just a really good golfer.

However, he seems to reserve one round – usually his 3rd – where his simply annhiliates both the course and the opposition. In short, Woods’ gameplan seems to be to keep pace with the leaders (if his ‘safe’ play isn’t already setting the pace) in the first two rounds, post a score in the 3rd and then protect his lead in the 4th, confident that he can step it up on the run home if he needs to.

It would tremendous if there were someone out there ready to consistently challenge Woods and set up some thrilling 4th round finales that would force him to play more than one round every tournament. I have already posted on the fact that I see Adam Scott and Justin Rose as two men who should be looking to shorten the gap.

We are undoubtedly missing the duels of old ala Jack Nicklaus v Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus v Tom Watson. Woods has never had a consistent challenger. Without a threat coming from his colleagues, Woods’ biggest challenges are the courses he plays and the records he attempts to break.

To that end it is Woods v 18 Majors and Woods v The Grand Slam and, as we know, Woods inevitably comes out on top.

As someone who admires the man as a sportsman and dedicated professional, I would love to see him do it- I’d just like someone to put him under a bit of pressure while he is at it.

Is Scott ready to tame the Tiger?

Anyone following the weekend’s golfing action and the subsequent media coverage could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a time warp taking them back a few years.

The Buick Invitational in San Diego saw Tiger Woods continue to dominate the sport, leaving others trailing in his wake and scratching their heads trying to come up with a plan to at least keep pace with the one-man birdie-machine. Nothing new there then.

While over on the European Tour in the Qatar Masters we were tantalised once again that Adam Scott, a man with the undoubted ability to challenge Woods, might now be ready to make the move from precocious talent to genuine golfing greatness. His final round of 61 was nothing short of magical and rivals anything I can remember seeing Woods accomplish in a final round (third rounds not inlcuded!)

But we have been here before. Since Scott burst onto the scene by winning the Dunhill Championship in South Africa in 2001, people have been touting him as the natural successor – or at least challenger – to Woods’crown.

His promise has, however, failed to fully materialise as yet and he has shown what he is capable of only in fleeting glimpses. That talent has brought him 13 professional tour wins and a regular place in the world’s top 10. However, his best year in the ‘Majors’ came in 2006 when he finished third, eighth and 21st in the US Open, The Open and the USPGA respectively. That, for Woods, would constitute an extremely poor year.

Scott is not alone. Others have threatened to move out of golf’s second tier and drag themselves closer to Woods but it has always been a short-lived affair. Justin Rose and, perhaps ludicrously, Rory McIlroy are the latest to be touted as having the ability to challenge Woods and the former should be considered as one of the main contenders.

Certainly Scott and Rose are two of the ones you would look at with both ability and age on their side to look to close that gap but they now have to step up to the plate and fulfil that potential. Scott’s final round in Qatar shows what he can do, even under pressure while Rose’s performances last year indicates that he has the mental strength needed to continually perform at a high level.

Whether they can dominate consistently when Woods’ is not in the field and challenge him when he is remains to be seen.

As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. Woods oozes class.

Leith Athletic match postponed

This was supposed to be the first ever match report (following the Evening News’ error-strewn version last week) on this blog to follow the fortunes of the mighty Leith Athletic in the Foster’s Central Scottish AFL Premier League.

However, our match with Colville Park, from Motherwell, was called off on the Friday when a pitch inspection determined the surface unplayable due to heavy rain.

I suppose we can’t really argue that Tam Currie (former player and now committee member and groundsman extraoirdinaire) should have done more to make the pitch playable because the Hibs match at Easter Rd (just a few hundred yards away and with a full-time ground staff) was also deemed unplayable. So neither the Big Leith team or the Wee Leith team got to play at the weekend (I’ll let you decide which is which).

Instead, we settled for a game of 5’s at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange where I’m delighted to say that my team (the reds) were critically acclaimed for playing the most attractive and exciting brand of football on the day. Unfortunately we were let down on a few occasions by some goalkeeping malfunctions including a notable error from the self-proclaimed Franz Beckenbauer of Leith, Mikey Stewart.

Other notable highlights from the day include:

  • A bleary-eyed Rory Stewart turning up at 2.20pm, just 10 minutes before the session was due to end.
  • A rare appearance from PC Steven Herd (aka the Mannequin) who managed to escape his police training regime at Tulliallan to remind us all what a handsome bugger he is.
  • A complete lack of tantrums or hissyfits from Churchie (team manager) although this was partly down to the fact the he managed to choose himself supposedly the best team, including the only goalkeeper.
  • Scotty “Hotshot” McAuley passed to a team-mate.
  • Mikey Stewart lobbed Scotland’s number one amateur goalkeeper, Iain Gordon, in 5-a-side goals.
  • A shockingly indecisive refereeing performance from Matty Hutchison. I suspect the SFA will be on the phone to offer him a job soon.

We are due to play Buchanan Thistle at home this coming weekend in the league. With us sitting just three points off the top of the table and with a game in hand, it is a vital match.

I’m desperately hoping it will be on, partly because we need to keep the games coming thick and fast but mostly because I couldn’t stand being on the same team as Moaning Mikey Stewart at the Corn Exchange again.

Roll on Saturday…………………

Beeb celebrates victory over ITV with Euro 2008 fixture list

It would seem that the BBC has managed to secure a major coup with the sole UK rights to screen the final of the European Championships in Austria & Switzerland this summer.

For as long as I can remember, the final of major football tournaments has always been shown on both BBC and ITV networks, resulting in a bitter ratings war between the two.

The upside to the double coverage is that it allows viewers, particularly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to attempt to choose a channel where the commentators and analysts wouldn’t find reason to refer to England every other minute in a match between two other nations (in reality, settling for the one with the fewest mentions of England usually has to suffice).

It also means that if the smarm of one channel got too much, you could at least swap over to the other side so you only had to endure 45 minutes of continual annoyance from the one commentary team.

Perhaps this is ITV admitting that, when it comes to the big occasion, the Beeb do things that little bit slicker. Maybe they have been trounced by the Beeb in previous Finals’ ratings wars (I have no idea if this is true). Or maybe, and much more likely, they have decided just to save a few pennies because none of the home nations have qualified.

Nevertheless, I still think it is a major coup for the Beeb and and unbelievable capitulation by ITV, made even more incredible by the fact they have issued a joint press release about it, see below.

As part of the agreement, ITV gets its pick of the semi-finals but surely this is not adequate compensation for losing out on the big event? The BBC are showing four out of the first five games live, while they also have the rights to the last group games in the most high profile group containing Italy, France, Netherlands and Romania when two of those teams will be knocked out.

ITV need to take heed and be careful they hang onto their jewel in the crown in terms of football coverage. If Sky Sports or Setanta were to take the Champions League off them entirely they risk being cast into the wilderness in terms of top level football action – a position they would find it extremely difficult to recover from.

The ITV/BBC press release and full TV fixture schedule foir the European Championships is below.

BBC And ITV Agree Euro 2008 Games Split     

The BBC and ITV can today confirm plans for shared coverage of the UEFA Euro 2008 Championships in Austria and Switzerland.Live coverage of the group stage will begin on Saturday 7 Jun with the BBC broadcasting the opening match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic at 5.00pm and ITV broadcasting the later match between Portugal and Turkey at 7.45pm.During the latter stage of the group phase, where matches are played simultaneously – games will be shown live on BBC One, BBCi, ITV1 and ITV channels. Both broadcasters will simulcast all of their games online.

Both broadcasters will show live coverage of two quarter finals and will show one semi final each – with ITV taking first pick.

The final will be shown live on BBC One on Sunday 29 Jun, with highlights on ITV1 later in the evening.

Roger Mosey, BBC Director of Sport, said: “We’re confident many millions of people will enjoy the tournament on BBC television, radio and online. There will be plenty of familiar faces on the pitch, and some great matches in prospect.”

Mark Sharman, ITV Director of News and Sport, said: “Euro 2008 is one of the highlights of a huge year of live football on ITV and, with some of the world’s best players taking part, we are looking forward to an exciting tournament.”

Full schedule of games (this is the best format I can publish it in. The first game mentioned in each section is being shown by the first broadcaster mentioned in each section): 


Matches (UK kick-off time) Group Broadcaster Venue
1700 Switzerland v Czech Republic1945 Portugal v Turkey AA BBCITV BasleGeneva
1700 Austria v Croatia1945 Germany v Poland BB BBCBBC ViennaKlagen
1700 Romania v France1945 Netherlands v Italy CC BBCITV ZurichBerne
10 Jun 1700 Spain v Russia1945 Greece v Sweden DD BBCITV InnsbruckSalzburg
11 Jun 1700 Czech Republic v Portugal1945 Switzerland v Turkey AA ITVBBC GenevaBasle
12 Jun 1700 Croatia v Germany1945 Austria v Poland BB ITVBBC KlagenVienna
13 Jun 1700 Italy v Romania1945 Netherlands v France CC ITVBBC ZurichBerne
14 Jun 1700 Sweden v Spain1945 Greece v Russia DD ITVITV InnsbruckSalzburg
15 Jun 1945 Switzerland v Portugal1945 Turkey v Czech Republic AA ITVITV BasleGeneva
16 Jun 1945 Poland v Croatia1945 Austria v Germany BB BBCBBC KlagenVienna
17 Jun 1945 Netherlands v Romania1945 France v Italy CC BBCBBC BerneZurich
18 Jun 1945 Greece v Spain1945 Russia v Sweden DD ITVITV SalzburgInnsbruck
19 Jun 1945 Winner Group A v Runner up Group B QF ITV Basle
20 Jun 1945 Winner Group B v Runner up Group A QF BBC Vienna
21 Jun 1945 Winner Group C v Runner up Group D QF   Basle
22 Jun 1945 Winner Group D v Runner up Group C QF   Vienna
25 Jun 1945 Winner QF1 v Winner QF2 SF   Basle
26 Jun 1945 Winner QF3 v Winner QF4 SF   Vienna
29 Jun 1945 Final F   Vienna

Striker signing ensures United’s league campaign won’t stutter

I see Dundee United have signed giant Dutch hitman Mark De Vries as they look to strengthen their bid for 3rd place in the SPL this season.

Admittedly, this is not a huge signing (other than his size) and won’t be of any real interest to anyone not of a Tangerine persuasion. So why, you may ask, have I decided to blog on this?

The answer is simple and, to be honest, pretty self-indulgent. I have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the big man and he is a true gentleman.

A good few years back when I was working at Deadline Press & Picture Agency and De Vries was a Hearts player, the Sunday Mail got in touch to see if someone could seek out the 6ft 3in striker and ask him about………………his stutter.

 W-w-w-w-what? Presumably the Sunday Mail’s reporter’s were too precious to risk asking this giant of a man about something which he was no doubt pretty sensitive about.

Apparently, on his arrival in Scotland, De Vries was reluctant to do any TV or radio interviews and press interviews were pretty scarce commodities as well.

So, with more than a hint of trepidation I set off to Tynecastle to confront the big man about his speech impediment. However, my fear was unfounded and I quickly realised De Vries was an affable and humorous chap who was more than happy to discuss the problems he had faced since he was little.

Indeed, listening to him about life growing up in Surinam and then moving to Holland as a youngster proved an engrossing hour or two.

I believe De Vries has continued to work on his speech and overcome the problem and, if that is the case, then hat’s off to the big guy because it can be a frustrating condition.

I wish him well in his second spell in Scotland because there’s not many nicer guys out there in football.

No doubt United manager Craig Levein, who signed De Vries for Hearts in the first place, will be hoping the big man can prevent the Arab’s league campaign from stuttering after a promising start.

Murray’s conqueror Tsonga proves Grand Slam run is no fluke

I sincerely hope any Andy Murray detractors tuned in to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s demolition of world number two Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open this morning.

On hearing that the Frenchman was two sets to love up and already had a break in the third set, I allowed myself a half hour’s break from the computer screen to watch the climax to the engrossing match. (the BBC Interactive red button coverage is tremendous, isn’t it?)

I was utterly amazed to see the previously unknown (at least unknown to non-Tennis afficionados like myself) Tsonga make Nadal look completely ordinary as he destroyed him 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to set up his first Grand Slam final.

It wasn’t as if Nadal had come into the match on a poor run of form. He hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament up until that point and was many pundits’ tip for the title. This makes the annhiliation all the more incredible.

All of which must be music to Murray’s ears. The Scot was criticised in some quarters for failing to beat unseeded Tsonga in the first round, like it was his God-given right to march straight into the latter stages of the tournament because he had the number nine next to his name in the seedings.

Some asked whether Murray took Tsonga too lightly, whether his preparations were what they should have been and whether or not he simply bottled it because it was a Grand Slam. I had also wondered whether his decision last year to ditch Brad Gilbert as coach had a negative effect.

Thankfully Tsonga has put those questions to bed because he has proved he is a top player and, on this form, it is no disgrace for Murray to have lost – although there is no question that he played below par in the match.

After Murray’s loss, some of his fans also claimed that Tsonga’s victory was a fluke. That he played out of his skin for one match that would never be repeated. Those words are now being swallowed down along with a large helping of Humble Pie.

Tsonga will now likely face Roger Federer in the final – although Novak Djokovic will have something to say about that in the semis.

I am a big fan of Federer -anyone who dominates a sport as he does commands respect. However, it would be great to see another name on a Grand Slam trophy for once.

I had hoped it would be Murray’s name this time, but his shot will definitely come. This particular tournament belongs to Tsonga and I would love to see him add Federer’s name to his collection of scalps in the final.

All the world’s a stage – but the SFA have a restricted view

It looks as though the Fat Lady is clearing her throat and readying herself to signal the end of George Burley’s reign at Southampton while the stagehand is preparing to open the curtains on his new lead role as manager of Scotland.

Apologies for the theatrical references but I am merely trying to liven up what has been an extremely dull and uninspiring recruitment process by the SFA.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not despondent by the appointment of Burley and I don’t for one minute believe he will take Scotland backwards in terms of the footballing progress we have made in recent years.

It’s just that, well, everything seems to have been a little flat about the whole thing. Burley will prove to be a safe pair of hands and he will have my full backing but it doesn’t seem as though the SFA have been willing to push the boat out and consider a couple of names that are a bit left of centre.

On the SFA’s shortlist of four candidates to have been interviewed, I believe there was only ever two men who had a realistic chance of being offered the job: Burley and Motherwell manager Mark McGhee. Both were good candidates and there would have been little complaint had McGhee got the nod just as there’s no-one from the Tartan Army readying themselves for a leap off the Forth Road Bridge with Burley’s appointment.

It’s just that, they both seem to be lacking that little something extra that would have provided a spark for the whole process. Tommy Burns and Graeme Souness were never going to get the job (although perhaps Souness was the SFA’s idea of a maverick name on the shortlist) and therefore should not have been interviewed in the first place.

Instead, the names of Burley and McGhee should have been supplemented with someone like Steve Clarke at Chelsea or Alex Miller at Liverpool – both of whom I have touted for the job in a previous post. Then, perhaps a bit of spice should have been added to the mixing pot in the form of a foreign name – no, not Berti but someone with a bit of continental experience and a sound grasp of the english language.

Then, at least we would have seen that the SFA were not operating with blinkers on throughout the process and were open to considering other avenues. At the end of the day, had they still decided that Burley was the right man for the job then so be it – at least they would had performed due diligence in the considering all the options.

All of this sounds like a fanatical anti-Burley tirade, which I can assure you it is not. He is a man of dignity, professionalism and likes his teams to play attacking football. He will be a good appointment, of that I am sure.

I just wish that the SFA hadn’t operated with the blinkers on. Or perhaps, to continue the theatrical theme, they could only afford the cheap seats with the restricted view.

Viking so close to Strictly Come Dancing debut

A night out with golfing PR guru Pete Richardson always yields an array of interesting and entertaining stories and last Tuesday was no different.

I joined Pete, managing director of golf marketing company The Azalea Group, in his home village of South Harting (fewer than 1000 residents and three pubs!) in West Sussex to watch his darts team, The Ship, take on bitter rivals The Club.

Much drink was taken and various darts and media drivel spoken – but as always Pete came out with a tale to make me smile.

During his time representing larger-than-life darts legend Andy Fordham, he was approached by the producers of a new reality TV show (it was new at the time) called Strictly Come Dancing. It was to feature Bruce Forsyth and a host of celebrities learning to dance.

And amazingly for their first series, they were desperate to get The Viking involved. Fordham, who at the time weighed 31 stone and drank 25 bottles of lager a day, was keen to take part but had to turn it down because it meant clearing Saturday nights for up to 12 weeks and the big man was already committed to playing in high profile darts tournaments across the globe.

In any case, the show went on to prove a ratings winner but, despite having never watched it, even I would have been tempted to tune in had The Viking been strutting his stuff on the dancefloor.

A few years ago, Fordham suffered a health scare and was rushed to hospital suffering chest pains just before a World Championship match. But just last year the new slimline version returned to the darts scene and has given up drinking completely. Great news. You can’t beat a bit of bully and they don’t come much better than The Viking. I hope to see him regularly competing at the oche again soon. Maybe he’ll even need to look out those dancing shoes again.

For the record, The Ship beat The Club 4-3, including a particularly impressive 12, 12, Bull finish from Pete. Not the conventional way to hit 74 but ask him about it sometime – he’ll not be long in telling you and you might get a few other gems in there too.