Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:
GOLF: The Masters in Augusta, Ga.; Thursday-Sunday, ESPN and CBS:
The last time Tiger Woods’ name came up in a conversation about winning the Masters was . . . pretty much every year at this time. Except the odd part is that the 31-year-old hasn’t been fit with a new green jacket on a Sunday afternoon since 2005, which was the fourth of his career (following wins in 1997, 2001 and 2002). Heck, Phil Mickelson has won two Masters titles in the time since Woods’ last Augusta triumph.
“It’s been one of those things where I’ve been close there so many times on that back nine on Sunday, and I just haven’t won,” Woods said recently, understating the circumstances. “I’ve been in the mix. Been on the periphery and played myself into the mix. I’ve been right there with just a few holes to go, and it just hasn’t happened. Hopefully, this year it will be a different story.” The different story this time is he’s back to the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, seemingly healthy again and supposedly scandal free – except we do expect to see Lindsay Vonn hobbling around gallery members as if they were mountain pylons. Woods continues a mission that has seen him win six of his last 20 PGA Tour events, and the Associated Press has made him the 7-2 favorite this weekend.
The most formidable obstacles to his comeback tour would seem to be 23-year-old Rory McIlroy (second odds at 8-1), three-time winner Mickelson (10-1), defending champ Bubba Watson (30-1) or the winners of ’07 and ’09, Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera (both 80-1).
Looking at the rest of the field, there’s the novelty of having 46-year-old Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand on one end of the age scale, and 14-year-old Guan Tianlang of China (right) on the other, after he qualified by winning the Asia Pacific Amateur last fall.
“It’s frightening to think that he was born after I won my first Masters,” Woods said of the Chinese teenager. It’ll be more frightening to the field if Woods is wearing traditional red on Sunday morning with a four-stroke lead.
ESPN has the first two days (noon to 4:30 p.m.), CBS has the last two rounds (noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday)
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA men’s tournament final in Atlanta: Louisville vs. Michigan, 6 p.m., Channel 2:
Florida Gulf Coast went home with more than just a participation medal (losing its coach to USC along the way). New Mexico barely hung around until it got outsmarted by Harvard in the first round (losing its coach to UCLA along the way). The one shining moment left is the overall No. 1 seed Cardinals and coach Rick Pitino (aka, the guy many at UCLA thought the school was holding out for to seek as its next coach) navigating the field with a sense of purpose following the horrible injury to Kevin Ware, back in the title game for the first time since 1986 (remember Never Nervous Pervis Ellison?). We’d tell Pitino to go break a leg out there, but that seems harsh. Louisville goes out as the four-point favorite, and one Vegas bookmaker points out that 20 of the last 24 favorites have gone on to win it. And the favorite has covered 16 of the last 24 title games. As for the Wolverines, just have someone keep track of their time outs. Not Chris Weber.
MLB: Angels vs. Oakland, 7:05 p.m., Angel Stadium, FSW:
The Angels finally circle back for a home opener – maybe Mike Trout can supply everyone with a free Subway sandwich? The series continues Wednesday and Thursday, both at 7:05 p.m., on FSW.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA women’s tournament final in New Orleans: Louisville vs. UConn, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
Can you get past the fact that the tournament has gone this far without Baylor and Brittney Griner? The Cardinals can score a rare double basketball title with the men and women. That’s interesting enough.
NBA: Lakers vs. New Orleans, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, TWC SportsNet:
The Lakers’ final five-game stretch starts at home. That’s got to count for something.
NHL: Kings at Dallas, 5:30 p.m., FSW:
With nine games left in the regular season, it’s reasonable to expect the Kings fall between the Nos. 3 and 8 spot when this abbreviated Stanley Cup victory tour ends on April 27. The Stars are easier to deal with now that Jaromir Jagr has been traded to Boston.
MLB: Dodgers at San Diego, 7:10 p.m., Prime:
The middle game in this three-game set (starts Tuesday, 3:40 p.m., Channel 9 and ends Thursday, 7:10 p.m., Prime) may answer a major question mark in the Dodgers’ rotation. Chad Billingsley, makes his first start in the middle game of this series, coming off a bruised finger suffered in spring training. His recent rehab assignment at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga was a little uncomfortable: Four innings, just two Ks, four runs (three earned), six hits, three walks and a hit batter. Billingsley has a more wins against the Padres (12) in his career than versus any other team, and a 2.62 ERA in 26 starts.
NBA: Clippers vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, Prime:
Your Pacific Division champions were hardly hospitable in twisting the knife into the Lakers’ playoff chances during Sunday’s win. But business is business, as Donald Sterling would say in describing how you get what you want.
HOCKEY: NCAA men’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh: UMass-Lowell vs. Yale, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2; Quinnipiac vs. St. Cloud State, 5 p.m. ESPN2:
There are 59 Division I men’s hockey programs now. Are these the four you’d have guessed making this far? The winners play for the title Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN).
MLB: Dodgers at Arizona, 6:40 p.m., Prime:
The Dodgers’ first road trip continues (also Saturday, 5:10 p.m. and Sunday, 1:10 p.m.) where they lost six of nine at Chase Field a year ago, and 12 of 18 to the Diamondbacks overall.
NHL: Kings vs. Ducks, 8 p.m. Staples Center, FSW, Prime:
Another chance to pull closer to the No. 2-sitting Ducks has to be an incentive. This is the last of the Frozen Freeway Fisticuffs of Fury (or whatever they try to call it) coming off Sunday’s game in Anaheim. No matter. Have one final look at the Kings’ Ms. March on the Ice Girls calendar, Ashley.
NBA: Clippers at Memphis, 5 p.m., Prime:
A few weeks ago, Marc Gasol, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph ganged up to beat the Clippers by 11.
MLB: Angels vs. Houston, 6 p.m., Angel Stadium, FSW:
The middle game of this series against their new AL West rivals — starting Friday (7 p.m., FSW) and ending Sunday (12:35 p.m., FSW) — includes a Mike Trout bobblehead giveaway.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: USC spring game, 4 p.m., Coliseum, Pac-12 Network:
If Lane Kiffin can get through this exercise without having another player injured, consider it a success.
NBA: Lakers vs. San Antonio, 6:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Where the nitty meets the gritty in the next-to-last regular season game, the Lakers can only hope that the over/under on Tim Duncan’s minutes here is four. The Spurs could have the No. 1 seed in the West locked up, which means that if the Lakers stumble into that No. 8 hole, they’d open up against . . . let’s not think that far ahead. They’ve got to face, and likely defeat, Portland (Wednesday on the road) and Golden State (Friday at home) before this just to have any sort of claim to a playoff spot.