Tiger gets a win ... but is he back for good?

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Tiger gets a win ... but is he back for good?

From Comcast SportsNet
BETHESDA, Md. (AP) -- The images of Tiger Woods, dressed in his red shirt and raising both arms on the 18th green after another victory, are no longer highlights from years gone by. When he outlasted Bo Van Pelt in a tense duel on the back-nine Sunday at Congressional, Woods won for third time in his last seven tournaments dating to the late March. He still hasn't figured out the majors this year, though he has two more remaining. And while winning the AT&T National kept him at No. 4 in the world, he is starting to be looked upon the way he once was. "I think he's the only guy to win three tournaments on tour this year, is that correct?" Van Pelt said. "On three different courses. And he was leading the U.S. Open after two days. So I'd say that he's playing the best golf in the world right now." Woods closed with a 2-under 69, making only one bogey in his final 44 holes on a course that was tougher than it was for the U.S. Open last year. Van Pelt had him in trouble late in the round, but only briefly, and Woods effectively pulled away on the last two holes by letting his opponents get the bad breaks and make the bogeys. He now was 74 wins on the PGA Tour, moving past Jack Nicklaus into second place, leaving him eight wins away from the record held by Sam Snead. Perhaps it's only fitting that Woods now heads to The Greenbrier Classic, where Snead was the first head professional. Woods at least moved to No. 1 in two other categories -- the PGA Tour money list and the FedEx Cup standings, for the first time since September 2009. At this rate, Woods is more likely to get to Snead's record of 82 tour wins than the record that means the most to him -- the 18 majors won by Nicklaus. Woods has been stuck on 14 since 2008 when he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a shattered left leg. "It feels great to get to 74 wins and obviously pass Jack," Woods said. "I did it at 36 years old, and it's something I'm very proud of." Not bad for a guy who only four months ago walked off the course at Doral with another injury to his left Achilles tendon. He returned two weeks later and won Bay Hill, and off he went. "I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again," Woods said. His latest win took a lot of effort. Brendon de Jonge, the 54-hole leader for the first time, didn't make a birdie and shot 77 to quickly fall out of contention. Adam Scott ran off four straight birdies on the front nine and was briefly part of a five-way tie for the lead until he made back-to-back bogeys on the back nine. Hunter Mahan also fell back. It came down to Woods and Van Pelt, who have known each other since junior golf and could not be any more different. Woods is high energy, who now has won an astounding 27 percent of the PGA Tour events he has played. Van Pelt is laid-back Oklahoman, whose only official tour win came three years ago in Milwaukee, a tournament that no longer exists. They didn't look much different on the golf course. Three times, Woods made birdie putts to take the lead. Three times, Van Pelt answered him. Woods holed a 20-foot birdie putt on 15th hole, extending his left arm to motion for the ball to go left, and when it did just that, he raised his arm with his index finger pointing to the sky. That put him at 9 under, a lead that lasted as long as it took Van Pelt to match him with a 10-foot birdie. The par-5 16th had the most surprising twist. Van Pelt blistered a tee shot 345 yards down the middle of the fairway, leaving only a 6-iron to the green. Woods hit a spectator with his tee shot in the left rough, had to lay up, and then was too aggressive with his wedge and went over the green and down an 8-foot slope. It was a like a pitcher in a tied baseball game who loaded the bases with no one out, only to get out of the jam. Van Pelt's approach was slightly heavy and stopped in the thick collar of a bunker, so that he had to chip with his feet in the sand and his hands gripping the steel shaft of the wedge. He didn't get out of the rough, and his third shot went to the back of the green, just over 12 feet away for par. Woods' fourth shot up the slope hit the hole and ran 15 feet away. Both hit good putts. Both missed. Both made bogey. They remained tied. "It was difficult from the standpoint I had my legs in the bunker, and if I hit that chip a little too hard it goes over the green because you can't put any spin on it," Van Pelt said. "I was just trying to get the ball up in the air and play it out to the right a little bit and just got underneath it a little bit. And the second one, I thought I hit it great. I was surprised it rolled that far. And the putt, I mean, I've probably never hit a better putt than that in my life under those kind of circumstances. "I pretty much hit every shot the way I wanted to that hole, just ended up being 6." On the next hole, Van Pelt was in the left cut of rough and caught a flier, with a good swing getting a bad result. The ball shot out of the fluffy grass over the green, leaving him no chance to get near the hole. He went through the green and had to scramble for bogey, and Woods chipped up to 6 feet and made his putt for par to take a one-shot lead to the 18th. "It's rare that we caught any fliers out here at all this week, and Bo caught one coming out of that rough," Woods said. "We had a good enough lie where we could have had one of those, but Bo caught one out of there and put it in the wrong spot and made bogey, and I got up and down." Woods with a one-shot lead on the 18th, playing in control as he had for so much of the day, is tough to beat. He hit a fade off the tee. He hit a draw with a 9-iron into the green. He won. And everyone was there to see it. The AT&T National was a strange week -- record heat on Friday, followed by a violent wind storm that night that toppled trees and littered Congressional with limbs. The course was closed to spectators on Saturday, leading to an eerily quiet afternoon with Woods in contention. The spectators returned by the thousands on Sunday, and they got want they wanted to see. "I think everyone kept it pent up for today, and it was raucous all day," Woods said. Van Pelt was disappointed at making three straight bogeys for a 71, though he took away plenty of good feelings about the way he played on such a big stage. "He's an amazing player," Van Pelt said. "We've known each other a long time, probably 20 years. He's fun to play with. That's why you travel 30 weeks a year, why you get up in the morning and make the sacrifices that you do, to have the opportunity to play the best player in the world in the final round with a chance to win."

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Stock watch: Sanford impresses in preseason debut

Stock watch: Sanford impresses in preseason debut

The Caps lost their second preseason game on Tuesday night to the Montreal Canadiens, but it's the preseason. The score doesn't matter. What does matter is how the players played. Here's who looked good and who needs to up their game.

3 players who impressed:

Madison Bowey: When Bowey is distributing the puck, it looks like his teammates have magnets on their tape. Every pass from him was crisp and on target. Defensively, he finished the game with a minus-2, but he was hardly the only player to struggle on the defensive end of the ice on Tuesday. He will continue to develop his defensive skills in Hershey, but for now Bowey looks every bit the puck-moving, offensive defenseman the Caps hoped they were getting when they drafted him. In today's NHL, having that type of defenseman on your team is a major plus.

Zach Sanford: The Caps want to keep a 14th forward on the roster this season and in his NHL (preseason) debut, Sanford did everything he could to lay claim to that spot. It took a few minutes for him to settle into the game, but he didn't look out of place at all. He simply looked like a rookie trying to adjust to his first NHL experience. As the game went along, he looked more and more comfortable. What is really impressive about Sanford is his positioning and what he does away from the puck. He always seems to be exactly where he is supposed to be. That positioning ultimately set up his goal late in the third period. Sanford fought off a few hits to maintain his position in front of the net, setting up a perfect screen on Montreal goalie Zachary Fucale. Because of his positioning, he was able to deflect a shot from Connor Hobbs into the net past the helpless netminder. It was not a perfect game for Sanford by any means. Late in the second, he gave up the puck on a bad turnover and compounded the mistake by tripping Michael McCarron, but those kinds of mistakes are to be expected from someone who went straight from college to the NHL preseason. Overall, it was a very impressive performance.

Nathan Walker: When Andrew Shaw boarded Connor Hobbs in the second period, the first player to go after the gritty veteran was Nathan Walker. It didn't matter that Shaw has played in four NHL seasons or has 13 NHL fights on his resume, it didn't matter that he was going to get his butt kicked — he was going to stand up for his teammate. The biggest strike against Walker is his size. He is very generously listed as 5-foot-8. I've seen him in the locker room and let me tell you, there is no way he is that tall. But any fear the team may have had about Walker's ability to handle the size of the NHL has been erased in just two preseason games. Clearly he is not going to let himself be pushed around. At this point, I would be surprised if he does not get his first NHL game at some point this season.

RELATED: PENALTIES DOOM CAPS IN 5-2 LOSS TO MONTREAL

3 players who need to show improvement:

Brett Connolly: Connolly's signing was a surprise move by the Caps in the offseason. He is a former first-round draft pick still trying to live up to his potential. He is going to make the roster, but as a new player, the Caps are still trying to determine just where he fits into the lineup. That means he has more at stake in this preseason than most of his NHL teammates. Connolly registered six hits, but zero shots on net and was completely unable to take advantage of the weaker preseason roster Montreal played. Connolly is a sniper trying to establish his skill and he looked like a fourth-line grinder. If this is how he will play, there's no reason to play him over someone like Stanislav Galiev.

Liam O'Brien: In 2014, Liam O'Brien made the Caps' roster after a strong camp and stuck around for 13 games before getting sent down to the AHL. Two years later, he doesn't look close to that level. O'Brien took an early interference penalty as he slid into goalie Al Montoya. He added a second penalty in the third period as he was upset with a no-call on Nathan Beaulieu and kept trying to draw a fight with him until the referee ultimately sent him to the box. The days when teams could carry enforcers on the fourth line who did little else but fight and take penalties are over. O'Brien has to establish that he has more to offer the Caps and he failed to do so.

Darren Dietz: For the most part, Darren Dietz actually played a decent game on Tuesday. He had six hits and skated well against his former team. There was one major mistake, however, that really stuck out. In the second period, the Caps were about to go on the power play as Jeremy Grégoire slashed Zach Sill in the wrist. At the end of the play, Grégoire really tried to press his luck by giving Sill a little push into the boards. Grégoire is a 21-year-old player trying to make an impression by taking on one of the toughest guys on the ice. Sill is a 28-year-old, 6-foot-1, 202-pound veteran with 32 fights in the last five years in the NHL and AHL. He can take care of himself. Dietz, however, skated in and landed a vicious cross-check to the back of Grégoire and was called for roughing, thus negating the Caps' power play. There was no reason for Dietz to get involved in that scrum. Sill doesn't need him to fight off Grégoire, he could have easily brushed him aside. The referees had already established that they are calling a very tight game so it was no surprise to see Dietz sent to the box. He needs to know better than to lay that kind of hit on the back of an opposing player and risk a penalty in order to protect someone who didn't really need it.

MORE CAPITALS: MARCUS JOHANSSON SCORES FROM STRAIGHT ON VS. CANADIENS

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Lobaton, others step up in Nats' 1st game without Wilson Ramos

Lobaton, others step up in Nats' 1st game without Wilson Ramos

If guys like Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon play to their capabilities, the Nationals could make do without Wilson Ramos this postseason, at least on offense.

But even those guys can't do it all by themselves. The much more likely scenario involves a collective effort, one in which contributions from all-around lift the Nationals as a team and help compensate for the loss of one of their best and most consistent players. Collective efforts like Tuesday night when both of Ramos' replacements - Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino - chipped in on offense, Rendon provided the big swing and other bench players like Stephen Drew and Wilmer Difo made pivotal plays in their 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Lobaton called a strong game behind the dish, helping starter Max Scherzer adjust after allowing two runs in his first three innings to toss three scoreless after that. He then broke up Diamondbacks' starter Matt Koch's no-hitter in the sixth with a leadoff single. That ignited a four-run rally for the Nats, who took the lead and never relinquished it.

"I don't want to get a no-hitter," Lobaton said. "I got a good result and it was good for the team. We got a rally and we won."

"With [Ramos] going down for the year, that’s just heartbreaking," Scherzer said. "But Loby’s a guy that we need to step up and he’s the one who started off that inning."

Lobaton was replaced on the basepaths by Severino, who is faster than Lobaton, who happens to be dealing with a sore right ankle. Severino would later score after moving to third on walks drawn by Trea Turner and Difo. Severino came home on a sacrifice fly hit to left by Drew.

Lobaton and Severino will be a tag team partnership moving forward this season with Ramos out. They will need to spell each other and work together to try and recreate the production Ramos provided as a standout both at the plate and behind it.

On Tuesday, they pulled through.

"That's what they're going to have to do," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what they're going to have to do to contribute."

Their night also involved a lot of communication once Severino replaced Lobaton. A veteran with more experience catching the Nationals' pitching staff, Lobaton advised Severino throughout the game about how to call it. That's something Ramos often does for Lobaton.

"That is good for a guy that is not playing every time. It's the same with me, I always talk to Wily about the pitchers and what they are doing," Lobaton said. "I try to communicate more, like what he's been doing and what he's working on. So, I try to do the same with Sevi. This is working in the game, this is not. It can be more easy for him when he goes out."

Severino scored the first run and later in the frame Rendon drove in three more on a homer to left field off Randall Delgado. Rendon was pleased to see the foundation laid ahead of him that inning.

"That’s a great example, first day, stepping up,” he said. "Definitely frustration [with Ramos' injury]. You never like to see a teammate get hurt… obviously he’s going to be missed. He’s a big part of this lineup. But we have a lot of good guys who can fill in. It’s going to be awesome to watch.”

The Nationals have five more games before the regular season is over. To capture a World Seires, they will need to win 11 more after that. It won't always be as smooth asTuesday night, but the Nationals demonstrated well to themselves what it will take to get by without their star catcher.

[RELATED: Dodgers set rotation for playoff series against Nationals]

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