Watson, Clerc end long dry spells; USFL completes season on high note

Something about the British Open just seems to bring out the best in Tom Watson - whether he's playing well otherwise or not. This year things were definitely in the ''not'' category as he journeyed to Southport, England, for the 112th renewal of golf's most tradition-steeped event. In fact, he hadn't won a single tournament in an entire year since - you guessed it - the 1982 British Open. But once again he demonstrated that this is indeed his tournament, shooting a nine-under-par 275 on the Royal Birkdale Golf Club links to win the championship for the fifth time.

Ironically, this was the first time Watson had won it on a course in England - his previous victories having all come on Scottish courses starting in 1975 at Carnoustie and continuing in 1977 at Turnberry, 1980 at Muirfield, and last year at Troon. Clerc back in form

Another top athlete breaking a long dry spell over the weekend was Jose-Luis Clerc, who dominated the US Pro Tennis Championships at Longwood Country Club outside Boston in what must have been one of the easiest victories of his career.

The Argentine clay court specialist never dropped a set and in fact never seemed even remotely threatened en route to recapturing the title which he had also won in 1981. Even at the end, his matches were virtual cakewalks (a 6-2, 6- 2 demolition of Eliot Teltscher in the semifinals and a 67-minute 6-3, 6-1 rout of Jimmy Arias in the final).

None of this would have been too surprising a while ago, for Clerc dominated a lot of clay court tournaments over a three-year stretch beginning in January 1980. In that time Jose-Luis won 18 tournaments, made more than $1 million in prize money, and rose as high as No. 5 in the world rankings.

Clerc started this year in good form, too, winning a tournament in Brazil, then upsetting John McEnroe to lead Argentina to a Davis Cup victory over the United States. But things had gone really sour after that - so much so that in nine of his last 10 tournaments he had lost in either the first or second round.

No so this time, however - which was good news for all those who prefer his brand of good tennis manners and etiquette (he was voted Sportsman of the Year by the Association of Tennis Professionals in 1981) to the antagonistic, argumentative, crybaby antics of so many of his peers these days. USFL ends with a bang

The United States Football League started with a bang (the signing of Herschel Walker) but looked for a while as though it was going to end with a whimper. Summer got in the way of the last few weeks, with beaches, boats, baseball, etc., luring all but the most avid fans away from the stadiums and/or their TV sets. Fortunately for the new league, though, its first championship game last Sunday night turned out to be a much-needed hit - both at the gate and on the field.

A paid crowd of 46,535 (boosted by complimentary tickets to a total of 50,906 ) was on hand at Denver's Mile-High Stadium while a nationwide audience watched on ABC-TV as the Michigan Panthers defeated the Philadelphia Stars 24-22 for the league's inaugural title. It was an exciting contest, too, with the Stars fighting back from a 17-3 deficit to make it 17-14 before the Panthers put it away in the closing minutes via a 48-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter.

Carter, the former University of Michigan star, was one of the big-money signees who helped give the new league some credibility at the start - and he earned his money in the championship game with nine receptions for 179 yards. Another big star all season was Philadelphia's Kelvin Bryant, whose spectacular college career at North Carolina was curtailed a bit at the end by injuries, but whose powerful running in his first pro season earned him MVP honors ahead of the much more publicized Walker. Why Phils fired Corrales

Philadelphia's firing of manager Pat Corrales this week raised a few eyebrows - especially since the Phillies were tied for first place at the time - but the reasoning behind the move isn't really very hard to fathom.

With all their talent, the Phillies were expected to be a solid winning club this season with a good shot at the National League East championship. Instead the team has been struggling around the .500 mark all year - and the only reason it is still in the race is that the other top contenders have been having similar problems.

One doesn't have to look far to see why the Phillies were unable to take advantage of the situation either - they're batting around .243, with Mike Schmidt, Gary Matthews, and Bo Diaz all under .250, and Pete Rose not far above it.

The manager doesn't swing a bat, of course, but he does always take the ultimate responsibility for a team not playing up to expectations. And as the saying goes, it's easier to fire one man than 25.

In having General Manager Paul Owens move from the front office into the dugout to replace Corrales for the rest of this season, the Phillies are also following their own established policy. Owens did the same thing in 1972 when he fired Frank Luchesi in midseason. And in 1979, Dallas Green moved down from the front office to replace Danny Ozark - then stayed around the next year to lead the team to its only World Series victory.

(Ross Atkin is on vacation)

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