'Golf junkie' wins The Players Championship


'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.

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Penn Quarter Q&A: Who has impressed and where do the Caps need to improve?


Penn Quarter Q&A: Who has impressed and where do the Caps need to improve?

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What moves can return the Orioles to postseason in 2017?

What moves can return the Orioles to postseason in 2017?

In 2017, the Orioles will try to accomplish something they haven’t done in 20 years, play in the postseason in consecutive seasons.

While the Orioles have the most wins in the American League over the past five seasons (444), they played in the postseason in 2012, 2014 and 2016, but didn’t in 2013 and 2015. 

Before each of the postseason years, the Orioles made key moves, whether it was in the traditional offseason months or at the beginning of spring training. In the years they didn’t qualify, their postseasons weren’t terribly active at all. 


When Dan Duquette took over nearly five years ago, his first offseason included the signing of Wei-Yin Chen, trading Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom as well as drafting Ryan Flaherty. 

He made some other moves during spring training and during the season, signing Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth that became huge successes. 

Following the 2012 season, the Orioles had a young and inexpensive team, and their only major moves were nontendering Mark Reynolds and re-signing McLouth. 

The Orioles won 86 games in 2013, but finished out of the playoffs. 

While Duquette was heavily criticized for inaction during the winter, he saw two players, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez that offered good values, and he signed them early in spring training. A trip to the American League Championship Series followed. 

In the offseason that followed, Duquette was rumored to be the next president of the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Orioles quickly lost Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller with no suitable replacements. A .500 season followed. 

Last season featured Duquette making moves early and often—securing Matt Wieters for another year after he accepted a qualifying offer, trading for Mark Trumbo, signing Hyun Soo Kim, and re-signing Darren O’Day and Chris Davis. 

In spring training, Yovani Gallardo and Pedro Alvarez were added. 

This offseason, the Orioles don’t seem to have as many holes as they did a year ago, but for one of them, they must decide quickly what they’re going to do. 

Wieters is again a free agent, and the Orioles must decide whether they’re going to seriously pursue him, or if he leaves whether they’ll fill the catching vacancy internally or externally. 

There won’t be many quality catchers on the market, and the Orioles should move expeditiously to either sign or trade for someone who could start in 2017. 

They could decide they think a combination of Chance Sisco and Caleb Joseph can handle the job, but that decision must not linger. 

The Orioles must improve their depth so that manager Buck Showalter feels comfortable in resting Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. 

While the Orioles may try and re-sign Wieters and Mark Trumbo, they won’t be chasing after big ticket free agents early in free agency. 

There are few quality pitchers on the prospective market, but there are some quality hitters including Alvarez, Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Carlos Beltran, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond, Edwin Encarnacion, Dexter Fowler, Kendrys Morales, Mitch Moreland, Colby Rasmus, Josh Reddick and Michael Saunders.

It’s not Duquette’s way to try and outbid other teams, but there are so many good hitters that perhaps one or two of these names, or ones from the second tier fall into the Orioles’ price range. 

In order to improve their depth, the Orioles will likely again be active in the Rule 5 draft, but unless they move a pitcher or two from their current crop, it seems unlikely they can be flexible enough to keep a drafted pitcher on hand. 

In 2015, the Orioles drafted Jason Garcia and Logan Verrett. They ended up keeping Garcia and sending Verrett back to the Mets. 

Having Garcia on the staff complicated manager Buck Showalter’s use of the bullpen, and he was sent to Bowie to start in 2016, but didn’t raise many eyebrows. 

Joey Rickard, the outfielder drafted last December, proved to be a useful addition who filled in for Jones and platooned with Kim before he was hurt. 

If the Orioles find a pitcher they like they’d have to include him on a prospective staff that already includes starters Gallardo, Jimenez, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Wade Miley and Chris Tillman as well as relievers Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, and Darren O’Day. 

It’s more likely that a Rule 5 pick would be a position player. 

While the early part of the offseason may include a series of smaller moves with bigger ones waiting for the market to settle, fans will undoubtedly criticize what they see as Duquette’s seeming lack of action. 

They shouldn’t because in the end if he has a decent start to free agency, he usually has a strong finish—and so do the Orioles.