'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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Wizards' Otto Porter on his sudden rise: 'I saw this coming a long time ago'

Wizards' Otto Porter on his sudden rise: 'I saw this coming a long time ago'

PHILADELPHIA -- Otto Porter wasn't present when president Ernie Grunfeld spoke to CSNmidatlantic.com about his affinity for his small forward and his intentions to keep him with the Wizards for "a long time," meaning not letting him leave in free agency. 

But when told Friday exactly what was said, the soon-to-be restricted free agent predictably shrugged his shoulders. 

"I'm going to continue to do what I've been doing. Continue to work. Everything works itself out," said Porter, who is shooting an NBA-high 46.5% from three-point range, to CSN.

At one time it was debatable how the 2013 No. 3 pick would be worth on the open market. Not anymore as he has flourished under coach Scott Brooks and has elevated his standing in the league. 

Teams have been interested in Porter like never before at the trade deadline that expired yesterday. But that never was an option for Grunfeld who shed Andrew Nicholson's salary, in part, to put the Wizards in better position to retain him this summer.

"My faith and my belief in continuing to work, anything is possible," Porter said of his rise as one of the league's most improved players. "A lot of people are surprised. To me it's like, 'Hey I saw this coming a long time ago.'"

MORE WIZARDS: NBA Power Rankings: Post trade deadline outlook

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Wizards eager to see Bojan Bogdanovic's debut after 1st practice

Wizards eager to see Bojan Bogdanovic's debut after 1st practice

PHILADELPHIA -- The debut of Bojan Bogdanovic, even though he only has gone through a brief shootaround, is expected to come tonight for the Wizards in their first game post-All-Star break against the Sixers.

"It's just shootaround. I just played with the second unit, just to be ready if they put me in," Bogdanovic said after a 30-minute session Friday morning at Wells Fargo Center.

Coach Scott Brooks said the forward would be active though the other acqusition from Wednesday's trade with the Brooklyn Nets, Chris McCullough, would be inactive though he's with the team.

It was the first time his teammates got a chance to get a feel of  Bogdanovic on the court. He wasn't able to go through a full practice Thursday because all the pieces in the trade hadn't been medically cleared.

"I like his size. I love his body. He can play multiple positions," said Bradley  Beal. "He has a good, natural flow of the game. He was able to pick up the plays pretty well, and the defensive concepts pretty well, too. ... We just want him to be aggressive. He's an aggressive scorer.

"The way we space the floor he'll have the opportunity to knock down some easy ones and be able to create, too. I'm excited. I'm happy for him. I think our bench is solidified now."

If the Wizards can put away the Sixers early, it could mean more minutes for Bogdanovic. Brooks might be able to experiment with different lineups such as three forwards to go with his two star guards in John Wall and Beal.

"We definitely can use him," said Otto Porter, the NBA's top three-point shooter at 46.5%. "This will be another weapon. It's going to be exciting to have him out there with us."

MORE WIZARDS: NBA Power Rankings: Post trade deadline outlook