Phil Mickelson sends a text from the fairway

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Phil Mickelson sends a text from the fairway

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) -- The biggest distraction Jack Nicklaus ever faced on the golf course was from a helicopter. It's an old story, but Nicklaus chuckled while recalling the time he lost his concentration when a chopper flew over Cherry Hills in the 1960 U.S. Open and he three-putted for bogey. Two years later, Nicklaus had gone three rounds without a three-putt in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont when a helicopter approached as he played the first hole of the final round. "I reverted and thought right back about it," Nicklaus said over the weekend. "It was the only three-putt I had in the whole tournament." The issue at Memorial was cellphones, which contributed to Phil Mickelson withdrawing after an opening round of 79. Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler mentioned the vast number of fans taking pictures with their phones, to the point players had to back off their shots. Mickelson is not afraid to send a message to the tour -- in this case, literally. According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand. Mickelson withdrawing for what he called "mental fatigue" is not a tour violation. Players can withdraw for any reason after completing a round. Using a phone to send the commissioner a text is another matter, though the tour doesn't disclose any disciplinary actions. If nothing else, one official said it got the tour's attention. Mickelson doesn't mind taking criticism, even for pulling out of Nicklaus' tournament. He skipped the Tour Championship during a debate over the length of the PGA Tour season and decided not to play a FedEx Cup playoff event in the inaugural year to protest the inequity of the pro-am policy. Those close to the tournament host said Nicklaus wasn't bothered by Mickelson's decision to leave and never brought it up. Last year, the tour began allowing fans to bring phones to the tournament so long as photos weren't taken during competition. There are designated areas to make calls. That's not going to stop fans from taking pictures, and most annoying are the people who don't switch the phones to silent. Banning the policy isn't an option. The tour is moving forward in the digital age with programs to enhance the gallery's experience. Plus, the increase in attendance has been tangible this year. Nowadays, if fans can't bring their phones, they're more likely not to come at all. The solution is to add security or volunteers to the two or three marquee pairings, and to take away phones from fans caught taking pictures (giving them a claim check to retrieve the phone at the end of the day). That's what happened on Friday, and there were no big incidents the rest of the way.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. losing patience, wants Redskins to sign Kirk Cousins now

Dale Earnhardt Jr. losing patience, wants Redskins to sign Kirk Cousins now

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in Daytona Beach, Florida, ahead of this year's Daytona 500. But he's got Redskins football on his mind. 

Specifically, he's focused on how the team has handled the situation with Kirk Cousins – or not handled it, as he might argue. 

Washington could offer Cousins a long-term contract extension, franchise tag him or let him walk this offseason. But the NASCAR great has already made up his mind. He wants the team to sign Cousins for the long-haul. 

Here's what Earnhardt Jr. told For The Win's Michelle Martinelli:

Quarterbacks don’t grow on trees. You’re taking such a huge risk in the draft trying to acquire one. You look at the talented quarterbacks in the NFL and where they were drafted – not all of them were first-round picks, so it’s not about trying to get the college star. We’ve got a guy that knows the system and that has done extremely well – set franchise records, broke his own franchise record last year [in total passing yards]. Sign the damn quarterback up. Sign him up. I’m tired of waiting. Don’t even franchise tag him this season. Get him signed up.

That argument echoes how many Redskins fans feel about the situation. Solid quarterbacks are hard to find and Cousins has proven he's one of them. He's earned a long-term deal, so give it to him. 

Junior also shares most Washington fans' distaste for Tony Romo. In the event Romo becomes available, Earnhardt Jr. wants to make sure the team doesn't get any ideas about bringing him in as a short-term replacement for Cousins. 

“That would be awful,” he said. “Tony Romo’s a Cowboy, and I don’t think I would feel comfortable as a Redskins fan with him as the quarterback.”

We'll see soon enough if the folks in Ashburn take Junior's advice. 

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Zach Sanford is making the most of his opportunity on the third line

Zach Sanford is making the most of his opportunity on the third line

Zach Sanford's first 20 NHL games were fairly unremarkable. The rookie forward did well to earn a spot in the lineup, but as time went on and the points were not coming, it was clear Sanford needed time in the AHL. Now he's back and he's making the most of his opportunity.

With Andre Burakovsky out of the lineup with a hand injury, that left an opportunity for a young prospect to earn some NHL playing time. Jakub Vrana, the Caps' 2014 first-round draft pick, seemed the obvious choice as his scoring acumen and similar playing style seemed well suited for the third line. Sanford, however, was already with the Caps when Burakovsky suffered the injury. The recall was more of a reward for good play in Hershey and Sanford was not expected to get into the lineup, but with only one game left before the bye week, he got the first crack at the third line.

Three games later, Sanford still has not relinquished that position.

"I think this past weekend was couple [sic] of my better games of the year I've played with the Caps," Sanford said.

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Sanford scored his first NHL goal, the game-winner against the Anaheim Ducks, in Washington's last game before the bye. He was then sent back down to the AHL for the week. When the team returned to action, both Sanford and Vrana were recalled and it looked as if both players would compete for Burakovsky's spot on the third line. Sanford, however, won the competition before it could ever really start.

Sanford played in the Caps' fist game back on Saturday in Detroit and scored again. In his first 20 games in the NHL, Sanford had only one point to show for it, an assist. In his last three games, he has two goals. As a reslut, Vrana was reassigned to Hershey without getting into the lineup and Sanford now appears entrenched as Burakovsky's replacement.

The most encouraging sign for the Caps is not just that Sanford is playing well, it's that his addition to the third line has been relatively seamless. The combination of Burakovsky with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly had established itself as a dynamic line for Washington before the injury. The fact that it has not taken a step back with Burakovsky's absence speaks to just how well Sanford has played.

"It's a good opportunity for me with Burky coming out to step in and take advantage of it," Sanford said. "It's been easy to jump in on that line in his spot. They've been playing great, they just haven't slowed down. They've kind of helped me take advantage of that and put a couple in with some nice plays. That's been great for me."

Sanford's play of late reflects a remarkable level of development from the timid player we saw at the start of the season. Sanford looked overly cautious at times in his first tour with the Caps, leading to almost no production. With nothing to show for his efforts, Sanford's confidence began to drop which led to even more timid play. Sanford credits his time in the AHL for giving him the confidence he needed to succeed at the NHL level.

"A lot of that is from Hershey," he said. "Just being down there and getting the ice time and the touches and getting some points and making plays is huge for my confidence. It definitely shows when I got back up here, I feel a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident with the puck."

That's exactly the attitude head coach Barry Trotz wanted to see from Sanford.

"As I said to him, just go for it," Trotz said after practice on Tuesday. "You've got an opportunity, just go for it and you know what a good decision is and a bad decision. He's got really good hockey sense. He's a very grounded young man. He understands the big picture, he understands the smaller stuff. I think he just was playing a little safe and now he's just playing."

While there's never a good time for a team to suffer an injury, Burakovsky's injury did allow the Caps to get a better idea of just how much Sanford could contribute to the lineup down the stretch. With the trade deadline just a week away, general manager Brian MacLellan has to decide whether or not to bolster the team's lineup for what the Caps hope will be a lengthy playoff run. The longer the playoffs go, the more likely it is that the team may need to call upon its depth.

MacLellan has stated the plan for the team was to carry Sanford and Vrana as the 13th and 14th forwards. While three games is a relatively small sample size, that's a plan MacLellan may feel more comfortable with now given how Sanford has thrived on the third line.

Said Trotz, "[Sanford] looks like he is going to take this opportunity and not be passive about it, not be safe." And that's exactly what the team was hoping for.

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