Tiger, Mickelson both need this U.S. Open

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Tiger, Mickelson both need this U.S. Open

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- There's a 14-year-old playing in the U.S. Open, as if Phil Mickelson needs a reminder about youth, time and wasted chances. He's had more than his share of the latter in the 21 times he has played this tournament, and all he can hope when he turns 42 on Saturday is that his birthday present is a late tee time among the leaders. It's not that Mickelson hasn't won major championships. He's got three green jackets and his name on the PGA Championship trophy, enough bling to satisfy most golfers in an era dominated by one golfer. He's done having to explain why he was the best player never to win a major, something that to Mickelson seemed harder than talking about how he was going to save the Social Security system. No longer does he have to wonder privately if he was ever going to get his breakthrough win in one of the tournaments that matter most. That unpleasant task now belongs to guys like No. 1-ranked Luke Donald or Lee Westwood, who once held that ranking himself. Both great players, both short of the one win that will stamp them forever as great players. "Maybe I'll never win one. Maybe I will," Westwood said. "I've got no answer to that. Keep working hard and trying to get myself into the position. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't." Winning majors is never easy, if only because there are only four of them a year and they tend to bring out a strong field. Winning the brutal test that is the U.S. Open is even harder. Someone will emerge Sunday with the trophy, though getting there may not be pretty. The Lake course at Olympic Club, with its sloping fairways, slippery greens and thick rough, penalizes every wayward shot, every mistake. Perched on the side of a sand dune, it might be called a thinking man's course, though some of the thoughts won't necessarily be for public consumption. History suggests almost anyone -- save for the qualifiers like teenager Andy Zhang or club pro Dennis Miller -- can win the Open here. Jack Fleck did it in 1955, beating the great Ben Hogan, and Scott Simpson beat Tom Watson to win his only major championship at Olympic in 1987. Whether for career or psychological reasons, though, some need a win this week more than others. Mickelson would be near the top of that list, simply because he's getting to an age where winning such a penal tournament becomes problematic. Unlike the last time the Open was played on the West Coast, Lefty brought his driver along this time, proof that for once he may not be overthinking this one. Not that he would entertain the idea that he's a favorite. He's been down that path too many times, at too many majors where he was supposed to win. He might have won the Masters this year if he hadn't aimed for a bunker instead of the green on the fourth hole of the final round. He could have won a few Opens by now had he not missed some short putts or pulled out his driver at the wrong time, most notably on the 18th hole of his epic collapse in 2006 at Winged Foot. So many near misses, so few Opens left to finally correct them. "I feel like I've developed a good game plan as to how I want to play the golf course," Mickelson said. "I feel that I should be able to play to that game plan and post a number that I feel will be competitive. I don't know if it will win." Perhaps no one needs this Open more than Tiger Woods. He's coming in off a high, winning the Memorial two weeks ago with a chip-in that took its rightful place among his more iconic shots. After a debacle at the Masters, where he screamed at shots, kicked clubs and generally acted like a spoiled brat, he seems to have gotten his game and his act together in time for the official start of the summer major season. He was once thought of as a lock to break the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, but he's been stuck at 14 since winning the Open four years ago at Torrey Pines in what now seems like a lifetime ago. But he's yet to prove he can win again in the only place it has ever mattered for Woods -- in the majors. "I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, You're not to 18 yet' or When will you get to 19?' " Woods said. "It's always something with you guys." As if Woods needed a reminder, Nicklaus was in the media room Wednesday reminiscing about his four Open titles and how he won them. He was introduced as the greatest player of all time and he will always be, until someone wins more of the tournaments that really count than he did. Woods once talked about finishing his career early and moving on, but the harder winning has become for him, the longer his sights are set. "Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I've got 10 (years)," Woods said. "Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time." With each passing major, though, that time becomes shorter. There have been 15 majors since Woods last won at Torrey Pines, and he's no closer to his career goal of passing Nicklaus than he was the day he beat Rocco Mediate on one leg in a playoff. Unlike Mickelson, Donald and Westwood he's got three Open titles in the record books. That doesn't mean he's not just as desperate to win this one as he was his first.

Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

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Nationals starters are throwing more pitches per game this year

It's a question I've received numerous times this season on Twitter: are Nationals starters throwing too many pitches this season? The question has been posed so many times that it warrants a closer look. The internet makes all sorts of baseball data available these days and there is plenty out there regarding pitches, both in terms of quality and quantity.

For the Nationals (17-7), it is true that through 24 games this season they are allowing their starters to pitch longer in games than they did last season. But, though their pitch counts are up, there is no evidence to suggest what they are doing is out of the ordinary. 

First, here is a look at how Nationals starters rank by pitches per start:

Max Scherzer - 105.4
Stephen Strasburg - 102
Tanner Roark - 101.4
Joe Ross - 99*
Gio Gonzalez - 98.3

*excluding injury-shortened start on April 20

For Scherzer and Gonzalez, there is not much to see here. Scherzer is second in MLB in pitches thrown, but he's always near the top of the league in that category. He was seventh in total pitches in 2015, third in 2014 and 12th the year before that. 

Scherzer has averaged at least 100 P/GS for each of the last eight seasons. In 2014, his final year in Detroit, Scherzer posted a career-high of 110.2. That's much higher than anyone in the Nats' rotation is currently on track for.

Gonzalez has also logged high pitch counts in the past. He averaged 103.6 P/GS in 2013, his second year with the Nats, and put up a career-high of 106.5 in 2011, his final year in Oakland. Like Scherzer and many other pitchers, he has proven he can take the pounding of a high pitch count.

The rest of the Nats' rotation is up in the P/GS category from their career averages. Strasburg's career average is 92.7 and he's putting up about 10 more per start this season. But his career-high was 96.9 in 2014 and that's not far off from 100.

Roark has never averaged more than 100 before, but did post a career-high of 96.7 in 2014. And Ross has seen a significant increase from the 85.4 P/GS he held last season, but that number was kept in check to limit his workload as a rookie. 

For instance, Ross went six scoreless innings in his final start of 2015, yet was removed after just 77 pitches. His penultimate start saw him throw only 82 pitches despite going seven innings with one run allowed. What he's doing this year is more normal than what he was limited to last season.

The Nationals are letting their starters reach higher pitch counts this season, but not to an extreme degree, at least not yet. Could that change as the season goes on? Sure, teams often allow pitchers to stretch out as the season goes on. For now, though, it doesn't seem to be a real issue in Washington.

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

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USA TODAY Sports

Virginia adds quarterback transfer from ECU

Virginia has added another quarterback to its roster for next season as Kurt Benkert of East Carolina announced Sunday that he will transter to UVa.

Benkert announced on April 25 that he intended to transfer. The move to Charlottesville will reunite the quarterback with former head coach Ruffin McNeill who now is the defensive line coach for Virginia.

Benkert's bio on ECU's athletcis website lists him as 6-foot-3, 225 pounds and describes him as "A talented and polished signal-caller whose arm strength perhaps already ranks among the best in the history of the Pirate program ." He was named the starter by McNeill at ECU heading into last season, but a knee injury forced Benkert to miss the entire 2015 season.

As a graduate transfer, Benkert will be immediately available for next season. He will also have two years of eligibility remaining.

Benkert will now be thrust into a quarterback competition in Charlottesville with incumbent Matt Johns and fellow transfer Connor Brewer.

RELATED: TWO HOKIES SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY AFTER ARRESTS

Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

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Cravens to accept "challenge," wear Sean Taylor's rookie number

The majority of highlights from Sean Taylor's career, whether he's walloping a helpless receiver or intercepting a pass from a quarterback foolish enough to test him, come from the days when he wore No. 21. However, some may forget that the gifted safety actually donned No. 36 as a rookie back in 2004, before transitioning to his more familiar digits in 2005. 

Nowadays, Taylor's 21 isn't officially retired, but's it's essentially untouchable. So for Redskins players who want to honor the talented defender — Ryan Clark is a recent example of one who did — they have to go about it in creative ways (Clark, for one, sported the famous number in practice).

Well, rookie Su'a Cravens, who was drafted by the franchise in the second round on Friday, is getting creative. On Sunday, the USC standout announced he was going to pay respect to the Burgundy and Gold legend in his own right by taking the field in the same No. 36 that Taylor debuted in. The news came around the time that it was revealed the versatile Cravens would be listed on the roster as a safety, another thing that he shares with the Pro-Bowler he idolizes.

Here are some tweets from the 20-year-old detailing his decision and what it means to him:

Showing love to Taylor is nothing new for the Los Angeles native, though. It was something he did in college as well:

Cravens has certainly wasted no time since getting every prospect's dream phone call in endearing himself to his new team's fans. He's already said that he's "so damn hyped to be a Redskin" and called the passion of Washington's supporters "unreal." But it's his latest choice that will really have people enthused, as understanding and acknowledging Taylor's talents are surefire ways to become a favorite in D.C.

It's clear Cravens knows his uniform selection means a lot to the city he'll be suiting up for. And it's clear he's ready for the expectations that'll come along with it. Sure, he's only been a Redskin for a few days, but Cravens is already making an impression.

MORE REDSKINS: GRADING THE 2016 DRAFT CLASS