Tiger upbeat about his game, Open performance

793624.png

Tiger upbeat about his game, Open performance

Len Shapiro
CSNWashington.com

Despite shooting 75-73 in the final two rounds of the U.S. Open at Olympic two weeks ago to finish tied for 21st place, Tiger Woods, as always, preferred to look at the bright side of his week in San Francisco.

I was still in the ball game, Woods, who held a share of the 36-hole lead, told reporters after completing his final round that Sunday. A lot of positives to be taken away from this week. A lot of positives.

Ten days later, not much had changed. Woods made his first public appearance since the Open Tuesday at Congressional Country Club and remained mostly upbeat about his Open performance, despite his disappointing weekend on a brutally difficult golf course that produced a winning score of one over par from champion Webb Simpson.

The way I struck the golf ball, I was very pleased by that, said Woods, the official host of the AT&T National in town this week. I didn't particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial (where he won two weeks earlier). Obviously at the Open, that's just one of the things you have to do, and I didn't do that. I didn't make anything from 15 or 20 feet. I made a bunch of putts from 8 to 10 feet and in, but I didn't make any other putts. I played very conservative. My game plan worked for the first couple days. I was playing away from a lot of flags, lag putting, but I didn't make anything. I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.

It was one of those weekends where I just didn't quite get everything out of my rounds. I was so close on Saturday to getting a good round out of it, and I didn't. It's just one of those things where a fraction off, particularly on that U.S. Open venue, balls that land in the fairway don't stay in the fairway, and I kept hitting the edge of the fairways and going in the rough. There you've not only got to hit the ball in the middle but you've got to hit the ball in the middle with the correct shape. Being a fraction off, certainly it showed up on Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday for sure. But I got it back towards the end of it, played 3under coming in, and that was something positive.

Woods seemed particularly upbeat Wednesday returning to play Congressional for the first time since he won his own event here in 2009 with a score of 13-under par. He did not play in the 2011 U.S. Open on the clubs famous Blue Course because he was still recovering from surgery. When someone asked him if hed like the winning score to be below the Open record breaking total of 16 under posted last year by Rory McIlroy, he said as long as Im that person.

Woods did not have a chance to play Congressional when he met with the media shortly after 1 p.m. but said hes been told the course was playing firm and fast, just the way he likes it. Thats the good news. The bad? With high humidity and temperatures in the mid-90s predicted over the four days of the tournament, those conditions may not last.

Weve seen what this place can do when it gets soft and what the guys can shoot, he said. But this week, with the weather forecast as hot as its supposed to be, I dont think were going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. Theyre going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.

Woods also admitted that there are still significant shortcomings with his game as he continues to attempt to equal or surpass Jack Nicklauss record 18 major championships. Woods has 14 now and 73 PGA Tour victories, but he also knows his short game had better get better in order to significantly build on both those numbers.

I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit, he said, and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch (Harmon) and the same thing when I was working with Hank (Haney). During that period, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game. Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again.

One thing Woods said he will never do with his short game is switch to a long putter, all the rage these days on the PGA Tour.

Ive tried it and my stroke is infinitely worse, he said. Its just not good. I like the flow of my stroke. I like how I putt. Putting with anchoring or even different configurations of a standard grip, my stroke doesnt flow at all. I think Ive done all right with mine, and I think Im going to stick with it.

Hes also going to stay the course with his current swing changes being overseen by his latest instructor, Sean Foley. He equated making changes in his swing the older he gets with Michael Jordan making adjustments to his shooting style as he moved into his 30s .

He couldnt jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder, Woods said. It didnt matter; he could fade away from either shoulder. I didnt want to play the way I did (in the past) because it hurt, and it hurt a lot.

Was I good at it. Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldnt go down that road, and theres no way I could have had that longevity in the game if I had done that. Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesnt hurt, and Im still generating power, but it doesnt hurt anymore.

Dusty Baker on Harvey ducking Mets media: 'New York will eat you up'

chasestl052416refframe_1.jpg

Dusty Baker on Harvey ducking Mets media: 'New York will eat you up'

Mets pitcher Matt Harvey made headlines on Tuesday night as much for avoiding the media after the game as he did for yet another awful outing on the mound. He left the stadium before reporters entered the clubhouse and let his teammates answer all the questions for him.

As expected, Harvey has been villified by New York media members. New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, for one, went after Harvey in a piece entitled 'Silent Matt Harvey confirms he's the phony Mets have enabled.' It's brutal and Harvey shouldn't be surprised.

That's New York and, some would argue, it comes with the territory. Nationals manager Dusty Baker knows how rough New York can be and on Wednesday he talked about the dysfunction that is plaguing the rival Mets at the moment.

"I'm not going to try to straighten their clubhouse out. It's his prerogative to do what he wants to do. If he doesn't want to talk, then he doesn't have to talk. It will just make it harder on himself. New York will eat you up," Baker said. 

"They know their sports heroes in that town better than anybody... these people in New York, they know. They know sports. They know it big-time. I tell my guys. I'm not going to tell you what to do, but you're going to have to own up to it and live with whatever you do. Try not to put pressure on your teammates to answer your questions."

Whether a player talks after a tough loss always brings a mixed reaction. The media tends to harp on it, while some fans do not care. Some do, of course. But many don't.

Ultimately fans care about the performance on the field and right now Harvey isn't holding up that end of the bargain.

Harper out of lineup as Nats aim for series win over Mets

chasestl052416refframe_1.jpg

Harper out of lineup as Nats aim for series win over Mets

Nats (28-18) vs. Mets (26-19) at Nationals Park

The Nationals continue their series against the Mets on Wednesday with a quick turnaround from Tuesday night's win. It's a 1:05 p.m. first pitch with Tanner Roark (3-3, 2.89) set to square off against lefty Steven Matz (6-1, 2.81).

Roark has yet to face the Mets this season, while Matz has never pitched against the Nats. Matz has gone at least six innings in six straight starts with just six earned runs allowed during that span.

Bryce Harper and Ben Revere are getting the day off for Washington. Harper is getting a day to clear his head, while Revere is resting in the middle of 16 straight games as the Nats keep his oblique in mind following his disabled list stint.

First pitch: 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, XM 183
Starting pitchers: Nats - Tanner Roark vs. Mets - Steven Matz

NATS

CF Michael Taylor
LF Jayson Werth
2B Daniel Murphy
1B Ryan Zimmerman
3B Anthony Rendon
C Wilson Ramos
RF Chris Heisey
SS Danny Espinosa
RHP Tanner Roark

METS

RF Curtis Granderson
3B David Wright
LF Michael Conforto
CF Yoenis Cespedes
2B Neil Walker
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
1B Eric Campbell
C T.J. Rivera
LHP Steven Matz

Follow along with GameView here

Rest of NBA should forget about pitching to Kevin Durant

jmichaelbenbeal052316refframe_1.jpg

Rest of NBA should forget about pitching to Kevin Durant

It's probably time for everyone -- not just the Wizards -- to move on to Plan B for this summer. More than 20 teams will have salary cap room and Kevin Durant's name has come up as a target for the N.Y. Knicks, L.A. Lakers, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat.

His Oklahoma City Thunder, who upset the second-best team in the NBA in the previous round by wiping the floor with the 67-win San Antonio Spurs, are about to eliminate the 73-win Golden State Warriors to get back to the Finals.

With Durant becoming a free agent this summer, exactly what motivation would he have for leaving now other than a distaste for living in Oklahoma City? Besides, if he signs a shorter deal (two years with an opt out for 2017), he can make more money because the salary cap rises from $92 million next season to about $108 million for 2017-18. And with 10 years vested by then, he gets a higher percentage of the cap of 35% rather than 30%.

And then he can make his final decision concurrent with his star teammates, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka who become free agents in 2017, too.

RELATED: PROS AND CONS OF WIZARDS TARGETING FREE AGENT NICOLAS BATUM

The Thunder, a team known for lacking poise down the stretch even under first-year coach Billy Donovan, have the NBA stunned. They've flipped the script on a team that was being compared favorably to the 72-win Chicago Bulls under Michael Jordan.

Now the Thunder might warrant such comparisons with how they're dominating the NBA playoffs. It's not clear why it took so long for them to figure it out but they have -- finally. My observations:

  • Switching. It isn't a sign of weakness. Doing it successfully in today's game is a sign of strength and a team with athleticism, length and good defensive instincts can neutralize small ball lineups. Durant, noted as just a scorer and a great one at that, is showing multiple efforts, finally putting his 7-5 wingspan to use. Donovan has his team switching everything to cover the shooters for Golden State, taking away three-point looks and layups at the rim. In one fascinating sequence in Game 4, Durant defended Steph Curry up high and tipped a pass to the wing. Curry moved off the ball and ran him through a screen, so Durant switched onto Shaun Livingston. Westbrook was undersized on the low block defending Draymond Green, so Durant peeled off Livingston to provide helpside at the rim and forced Green to pass to the opposite block to Livingston for a point-blank look at the rim. But Durant was a step ahead of that play, darting across the lane and blocking his shot to get the loose ball that initated a transition play for Oklahoma City. 
  • The key to winning a championship isn't small ball. It's being able to play small when necessary and big. The Thunder have a unique advantage over everyone in that they can do both simultaneously. Ibaka is 6-10, can jump out of the building and has three-point range. He's too quick for Andrew Bogut and too superior athletically for Green. Durant is 6-10 with a ridiculous wingspan. Steven Adams, who was interviewed by the Wizards during 2013 predraft camp in Chicago, is a 7-foot defensive gem who cleans up everyone's mess in the paint. 
  • It's not clear whether Donovan is a genius or if he just stumbled onto this idea in the postseason, similar to the questions raised about then-Wizards coach Randy Wittman when he finally opted to go with Paul Pierce as the "stretch" four in the 2015 playoffs after rarely deploying it during the regular season. Moving Ibaka to center and Durant at the four spot seems like a no-brainer. It has caught the Warriors off-guard, just the way Wittman's move confused the Toronto Raptors en route to a sweep. 
  • Back in 2012, when the Thunder lost in their only NBA Finals appearance to the Miami Heat in five games, then-coach Scott Brooks (now Wizards coach) stubbornly refused to pull Kendrick Perkins off the floor. For the record, I picked the Thunder to win that series in six games because of the Ibaka factor. As he'd showed in dominanting Pau Gasol when they beat the L.A. Lakers, Ibaka is a versatile big who can play multiple positions and was a better matchup vs. the Heat's Chris Bosh played in the middle. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went with Bosh as his starting center after a Game 1 loss. Brooks stuck with Perkins, an immobile, traditional big who was very good at setting screens but that was about it. The Heat won the next four games.
  • Curry is the two-time MVP, but Westbrook is the better overall player. No, this isn't a flop. Westbrook has long been underappreciated and overly criticized for being himself -- a big, physical, super-athletic point guard who had to learn the position coming out of college. It took a while. While he's not the three-point shooter that Curry is, Westbrook's hustle and defensive abilities are what separate him from other top players at his position. Sure, he'll take some ill-advised shots and have some turnovers that'll be head-scratching. That's OK. Now the Thunder have five players on the court at all times that play with his motor in bigger bodies. Golden State and the Spurs have broken opponents down with their pressure offense, repeated ball movment and actions that wear down the defense. The Thunder are using pressure offense and defense to demoralize opponents. There's no team left in the playoffs -- not even the Cleveland Cavaliers -- that has an answer for this.

MORE WIZARDS: WHEN IS THE 2016 NBA DRAFT DEADLINE?