Tiger Woods Can Avoid Becoming Willie Mays on Mets: Sports Line

He has fallen off world golf’s top-100 list. Sports books are offering odds on whether he’ll make the cut for play this weekend at the Masters, or whether he’ll even be competing on the PGA Tour by the end of 2015.

Yet Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won a tournament in 20 months or made it to weekend play this year, still draws crowds and lots of TV attention whenever he pulls out his golf bag.

He’s been in the spotlight this week at the Masters, with 10-deep throngs watching Woods at the practice range and jostling to see him on the course in Augusta, Georgia.

During the years when he was dominating the sport, winning 14 majors from 1997 to 2008, such attention was deserved. His physical and mental prowess intimidated peers and gave him an aura of invincibility that drew many first-time fans to golf.

Now, though, it seems there are just as many people waiting for him to fail as cheering for him to succeed. Like spectators at a car race anticipating a fiery crash, they’re waiting for Woods to miss another cut or clutch at his surgically repaired back.

British bookmaker William Hill posts 5-to-6 odds that Woods will make the two-round cut at the Masters and the same 5-6 odds that he’ll miss it -- meaning oddsmakers give him a 50-50 chance of advancing to weekend play in Augusta.

Las Vegas-based MyTopSportsBooks.com gives 5-1 odds that Woods will retire at or before the end of the 2015 season.

At 39, Woods is not too old to be competitive -- or to win again -- if his back cooperates. There are only 110 men in the entire world ranked higher than him in the game of golf.

He isn’t another fading athlete staying in his sport too long, like baseball’s Willie Mays with the 1973 New York Mets or quarterback Johnny Unitas with the ’73 San Diego Chargers.

If Woods struggles at Augusta and has another winless season, more people may start rooting for a crash. And that would be a shame, as well as a sign it’s time for him to leave the game before his legacy suffers.

The attention focused on Woods this week takes some of the pressure off players such as world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is trying to complete a career Grand Slam, or Bubba Watson -- who is seeking his third Masters title in four years.

But it also detracts from some of the lesser-known players who are largely ignored by Tiger-obsessed fans. One of those is James Hahn, a 33-year-old Californian who won the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open in February and has jumped from No. 363 to 94th on the Official World Golf Ranking this year while Woods has fallen to No. 111 from 32nd.

Hahn, who is making his Masters debut this week, was signing autographs after his final round at the Northern Trust Open when two late finishers got into a playoff with him.

“When I was signing hats after the round, I asked some guy: ‘Hey, like is there a playoff? Like what’s going on,’” Hahn told reporters after his $1.2-million win back in February. “He’s like: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and some other guy.’

‘‘I was like, ‘Yeah? OK, cool, here’s your hat.’ It’s definitely humbling. I mean, I don’t expect anybody to know my name. I just play golf for a living.”

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The Texas Rangers have the most players born outside the 50 states for the second straight season, with 15 on their opening day roster representing seven foreign countries and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

The 30 Major League Baseball teams include 230 players born outside the 50 states, representing 17 countries or territories. That’s the most since 2001, when there also were players from 17 locations outside the U.S. states, and one behind the record of 18 set in 1998.

The 230 players account for 26.5 percent of the 868 MLB players on active 25-man rosters, disabled lists or restricted lists as of opening day for the 2015 season.

The Dominican Republic, which has led the list each year since MLB began releasing results in 1995, is tops again this year among non-U.S. entities with 83 players. Venezuela is second with 65 players and Cuba is third with 18.

Also contributing to MLB rosters are Puerto Rico (13 players); Canada (9); Japan (9); Mexico (9); Colombia (4); Curacao (4); Panama (4); South Korea (3); Australia (2); Brazil (2); Nicaragua (2); Aruba (1); the Netherlands (1), and Taiwan (1).

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Rickie Fowler has brought the ‘F-word’ to the Masters, says Bob Philion, chief executive officer of Cobra Puma Golf.

Fowler, who’s had a sponsorship deal with Puma since 2010, is one of the sport’s most recognizable figures, sporting flat-brimmed hats and colorful clothes emulated by young fans. His signature final-round attire of bright orange is a tribute to his alma mater, Oklahoma State, and a departure from golf’s staid, traditional look.

Fowler’s rise in the game -- he’s now 13th in the world rankings -- has coincided with the success of the 10-year-old company, which has had more than $1 billion in sales since joining with Cobra five years ago.

“Even five years ago when we started Cobra Puma golf, using the ‘F word,’ in terms of fun, seemed to be radical, but it seems to me there’s some momentum behind that,” Philion said in a phone interview with Sports Line colleague Erik Matuszewski. “Whether it’s some of our competitors, even the PGA of America, a lot of people are talking about making golf more fun and inclusive, and that really being the answer to some of the current industry challenges.”

More golf courses have closed than opened in the U.S. each year since 2006, according to the National Golf Foundation. Golf club memberships and rounds played also declined during the U.S. recession.

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Three years after running for president, Mitt Romney is taking on another challenge -- fighting former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield in a charity event.

The May 15 bout at the Rail Event Center in Salt Lake City will benefit CharityVision, which fights blindness around the globe. The Romneys traveled to Peru last year to help diagnose and treat eye problems.

Holyfield, 52, a four-time world champion who won more than half of his 57 fights by knockout, presumably won’t have to worry at this black-tie event about a repeat of his 1997 fight with Mike Tyson -- who was disqualified after biting both of Holyfield’s ears.

Romney, 68, has no boxing record but did run cross country at prep school in the mid-1960s.

“It won’t be much of a fight,” Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune. “We’ll both suit up and get in the ring and spar around a little bit.”

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- When Sonny Gray pitched eight scoreless innings in the Athletics’ 8-0 win against the Texas Rangers on Monday, it broke Oakland’s MLB-worst 10-game losing streak in opening day games. The Minnesota Twins now have the longest drought with seven straight defeats on opening day. The Seattle Mariners have the longest opening day winning streak at nine games.

- Major League Baseball says it set a new spring training attendance record of 4,034,708 fans attending games in Arizona and Florida -- an average of 8,388 per game. Total attendance was up 11.7 percent from 2014.

- While Romney is preparing for Holyfield, the man who defeated Romney in 2012 spent a few minutes earlier this week taking a less-risky sports challenge -- President Obama hit some balls with tennis’ Caroline Wozniacki after the White House Easter Egg Roll.

- Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne scored third-period goals to give the U.S. a 7-5 win against Canada in the gold-medal game of the women’s ice hockey world championships.

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