'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.

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Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

Nationals fall to Padres as four starters sit on the bench

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Schimpf hit a two-run homer and the San Diego Padres broke out the bats, beating the Washington Nationals 5-3 Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.

The Padres had only one run and six hits with 31 strikeouts in back-to-back losses in games started by Washington's Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to begin the series. San Diego bounced back by matching its season high with 14 hits, with 12 coming off starter Joe Ross (2-1).

NL home run leader Bryce Harper was among four starters out of the lineup for Washington. The game was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes by rain.

RELATED: HARPER AMONG 4 NATS' STARTERS OUT VS. PADRES SUNDAY

Four relievers, including Kirby Yates (1-0), pitched 4 2-3 hitless innings following starter Jhoulys Chacin's latest bumpy road appearance. Brandon Maurer worked the ninth for his sixth save.

Chase d'Arnaud had a two-run single and double for the Padres. Franchy Cordero singled in the third for his first major league hit and later doubled.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals. All three entered as pinch hitters, but were retired. Washington opens a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Adam Lind drove in two runs. His RBI double in the fifth off Chacin pulled Washington closer at 5-3.

Chacin surrendered three runs on eight hits in 4 2-3 innings. He also had two singles and an RBI.

Ross, who allowed five in four innings plus three batters in the fifth, certainly had two tough acts to follow. Strasburg struck out a career-high 15 in Saturday's 3-0 win after Scherzer fanned 13 in Friday's 5-1 series-opening victory.

San Diego doubled the amount it scored in consecutive losses after just four batters. Following a two-out walk to Wil Myers, Schimpf hit his 13th homer of the season and second in the series.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Padres: RHP Carter Capps (Tommy John surgery) remains on track to face hitters this week, manager Andy Green said.

Nationals: Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

UP NEXT

Padres: RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 4.50 ERA) faces the Cubs at home on Monday.

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (4-2, 4.32) opens a three-game road series against Giants LHP Matt Moore (2-5, 5.28)

More Nationals: NATIONALS PLAYERS VISIT LOCAL LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAMS

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Astros hand Orioles 7th straight loss

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USA Today Sports

Astros hand Orioles 7th straight loss

HOUSTON -- George Springer homered during a six-run second inning, sending Lance McCullers and the Houston Astros over Baltimore 8-4 Sunday for the Orioles' season-worst seventh straight loss.

Springer connected for the second straight game, helping the Astros overcome a 3-0 deficit against Alec Asher (1-3).

McCullers (6-1) allowed five hits and three runs -- two earned -- in six innings. He struck out eight in his fourth straight win.

McCullers' streak of 22 scoreless innings ended when Schoop hit a two-run homer in the first.

Schoop drove in three runs and Mark Trumbo added a solo homer for the Orioles, who have been outscored 38-17 during their skid.

Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double with one out in the Houston second inning and scored on a double by Yuli Gurriel to tie it at 3.

Springer for his 11th homer with two outs. Asher watched the ball sail over him and put his hands on his knees and shook his head as Springer rounded the bases.

Josh Reddick followed with a triple and scored on a single by Jose Altuve to push the lead to 6-3. Asher finally got the third out when Carlos Correa hit a grounder in his second at-bat of the inning.

Asher gave up six hits in two innings in his first start since replacing struggling right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez in the rotation. Jimenez, who had a 7.17 ERA in nine games entering Sunday, allowed five hits and two runs in six innings after Asher's early exit.

Up 2-0, the Orioles the bases with one out in the second on a single by Hyun Soo Kim and two errors. Schoop's single with two outs pushed the lead to 3-0 before McCullers retired Manny Machado to limit the damage.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: CF Adam Jones was out of the lineup for a second straight game because of a sore hip. But manager Buck Showalter said he was feeling better and that he expects him to return on Monday.

Astros: Put RHP Charlie Morton on the 10-day disabled list with a strained muscle in the right side of his back and manager A.J. Hinch said there is no timetable for his return. Mike Fiers, who was moved into the bullpen on Saturday in favor of Brad Peacock, will return to the rotation to make Morton's scheduled start on Tuesday at Minnesota.

UP NEXT

Orioles: Dylan Bundy (5-3, 2.92 ERA) is scheduled to start for Baltimore on Monday in the opener of a series against the Yankees. He allowed six hits and two runs in seven innings of a 2-0 loss to the Twins in his last start.

Astros: Brad Peacock (2-0, 0.87) will make his second start of the season on Monday when Houston opens a three-game series at Minnesota. Peacock allowed one hit and no runs while striking out eight in 4 1/3 innings of his last start when he filled in when Dallas Keuchel missed one start with a pinched nerve in his neck.