King of the World
There was no fist-pumping glee to Tiger Woods's victory at the Tour Championship in Houston last week. His thoughts and those of the 28 other players were on Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash on Oct 25, three days before the event began. Bob Estes opened the tournament by using his putter to tee off on his first hole at Champions Club. Estes tapped his shot about 15 feet—emulating the putt Stewart made to win this year's U.S. Open—and went on to double-bogey the hole. That led some golfers, including eventual runner-up Davis Love III, to question Estes's judgment "I don't think Payne wants us throwing away strokes" said Love.
The week's sweetest tribute came from Stuart Appleby, whose 25-year-old wife, Renay, died last year when she was hit by a car. On the eve of Stewart's memorial service Appleby went to his friend's house in Orlando and asked Stewart's widow, Tracey, if he could raid Payne's closet. During Sunday's final round Appleby looked eerily like Stewart in his knickers and tam-o'-shanter, though he admitted he doesn't swing as well as the original.
One who does is Woods. In winning his third straight event and seventh of the year—including the PGA Championship, his second major—he ran his 1999 earnings to $5,616,585, more than doubling the record David Duval set last year.
Woods's take on the 1999 PGA Tour is more than the total purse in 1969 and only $80,162 short of what Jack Nicklaus has won in his Tour career. With one more event on the schedule, this week's World Golf Championship in Valderrama, Spain, Woods has a chance to zoom past $6 million and challenge Michael Jordan as the sports world's dominant economic force. Not bad for a guy who won't turn 24 until Dec. 30.
ROSE VS. GRAY
Fussin' with The Hit King
Like fish in a packed aquarium, we media types ate one of our own last week. Not sated by the Stewart story and the World Series, we nibbled on Jim Gray, who had pressed Pete Rose before Game 2 of the Series over Rose's alleged betting on baseball.
The Miami Herald's Dan LeBatard called Gray "the world's toughest dweeb" and questioned the wisdom of asking Rose to slide headfirst into an apology. "If you don't believe Rose when he says he didn't bet on baseball," wrote LeBatard, "are you going to turn around and believe him when he says he's sorry that he did?" On ESPN's The Sports Reporters, Mitch Albom defended Gray but chided him for his pit-bull approach, agreeing with Gray's ideology if not his methodology.
Perhaps Gray went too far. Maybe he fell prey to his own ambition. A report circulated that he had been instructed in an NBC preproduction meeting not to pursue the gambling topic with Rose. "That's absolutely not true," says colleague Bob Costas.
This much is true: Gray is not particularly telegenic. He doesn't have a meet-you-at-the-Shark-Bar rapport with pro athletes, and he looks as comfortable on camera as Farrah Fawcett on the Letterman show. He's the sideline reporter who won't ever host Entertainment Tonight. But he's also the sideline reporter who asks terse, direct questions that other reporters would ask if they had the guts. He needn't apologize for that, and his boss, NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol, shouldn't have let him do so before Game 3.