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Settle this the old-fashioned way

4/8/2003

We have never advocated violence to settle sporting disputes. That's what the field of play is for.

Well, that, and a place to slap enormous corporate logos.

As The Masters lurches upon us, and we have watched with bleeding eyes and throbbing skulls at the developing parry-and-thrust relationship of Martha Burk and Hootie Johnson, it occurs that maybe we've been a bit too strident on the subject of appropriate confrontation.

Or, to put it more specifically, sometimes someone just needs one right across the chops.

Which is why we have come around to the idea that Martha and Hootie ought to settle their dispute the old-fashioned administrative way.

In a bar fight.

Normally, bar fights are reserved for only a few serious transgressions -- stealing your money, cheating at pool, relentlessly bothering someone who hasn't bothered you, insulting your wife, failing to insult your ex-husband.

You know, crimes against one's honor, or one's right to be left alone.

But as we have watched the Martha-Hootie relationship grow and fester into a mutual publicity campaign stripping each of any moral high ground or even dignity, it seems to us that putting the two in a fully stocked tavern and letting them use each other to wreck the joint is as good a way to settle this as any.

Their debates, such as they are, have been tedious. Their dueling press conferences and prepared statements have done more to make people not care about what could be a fascinating discussion. Both have become figures of fun, as the Brits like to say.

So why not play it that way to the end, and start kneecapping each other with bar stools? There is, after all, nothing quite so inspiring as taking a half-full bottle of HairO'ThePooch upside the ear.

Now you may think we're kidding -- and of course we are -- but there have been stupider suggestions made to settle sporting issues over the years that were actually implemented. See Tonya Harding, Boxer, for recent proof of this phenomenon.

So why not a full-scale war of air hockey pucks thrown with malicious intent to argue a point that hadn't been sufficiently made in discussion? Why not a pool cue jammed in one's stomach? Why not a chair slammed down on an unprepared foot?

Oh, and don't try this at home, kids.

The fact that both Burk and Johnson are well past the age that this kind of behavior would be construed as sensible means nothing. This has been a degenerating pie fight for months now, because it started that way. It's been a media show, and if you've watched network TV over the past few years, you know how far America's brows have been lowered.

So let's go all the way, get them in some seedy joint out on Route 9 with a name like "Dexter's Midnight Lounge," "The Pop Inn," or "The Place Where AA Fears To Tread," and let them get busy. Winner takes all, whatever "all" is supposed to be.

You see, this has become a fight without a rooting interest, because the two protagonists are people who make your head hurt by their very presence. Whatever your position on the rights, prerogatives and responsibilities of a private club of rich people, you want both these yobbos to lose on general principle.

So while others may give you reasoned, carefully crafted and ethically uplifting solutions to this nagging problem, we're going low, and cheap, and we know that in the back of your minds, you see the wisdom here as well.

So it's bottles of Grolsch at 10 paces. It's choking each other with bar rags. It's hitting the opponent from behind with the lost-and-found box.

It's the only sensible solution to this stand off of conflicting principles.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com