Itâ€™s the time of year when the game's greatest gather around the azaleas and take part in golf's greatest tradition: the Masters at Augusta National.
Although the world has a new No. 1 golfer in Martin Kaymer - and a new perception of an old No. 1 - Golf.com's Cameron Morfit writes the two golfers to beat this week are the same as always: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Combined, the two have won six of the last 10 Masters, and both seem poised to make a run at another green jacket this week. "Lefty" won last weekend to move up to No. 3 in the World Rankings and ahead of Woods for the first time in 14 years. Woods, meanwhile, hasn't won since November 2009, but is a four-time champion at Augusta and is seemingly more overdue for a victory than the Washington Generals.
While the NFL and its players union are still at lengthy odds - most recently, over the transparency of financial information - next month's draft will still go on as scheduled and promises to improve several teams whether there is a season or not.
College pro days are being scouted and critiqued across the country while Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and other NFL types are huddled in conference rooms trying to hash out a collective bargaining agreement so there can, in fact, be football this fall.
With the NFL Scouting Combine in our rear-view mirror as well as a host of workouts this past week, SI.comâ€™s Don Banks delivers the third installment of his 2011 NFL Mock Draft. In it, Banks projects two quarterbacks are going in the top three, and has a QB going No. 1 overall that isnâ€™t named Cam Newton, college footballâ€™s reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Banks also has a prized prospect slipping down in the draft after a mediocre showing earlier this week.
Itâ€™s no surprise to hear college football has a problem. Many of the sportâ€™s vices are well-documented, from its shady recruiting to its controversial BCS playoff system. But most fans, school officials and coaches have no idea about the extent of college footballâ€™s biggest problem these days: crime.
In a six-month investigation spearheaded by Sports Illustrated and CBS News, a background check was run on every college football player on every team in SIâ€™s preseason Top 25. Of the 2,837 players examined, shockingly, 204 had criminal records â€“ or one in every 14 players on a Top 25 team.
There will be no "Rafa Slam," no showdown with Roger Federer and no happy ending for Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open.
The world's No. 1 tennis player suffered a shocking upset at the Aussie Open quarterfinals on Wednesday, falling 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. Nadal, who had won three Grand Slam tournaments in a row and was hoping to hold all four majors at once, came up short due to an apparent leg injury, which forced him to call a medical timeout in the third set and visibly hampered him against Ferrer.
"This is a difficult day for me," Nadal said after the match. "Today, I can't do more than what I did. He played at a very high level."
Unless you value the Pro Bowl â€“ which most football fans do not â€“ there are just three games remaining before the NFL season comes to an end.
And without a clear idea, or a labor agreement, for when the next games will be played, its important to savor professional football while it's still around. SI.comâ€™s Peter King provides a look back at this season by handing out his annual awards, naming his All-Pro selections and answering a few questions about the year that was.
In his column, King explains his Most Valuable Player choice and why it didnâ€™t go to a certain fleet-footed quarterback. He also breaks down his All-Pro picks for every position and tells you why an old source of his frustration is now his selection to win the NFLâ€™s Defensive Player of the Year award. In addition, King also touches on Chad Ochocincoâ€™s future, the Jets giving the Patriots a taste of their own treatment and why he doesnâ€™t think NFL postseason expansion is a good idea.
With the conference championship games not being played until Sunday, here is what to watch tonight (all times Eastern):
After winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship this season, Cam Newton had little left to accomplish his senior year at Auburn. Which is why heâ€™s going pro.
The Tigers star quarterback will aspire to be an NFL first-round pick next after announcing his decision Thursday to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. Newton put together one of the greatest seasons in college football history this year, capped off with a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS title game Monday.
Many expected Newton to declare for the draft after leading the Tigers to a 14-0 season and their first national championship since 1957. The quarterback spent just one season on Auburnâ€™s campus, but said it was a â€śdifficultâ€ť decision nonetheless to leave the school and go from playing football on Saturdays to Sundays.
"It's been a blessing for me to be a part of something so great," Newton said. "Any time you win games it's a big deal, but for this school to win a BCS national championship, what a way to make people happy. Auburn is a special place that I can call home."
In addition to his play this season â€“ which earned the Heisman, broke a handful of SEC records and garnered a slew of national accolades â€“ Newton also received plenty of press after reports claimed his father, Cecil, asked for a pay-for-play plan from Mississippi State when shopping around his sonâ€™s recruitment.
The reports clouded Newtonâ€™s otherwise flawless season and led him to be ineligible for a day. But the NCAA reinstated him almost immediately and ultimately deemed Newtonâ€™s father to be guilty of wrongdoing, not Cam.
Nevertheless, money will no longer be an issue for Newton, who is likely to earn plenty of it in the NFL. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Newton boasts an incredible combination of speed, strength and accuracy. He rushed for an SEC-record 1,409 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed for additional 2,589 yards and 28 TDs this season. He also became the first SEC player to run for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in the same year. In an early mock draft, SI.comâ€™s Andrew Perloff has Newton going No. 16 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but with many QB-needy teams the Heisman winner could go even higher.
Newton isnâ€™t the only Tiger expected to announce his NFL intentions this week. Star defensive tackle and Lombardi Award-winner Nick Fairley is likely to announce his decision to go pro today. While Newton stole most of the headlines this season, some experts predict Fairley going as high as No. 1 in the 2011 Draft.
When LeBron James made "The Decision" on national television over the summer, it was met with an uproar, was deemed a public relations nightmare and alienated a city that once adored him.
Six months later, LeBron's made-for-TV special is long gone, but the NBA superstar is still publicly making ill-advised decisions that are turning plenty of heads.
Shortly after the Los Angeles Lakers annihilated the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-57 last night, LeBron took to Twitter to vent a little frustration and kick his former team while it was down.
"Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. Its (sic) not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!" he tweeted.
The tweet was pointed at the Cavaliers and his doubters, particularly Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who infamously penned a ranting letter to Cavs season-ticket holders badmouthing LeBron shortly after he bolted for Miami last summer. Among the many insults and promises Gilbert launched at LeBronÂ was the claim that "bad karma" would catch up to the star.
If that's true, it has yet to take effect. After a slow start, Miami has won 21 of its past 22 games and owns the Eastern Conference's best record at 30-9. The Cavs, on the other side of the spectrum, have lost 21 of their past 22 games and 11 straight, including last night's embarrassment in Los Angeles. Cleveland coach Byron Scott said his team looked "scared to death" in the 55-point blowout, and his team's 57 points marked the fewest scored against the Lakers in the shot clock era.
The game caught most of the league's attention, including LeBron's. SI.com's Zach Lowe breaks down the tweet and gives his take on LeBron's latest public relations nightmare.
Here's what to watch tonight (all times Eastern):
No. 5 Pittsburgh at No. 22 Georgetown (7 p.m., ESPN): Georgetown looks to avoid its third consecutive loss. Pittsburgh has won five straight since losing to Tennessee on Dec. 11.
No. 18 Louisville at No. 7 Villanova (7 p.m., ESPN2): Another ranked Big East battle pits the Wildcats, winners of 10 in a row, against the Cardinals, whom they defeated 92-84 in last season's lone matchup.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets (8:30 p.m., NBATV): Coming off a 40-point performance, Kevin Durant and the Thunder look to avenge an early season loss to the Rockets tonight in Houston.
BY THE NUMBERS
601: Games saved by retiring closer Trevor Hoffman, 43, the most in baseball history. SI.com's Joe Lemire recalls the future Hall of Famer's 18-year career.
50-50: Chances Carmelo Anthony ends up a New York Knick, according to a source in the New York Daily News. Last night, 'Melo guaranteed he would still be with the Nuggets come Thursday, when the Miami Heat come to play.
113: Hits Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was exposed to in just his final two games of the season, according to SI.com's Peter King.
He co-founded Nike and ranks as the 23rd-richest person in the U.S., but in sporting circles, Phil Knight is better known as the most powerful booster in America.
While thereâ€™s been much discussion this season about whether Cam Newton received money to attend Auburn, thereâ€™s been little scuttlebutt about the source of the money being funneled into the program of the Tigersâ€™ national championship opponent, the Oregon Ducks.
SI.comâ€™s Michael Rosenberg pulls back the curtain and provides a glimpse into the mysterious life and influence of the Oregon athletic programâ€™s top duck.
Knight graduated from Oregon in 1962, but his presence on the Eugene campus is felt much greater than ever. Since creating one of the most powerful brands in the world and becoming a billionaire many times over, Knight has made it his personal mission raise his alma mater into national stardom, one check at a time.
In total, Knight is estimated to have given $300 million to the Ducksâ€™ athletic program. SI.com's Rosenberg hints that it may be even more and provides detail into the super-boosterâ€™s generous donations. Over the years, Knight has given his school state-of-the art facilities, a seemingly unlimited jersey budget and the bankroll to impress high school players who have helped transform the school once known for its track program into a national college football powerhouse and BCS contender.
The votes are in - and Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven are headed to baseball's Hall of Fame.
Baseball's annual version of Election Day occurred today, with the 539 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting two new members into Cooperstown. Alomar received 90 percent of the vote, the third-most in history, while Blyleven came in with 79.7 percent approval, just sneaking in on his 14th try for the Hall.
Falling short of the 75 percent threshold to be elected were Barry Larkin (62.1 percent), Jack Morris (53.5), Lee Smith (45.3), Jeff Bagwell (41.7) and Tim Raines (37.5). Failing on his 15th and final try for the Hall was Dave Parker, a standout outfielder whose career was derailed by injuries and drug problems.
Alomar enters Cooperstown as arguably the greatest second baseman of all time. Described by SIâ€™s Tom Verudcci as "one of the smartest and most graceful players ever to play second base," the switch-hitting Alomar hit .300 over his 17-year career with 2,724 hits, 210 home runs and 474 steals. The 12-time All-Star, who also won 10 Gold Gloves, fell just short of being elected to the Hall lastÂ year when he received 73.7 percent of the 2010 vote.
BowlÂ games highlight the final day of 2010, but New Year's Eve also reminds us to reflect on the year that was.
It was a year that saw the Super Bowl go to the Saints and a year in which we learned Tiger Woods was anything but (a saint). We watched in agony as LeBron James made his "Decision," Brett Favre made a comeback more notable off the field than on it and Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game on the final out.
But there was plenty of good in 2010 as well. Six no-hitters were thrown in baseball. The Lakers and Celtics delivered a classic NBA Finals. Jimmie Johnson defied the odds to snag his fifth Chase for the Cup title. Spain won the World Cup title in South Africa. John Isner outlasted Nicolas Mahut in a marathon match at Wimbledon. And Butler's Gordon Hayward nearly banked in a half-court shot at the Final Four to almost deliver the greatest Cinderella story of all time.
Oh, what could have been for Boise State? College football's most notorious underdog, and most debated team, came within two Kyle Brotzman chip-shots of going undefeated this season and receiving a BCS berth to the Rose Bowl.
Instead, the kicker's two field-goal attempts were painfully missed, Boise State lost to Nevada and the one-loss Broncos plummeted to where most people go when they fall on hard times: Las Vegas. But not all is lost. No. 10 Boise State attempts to salvage its BCS-busted season tonight when they take on No. 20 Utah in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). It's a chance for seniors like Titus Young and Austin Pettis to go out on a winning note, but it's also hard to ignore what Boise State is missing out on after a season that seemed like one of destiny. SI.com's Stewart Mandel previews the game and breaks down why he thinks the Broncos can bounce back and break the Utes' nine-game bowl winning streak.
In addition to the Las Vegas Bowl, here's what to watch tonight (all times Eastern):
No. 18 Texas at No. 12 Michigan State (7 p.m. ESPN2) Spartans coach Tom Izzo returns from a one-game suspension to put the school's 52-game non-conference home winning streak up on the line against the Longhorns.
Yao Ming was once the face of a nation.
When the Houston Rockets drafted him No. 1 overall in 2002, Ming represented not only his native China, but international basketball as a whole. He was a 7-foot-6 living testament that the best basketball players in the world didnâ€™t necessarily come from our own backyard. He opened the floodgates for foreign players to come to America and show the NBA the brand of high-quality basketball being played overseas.
But after yet another injury that has derailed a once-promising career, Yao is quickly becoming the face of frustration.
The centerâ€™s latest setback comes in the form of a stress fracture in his left ankle, the same foot that underwent reconstructive surgery that sidelined him all of last season. Yao missed only three games over his first three seasons in the NBA, but Houstonâ€™s big man has now missed 173 regular-season games over his last five seasons.
This year was originally slated to be Yaoâ€™s grand return, but his ankle shut him down after just five games, and heâ€™s been sidelined since Nov. 10.
Now comes news of a more serious injury than Yao expected and a grueling rehabilitation process lies ahead. Only Yao can decide if he wants to go through it once again. And at age 30, Yao is faced with his toughest decision since he decided to leave the Shanghai Sharks in 2002. Does he attempt yet another comeback? Or does he call it a career, albeit short and sweet?
Many people would argue it's been awhile since the New York Knicks were relevant for anything other than Spike Lee. And that it's been even longer since the Knicks and the Boston Celtics played a meaningful game against each other.
But both of those are about to change. Two of the NBAâ€™s original franchises square off tonight at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) in a match-up some are labeling a renewed rivalry and others are vehemently playing down.
â€śItâ€™s a rivalry?â€ť Celtics guard Paul Pierce jokingly asked reporters after practice Tuesday. â€śMan, yaâ€™ll are letting me in on all the new stuff, all the talk. I didnâ€™t know we had a rivalry going.â€ť
For the most part, they havenâ€™t. Since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined up with Pierce in Boston, the Celtics have won 11 of 13 games against the Knicks, while New York has been known primarily for its losses over that period â€“ whether they be on the court, in a court or in The Kingâ€™s court.
But the Knicks are now amid a renaissance led by free-agent addition and early MVP candidate Amarâ€™e Stoudemire. New York has won 13 of its last 14 games and eight in a row, marking the teamâ€™s longest winning streak in more than 16 years.
Itâ€™s been five months since LeBron James made his infamous â€śDecision,â€ť and no one can deny the Heatâ€™s young season is exactly going as planned. especially after Thursday night.
In the most anticipated game of the NBA season, the Heat played arguably its most sound game so far this year, cruising to a 118-90 victory over the Cavaliers.
LeBronâ€™s return to Cleveland was greeted by Cavaliers fans with enough angst to warm the bitter-cold city. Unfortunately for them, LeBronâ€™s night couldnâ€™t have gone much better. From his pre-game rituatl chalk routine â€“ to which he did to no avail â€“ to his season-high 38 points, LeBron shook off the boos and the chants. He played so well he was able to sit out the entire fourth quarter, victory in hand.
Though the superstar could not have asked for a better homecoming given the circumstances, SI.comâ€™s Michael Rosenberg wonders if LeBron realizes what he's missing by having gone to South Beach in chase of titles.
â€śThe Heat may win championships, but their fans will never pack their arena simply to boo,â€ť writes Rosenberg. â€śThe team will never be ingrained in the city's fabric like every Cleveland team is. There are passionate fans in Miami, of course, but not as many... Any town can celebrate championships. Cleveland celebrates heartache.â€ť
The Iron Bowl rarely lacks a punch, but for the first time in over a decade the rivalry game could have a major impact on a national level.
Both schools are ranked for the first time since 2005, meaning the 75th playing of college footballâ€™s most frenzied rivalry could have BCS ramifications when No. 2 Auburn and No. 11 Alabama square off this afternoon (2:30 p.m., CBS).
As SI.comâ€™s Bill Trocchi points out in his Game of the Week column, the Tigers (11-0) need a win to keep their national championship dreams alive while the Crimson Tide (9-2) could use an upset to boost BCS dreams of its own.
But this game means much more than just deciding which bowl game the two schools play in. Trocchi writes the Iron Bowl is about, â€śthe passion, the pageantry, the 365-day obsession that pits neighbor versus neighbor and coworker versus coworker in the state of Alabama.â€ť
It also pits some of college footballâ€™s most electric talent against one another. Auburn boasts Heisman candidate Cam Newton under center, while Alabama features a slew of NFL prospects, including the running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
ď»żIt seems like just yesterday we were mulling over the many division races leading up to the MLB postseason.
But SI.com's Don Banks shifts our focus to the numerous division races shaping up around the NFL just halfway through the season. In fact, as Banks points out, there is a razor-thin margin inÂ each of the eightÂ divisions through Week 9.
The biggest cushionÂ for anyÂ division leader is, remarkably, just one game. Four divisions feature two teams tied for first place, and the leaders in three other divisions are up by a mere half game.
After doing some research, Banks writes 2010 is the first time all races have been this close after Week 9 since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002. In other words, parity is at an all-time high in the NFL, with 21 clubs sitting at .500 or better.
Randy Mossâ€™ ability on the field garnered him the nickname â€śFreakâ€ť early in his career.
Luckily for him, his nicknames off the field never stuck.
The Minnesota Vikings officially placed the talented-yet-trouble wide receiver on waivers Tuesday, meaning NFL teams have until today at 4 p.m. ET to claim him. Interest for Moss has been widespread around the league (SI.comâ€™s Andrew Perloff lists 10 possible landing spots for Moss, but some believe picking up the fleet-footed enigma may be a bad idea, even if your offense could desperately use him.
â€śIâ€™m sure Randy Moss would be a good get for some team making a playoff push in the second half of the season,â€ť writes Peter King in his latest column, â€śbut I wouldnâ€™t touch him with a 10-foot pole.â€ť
While speaking to King, one NFL executed compared the Vikings letting go of Moss to the Los Angeles Dodgers waiving Manny Ramirez earlier this season, except for the fact that Minnesotaâ€™s move reeked much, much more of desperation. The Vikings still have half of their season to play while the Dodgers had just a sixth of theirs when they made their parting move.
And although Mossâ€™ next team will have to pay him the remaining $3.3 million left on his contract in 2010, they could end up paying even more if the experiment goes wrong.
Everywhere Moss has played heâ€™s had a public falling out. His act grew tiresome in Minnesota despite putting up All-Pro numbers. His lack of effort resulted him dumped from Oakland for just a fourth-round pick. And his bickering in New England eventually led to his exit as well.
Which is why reports of Mossâ€™ detrimental conduct last week came as no surprise. Moss allegedly humiliated a St. Paul catering in a post-practice meal only to deliver a post-game speech on Sunday that was even harder to stomach. Those actions, combined with lackluster play on the field, led to Vikings coach Brad Childress waiving the star received.
Randy Moss was once famously quoted saying, â€śI play when I want to play.â€ť
True. But the All-Pro no longer gets to decide where.
Hereâ€™s the action going on around the sporting world today (all times Eastern):
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Another big game, another postseason showdown, another pitching duel ...
Yes, I know, we all have. But this time, the World Series is on the line as the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers take the diamond for Game 1 of "The Series No One Saw Coming," as SI.com's Joe Sheehan puts it. Game time is 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX.
The first game of the best-of-seven series pits two of baseball's most dominant pitchers against one another in the Rangers' Cliff Lee (3-0, 0.75 ERA this postseason) and the Giants' Tim Lincecum (2-1, 1.93). Both hurlers have been historically lights-out during the playoffs and propelled their teams to this stage. And while the match-up might seem as attractive as a Game 1 gets, SI.com's Joe Posnanski provides a postseason history lesson and points out that just about everything in baseball has happened before.
The NFL isnâ€™t the only professional sports league facing potential labor issues.
While football owners are on the cusp of locking out their players for the 2011 season, the NBA may be on the verge of doing the same thing if no collective bargaining agreement can be reached.
NBA commissioner David Stern stole headlines Thursday when he announced the league is aiming to cut player salaries by $750-800 million next season â€“ or roughly a third of the playersâ€™ $2.1 billion annually earned through salary and benefits.
The leagueâ€™s CBA is set to expire on June 30, and while some significant changes have long been expected, Sternâ€™s estimate Thursday sent shockwaves through the sport and made a 2011 lockout seem like a realistic outcome.
The owners described their current predicament to the union as a â€śdiseconomic situation,â€ť claiming they are projected to lose a $350-400 million this season. Despite an increase in ticket sales, owners said a new CBA agreement is a necessity, as players currently earn 57 percent of the leagueâ€™s basketball-related income.
In addition, CBSSports.com is reporting that the NBA is even considering contraction in attempt to make the league profitable to owners once again.
If an agreement cannot be reached before next fall, it would be the NBAâ€™s first work stoppage since the 1998-1999 season. And with an NFL lockout possibly looming as well in 2011, it would be an untimely disagreement for the NBA, who is looking to establish itself as pro sports' No. 2 league behind the aforementioned NFL.
With decisions and deliberations still months away, here is the action to watch tonight (all times Eastern):
Orlando Magic at Miami Heat (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
Two of the Eastern Conferenceâ€™s best, and most star-studded, teams meet in a preseason battle of the Florida franchises. LeBron James scored 38 points in the Heatâ€™s victory last night over the Atlanta Hawks.
A Giants-Rangers World Series â€¦ just what everyone was hoping for.
That ratings-killer of a match-up moved one quiet step closer to reality Tuesday night. Behind solid pitching and postseason hero Cody Ross, the Giants shut out the Phillies 3-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the NLCS. Meanwhile, the Rangers continued to stymie the Yankees in the Bronx, cruising to a 10-3 victory and overcoming a controversial home run that left fans flashing back to 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the ALCS.
With the next two games to be played in San Francisco, and lights-out ace Tim Lincecum due on the mound Thursday, the Giants hold an imposing lead over the Phillies, who have lost their pop at the plate since downing the Reds in the NLDS.
The Rangers hold an even more desirable position. Although they play in New York today, the final two games of the series (if necessary) will be back in Texas. On top of that, the team holds the trump card of having Cliff Lee return to the mound if the series goes the distance.
While a Giants-Rangers showdown isnâ€™t exactly what baseball fans have been clamoring for all season, it would pit two of the MLBâ€™s best pitching staffs â€“ and hottest bats â€“ against one another. It would also prove, once again, that money canâ€™t buy you everything, as the Giants (10th largest payroll) and Rangers (27th) are small potatoes compared to the Yankees (1st) and Phillies (4th).
But nothing is set in stone yet. As the Boston Red Sox taught us in the 2004 ALCS, anything is possible in October.
Hereâ€™s the action around the diamond going on today (all times Eastern):