Arnie has army, but game doesn't rank


The TV Repairman:

Arnold Palmer, who will compete on the Legends of Golf tournament on ABC this weekend, is scheduled to play in 10 of the next 12 weeks. "But that's questionable and subject to change," admits the most beloved linksman of them all.

"When I can't muster up some reasonable game," Arnie says, "my appearances will be cut way back. It's not as though I don't enjoy the game; I still love being out there. But if I can't maintain a game up to a standard where I think it should be. . .

"The fans have been so tremendous in my support over the last 40 years, and they continue to urge me on. When you disappoint them and disappoint yourself, it's time to cut down."

Despite not playing well recently, Palmer says he's looking forward to partnering up with Tom Wargo in the 54-hole best-ball event and appearances at the upcoming U.S. Open and PGA Championship, but he's predicting the major tourneys are "last timers" for him.

"I think it's very remote that I'll be getting special invitations to those events after this year," he said. Throughout the discussion, Arnie didn't sound down or depressed.

"Concentration, that's the problem," he said. "It used to be my forte, whether we played 18 or 36 holes in a day. Now, I can hold it for a couple of holes, maybe for even nine, but then it goes. I've been working very hard to maintain it lately and maybe it's why the 'Skins Game' and partners, like the 'Legends' event is, suits me.

"It's tough for me to play 18 holes without making a few mistakes these days, so it helps to have a guy to lean on."

Wargo, a recent winner on the Senior Tour, invited Palmer to play with him "for his personality first, his golf second," and Arnie describes the tandem as "he's the player and I'm the manager. All Tom needs with him is a good player and I'm scouting around for one right now."

One thing about Palmer is no matter what life and the game has dealt him, he's handled it with consummate grace and class. That's why millions have had absolutely no trouble rooting for him madly since the '50s when he and the man in the White House, President Eisenhower, did wonders for the popularity of the game.

* As far as tomorrow's Run for the Roses (alias the Kentucky Derby) is concerned (ABC, 4:30-6 p.m.), figure expert trainer D. Wayne Lukas knows what he's talking about. He told the Los Angeles Times: "This is a difficult race to figure out before it's run, and many times you still can't figure it out after it's run. You look at the Derby chart the day after the race and say to yourself, 'How could this have happened?' "

ESPN will start the ball rolling at 2:30 p.m., showing several earlier races live and talking up the biggie until you're ready to scream.

* The order for tomorrow's "Revenge: The Rematches" on Showtime pay-per-view ($30) tomorrow (6 p.m.) is Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija, Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan and Frankie Randall vs. Julio Cesar Chavez. As you must know by now, all these guys hooked up a few months ago and three of the underdogs won and claimed World Boxing Council championships, thus the revenge motif.

Meanwhile, tonight in Atlantic City, HBO will be on hand for the Lennox Lewis-Phil Jackson bout (9:45 p.m.) and the odds favoring Lewis 16-to-1 seem ridiculously out of line. Jackson is 30-1 with 28 knockouts, but he is still trying to live down that one loss, which saw him take a knee against Razor Ruddock and later admit he "choked." Lewis is coming off a couple of unimpressive World Boxing Association title defenses and they're expecting the 20,000-seat Convention Center to be only 30 percent filled.

And if that doesn't hit the spot, the NBA doubleheader on TNT has the Knicks and Nets wrestling and banging away at 8 p.m., followed by the Rockets going against the Trail Blazers. By the way, what is a team (the Nets, Wednesday night) that shoots 0-for-17 and doesn't score a field goal for 12 minutes doing in the playoffs?

It's a big week for boxing all-around, Mike Tyson being the headliner on "Larry King Live" on CNN Wednesday night, and Don King being given the opportunity afterward to tout his "Revenge" boxing show because he set up the Tyson interview. Yep, everything has a price.

* To help commemorate today's 40th anniversary celebration of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier at Oxford University in 1954, ESPN will run Bud Greenspan's "Numero Uno" video on the classic run by the doctor at 6 tonight (ESPN2 at 9 p.m.)

In his last three-quarter mile time trial, Bannister relates, "The watch recorded a time of 2:59.9 and I felt a little sick afterward with a taste of nervousness in my mouth. My speedy recovery within five minutes suggested that I had been holding something back." And as it worked out several days later, he was.

Add great milers: Olympic champion (1956) Ron Delany, who didn't run great times but won all the time anyway, found himself sitting next to Villanova athletic director Gene DeFilippo at a 100th Penn Relays dinner last week. Delany gave his name and DeFilippo asked him where he went to school. After Delany replied Villanova, the AD asked if he was an athlete. Delany replied, "I ran a little" and DeFilippo replied, "That's nice."

* The Baseball Network (TBN), the NBC-ABC-MLB consortium doing games nationally after the All-Star Game in July, is touting its lineup of 50 play-by-play and commentator announcers as though they play a big part in whether fans tune in. Not.

* What is it with guys leaping up off the bench and smashing chests and screaming at the top of their lungs in a player's face as he comes off the floor during a timeout in the NBA? Is that some sort of special bonding technique?

* NBC moves in for two NBA playoff games tomorrow and three Sunday and, hopefully, Bill Walton will do several of them, he's terrific. . . . ESPN is all over the German Open tennis tourney this weekend, which is probably upsetting the women since they're conducting their Italian Open. . . . The filly counterpart to tomorrow's Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, goes today at 5 p.m. on ESPN.

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