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The Front Row with MARK NELKE June 17, 2010

| June 17, 2010 9:00 PM

Ten years ago about this time, we were treated to the foursome of Mark O’Meara, Mark Calcavecchia, Stuart Appleby and Hubert Green playing in a golf exhibition at The Coeur d’Alene Resort Course for the Junior League of Spokane.

That came one day after Tiger Woods got done destroying the field by 15 strokes at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Open returns to Pebble starting today. Back then, Tiger seemed well on his way to surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record of winning 18 major championships. These days, there’s no guarantee that Tiger, who is sitting on 14 majors won, will ever win another one.

Whether it’s injuries, rust, or the effects of the last six months away from the course, Tiger hits way too many wayward shots these days. And on this course, the Pacific Ocean is nearby to catch a lot of those wayward shots.

It would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but Phil Mickelson is in better shape to win a major than Tiger these days, and a win at Pebble would put him halfway to a Grand Slam.

We haven’t had one of those Junior League exhibitions and their usual star-studded fields since then (one year, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson played in the same foursome). And Tiger hasn’t dominated quite like that either.

The NBA finals and U.S. Open don’t overlap each other very often — basketball season should be over by now — but sadly they will tonight for Game 7 between the Celtics and Lakers. However, ESPN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the first round today should be wrapping up around tipoff time in L.A.

I thought the Lakers were toast when they lost the last two games in Boston, but perhaps after evening the series at home Tuesday night, they have a little more heart than I gave them credit for.

Plus, a little more help from Kobe’s friends doesn’t hurt, either.

If Washington State’s baseball team had beaten Arkansas one more time recently, Shea Vucinich and the Cougars would have spent last weekend in Tempe, Ariz., where a win would have sent them to the College World Series, which begins Friday in Omaha, Neb.

Instead, the former Coeur d’Alene High two-sport standout spent last weekend headed to Helena Mont., to prepare to play for the Milwaukee Brewers’ Rookie League team in the Pioneer League.

Vucinich, a shortstop who just completed his junior season at WSU, was drafted in the 20th round by Milwaukee last week. He passed up his senior season to turn pro, fulfulling a longtime dream.

In an interview with Brewerfan.net last week, he mentioned he had done gymnastics for 10 years growing up.

“It’s helped in my overall strength,” Vucinich said. “Balance is really important when making a play on the run, and I’m pretty aware of where and what my body is doing from all the flipping.”

More telling, perhaps, came when he was asked to describe himself as a ballplayer.

“Tough question,” he said after a long pause. “I hate talking about myself.”

Helena is scheduled to open its season on Monday at home vs. Missoula, when Vucinich plans to let his play do his talking for him.

Bummer. I was kinda looking forward to a Pac-16, but once Texas figured it could make more money and be the big fish in the Big 12, that wasn’t going to happen.

So the Pac-10 didn’t make the big splash the conference was hoping for — even if it adds Utah to go with Colorado, which joined last week. It still keeps the Pac-10 behind the other power conferences back east in terms of credibility.

However, taking the Utes would mean the Mountain West, which was trying to beef up its profile and muscle its way into an automatic BCS berth, essentially exchanged one BCS buster (Boise State) for another (Utah).

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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