'Golf junkie' wins The Players Championship

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'Golf junkie' wins The Players Championship

From Comcast SportsNet
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Kuchar knows all about the prestige and the perks of winning The Players Championship. The richest payoff in golf. A three-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. What means just as much is a framed picture on a basement wall in a tunnel the public never sees. Every day at the TPC Sawgrass, Kuchar walked through a tunnel in the clubhouse that is lined with black-and-white photos of the players who have beaten the strongest and deepest field in golf over the last four decades. Kuchar joined them with a clutch performance Sunday, when he took the lead with a birdie and kept it with two key pars, then navigated his way the final hour as so many other contenders were making mistakes. He closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory, the fourth of his career and by far the biggest. "I can't help but stop and gaze at all the photos," Kuchar said. "And to think I'm going to be a part of that with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd and Phil Mickelson and David Duval and Tiger Woods ... it's all the best of the best. To feel like I'm going to see my picture up there next year is pretty cool." Then again, Kuchar thinks everything is cool. There's a simple reason that he smiles so much -- he loves playing golf. A decade ago, Kuchar missed the cut at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Two days later, on a beautiful Monday afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula, he was spotted sitting on the side of the hill overlooking the eighth tee while eating a sandwich. "Isn't it a beautiful day?" Kuchar said when asked just what in the world he was doing. That certainly was the case on a cloudy, blustery day on a dangerous golf course at Sawgrass. It seemed that way to Kuchar even when he opened with a bogey and quickly fell three shots behind. It felt like that when he was locked in a brief battle with Martin Laird, and when he looked across the water from the 16th green to see Rickie Fowler dressed in his all-orange outfit sink a birdie putt on the island-green 17th to cut Kuchar's lead to two shots. Kuchar answered with a birdie of his own on the 16th to restore his margin to three shots. He found land on the par-3 17th, even though he three-putted for a bogey that extended the drama for one more hole. And best of all was tapping in for par and celebrating with his entire family. His wife, Sybi, and two sons rushed onto the green. He hugged and high-fived his mother, the woman who taught him to have fun when he plays golf. He hugged his father, who was on the bag with Kuchar as an amateur in 1998 when he burst onto the scene with that endless smile at the Masters and U.S. Open. "It's such an amazing feeling -- playing amongst the game's best, to come out on top, to do it on Mother's Day ... it really is magical," Kuchar said. He won by two shots over four players who had a chance on the back nine. Fowler, slowed by a double bogey on the fifth hole, birdied the 16th and 17th and had an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have put enormous pressure on Kuchar. It caught the right lip and he had to settle for a 70. Ben Curtis ran off four straight birdies around the turn, but not enough until it was too late. He made a 10-foot birdie on the last hole for a 68. Zach Johnson was in range until a bogey on the 15th. He made a great par save on the 18th for a 68. Laird was the only runner-up who was tied for the lead, running off three straight birdies on the back nine until a poor tee shot on the 14th led to bogey. Laird, who three-putted the 18th in regulation at The Barclays in 2010 that allowed Kuchar into a playoff that he won for his most recent win, made bogey on the 18th at Sawgrass after nearly hitting into the water. He shot 67. None of them felt as badly as Kevin Na, for so many reasons. Na had a one-shot lead going into the final round and was under pressure from the viewing public more than any player. His pre-shot routine is painful to watch, and he knows it. The waggles. The whiffs he does on purpose so he can start over. The practice swings. The indecision. He tried to speed up, even walking well ahead of Kuchar to get to his ball, and he wonders if rushing hurt him. Na made four bogeys in a five-hole stretch at the turn to lose the lead. But what really stung were the chants he heard from the gallery. Everyone knew this guy had a hard time making his swing. He heard "Pull the trigger!" and "Hit it!" "I backed off and they're booing me," Na said. "I said, Look, guys, I backed off because of you guys.' ... But it is what it is. I also felt that a lot of people were turning towards me and pulling for me, which I really appreciate." The worst of it was on the par-3 13th, when he pulled his tee shot into the water, effectively ending all hope. Some in the crowd sang, "Na-na-na-na ... good-bye." "I deserve it," he said. "I mean, I'm being honest. But is it fair? No. You put an average guy in between those ropes, trust me, they won't even pull it back." He shot 76, extending a remarkable trend at Sawgrass since the tournament moved from March to May in 2007. It's one thing that the 54-hole leader has never won The Players in those six years. None of the third-round leaders has ever shot better than 74 in the final round, with an average score of 76.3. But this day belonged to Kuchar, with a few side notes. Luke Donald shot 30 on the back nine for a 66, making him stick around to see if it would be enough. It wasn't, and he wound up in sixth place, not quite enough for him to return to No. 1 in the world ranking. Tiger Woods shot 40 on his front nine and rallied for a 73, at least finishing The Players Championship under par. That was the smallest of consolations. Far more alarming was that he tied for 40th, the first time in his career that he has finished no better than 40th in three straight tournaments. The streak began after a five-shot win at Bay Hill for his first PGA Tour title in 30 months. "Just keep working. Keep working," Woods said when asked what he could take out of the week. Kuchar finished on 13-under 275 and collected 1.71 million. He moved to No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings, and to a career-best No. 5 in the world ranking. He left the way he arrived -- with a smile. "It's completely a natural reaction," Kuchar said. "I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I'm a golf junkie. I have to force myself to take vacations where I cannot play golf, because the game is just always so challenging. And I think it's that challenge that's addictive to me. ... The smile is there because I'm having a good time. "Now, granted, if I'm shooting 10-over par, you're probably not going to see me real happy. I'm hopefully going to behave myself appropriately, thanks to my mother, but I'm not going to be near as happy as when I'm making birdies." Suffice to say Kuchar was thrilled Sunday.

Trotz: Penguins had a 'heightened sense of desperation' in Game 2

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Trotz: Penguins had a 'heightened sense of desperation' in Game 2

You hear it all the time when it comes to the playoffs. When teams play those first two games on the road, the goal is also to walk away with at least a split. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to earn that split in Washington by way of a 2-1 win in Game 2 on Saturday.

"We wanted to go back at least with one," Sidney Crosby said. "We played well the last couple games so I think we deserved at least to get a split."

"It's huge, I think," Kris Letang said. "It's a big momentum game that we're going home with."

For the Penguins, it was mission accomplished. Now the pressure falls on the Caps to do the same thing in Pittsburgh: take at least one of the two road games. To do so, they will have to have a much better start to Game 3 than they showed Saturday.

RELATED: NHL ANNOUNCES SUNDAY HEARING FOR BROOKS ORPIK HIT ON OLLI MAATTA

Through two periods the Caps were out-shot 28-10. Somehow, the deficit was only 1-0 and the Caps were able to tie it with a strong third period, but the game could have gone much differently if the team had battled as hard for the first 40 minutes as it did in the final 20.

"We have to be better, plain and simple," head coach Barry Trotz said.

While he was not satisfied with the play of his team in the first two periods, he was also not surprised by how strong Pittsburgh looked at the start.

"What you see in the playoffs a lot of times is you go into a sereies and a team wins Game 1, there's a sense of heightened desperation on a team that lost that game and I sense that they had a heightened sense of desperation."

Now the Caps will need to feel that desperation heading into Pittsburgh. By losing Game 2, Washington has yielded home-ice advantage. Both teams need three more wins, but three of the remaining fives games of the series will be in Pittsburgh. If the Caps don't feel that "heigthened desperation" in Games 3 and 4, they could find themselves down 3-1 in the series when play returns to Washington on Saturday.

Where do the Caps need to improve? Well, that's not too hard to figure out.

Said Karl Alzner, "You need leave more of a mark early in the game."

MORE CAPITALS: WILLIAMS: 'WE WERE GETTING EMBARRASSED OUT THERE'

Hyun Soo Kim's improved play is winning over Buck Showalter

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Hyun Soo Kim's improved play is winning over Buck Showalter

BALTIMORE— A month ago, the Orioles were angry with Hyun Soo Kim because he didn’t want to go to the minor leagues. Now, he’s batting .600. 

Kim had three more hits in Saturday night’s game. He’s 9-for-15 in four starts, and he’s 2-for-2 in pinch hitting appearances. 

Manager Buck Showalter likes to say about players who campaign for more playing time: “You want to play more? Play better.” 

Showalter says it’s true in Kim’s case.

“That’s why I’ve played him,” Showalter said. “That’s how it works. Whose place should he take?” 

Both Kim and Pedro Alvarez, who has three multi-hit games this week, have hit recently, creating a happy dilemma for Showalter. 

“I like that challenge,” Showalter said. “I haven’t quite figured out how it works mathematically. It’s kind of hard.” 

The left-handed Kim has had all his at-bats against right-handers.

“You get an idea about guys, kind of who they might match up against well initially,” Showalter said. “You don’t know. I still don’t for sure. I know he’s had some good at-bats off certain guys. We’ll see if he can go to the next level against some other guys.” 

Showalter feels that Kim has made the most out of not playing most of the first month. He’s had quite an adjustment to U.S. baseball from South Korea. 

“I think Kim’s benefitted a little bit by being able to step back and watch something unfold that he didn’t know what was going to happen, the stadiums, the fields, the pitchers, all the things we do differently here,” Showalter said. 

 

Playoff scheduling has big implications for Stephen Curry's return to Warriors

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Playoff scheduling has big implications for Stephen Curry's return to Warriors

The NBA's playoff scheduling process may have given the Warriors a gift in their series against the Trail Blazers. A long midweek layoff means Stephen Curry could be back as early as Game 4. 

As noted by The Big Lead last Thursday, the way this second-round series was scheduled would change when Curry could return from his MLC sprain. 

He suffered the injury on April 24 by slipping on a wet spot on the Rockets' court. MRI results released the next day said he would be "re-evaluated in two weeks," making Monday, May 9 the earliest Curry could be cleared. 

That's also the date of Game 4. Check it out:

Game 1: Sunday, May 1 – Blazers at Warriors, 12:30 p.m. ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, May 3 – Blazers at Warriors, 7:30 p.m. TNT
Game 3: Saturday, May 7  Warriors at Blazers, 5:30 p.m. ABC
Game 4: Monday, May 9 – Warriors at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. TNT
Game 5*: Wednesday, May 11 – Blazers at Warriors, TBD TNT
Game 6*: Friday, May 13 – Warriors at Blazers, TBD ESPN
Game 7*: Monday, May 16 – Blazers at Warriors, 6 p.m. TNT

So the way the schedule shook out, the 2015 MVP may only miss three contests. If that's the case, the Warriors could lose every game without him and still have a chance to win the series with a healthy Curry. 

This isn't the only way the schedule could have been structured; instead of the lull between Tuesday's Game 2 and Saturday's Game 3, the NBA could have gone for an every-other-day slate with Game 3 on Thursday, Game 4 on Saturday and so forth. 

That scenario would have made Game 5 Curry's earliest return -- giving Portland the (unlikely) possibility of sweeping the series without ever facing Golden State's killer. But that's impossible now with the current schedule. 

Conspiracy theorists will point to the NBA's financial interest in having its biggest star on the court for more games, and giving its hottest team the best chance to repeat as champions. From an NBA brand perspective, wouldn't you want to prevent a fluke injury from sabotaging the league's next potential dynasty? 

But consider this benign alternative: The NBA typically schedules the second round with Games 3 and 4 over the weekend, either on Friday and Sunday or Saturday and Monday. 

Both the Spurs-Thunder and Warriors-Trail Blazers series have long midweek layoffs in order to keep Games 3 and 4 on Friday/Sunday and Saturday/Monday, respectively. That things worked out in the league's commercial interest may have been a happy accident! 

Scheduling preference, aside from financial incentive, could have been the deciding factor.

Or maybe both were. Look, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get you, Portland fans.