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He's back: Tiger birdies 17, 18 to win Chevron

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He's back: Tiger birdies 17, 18 to win Chevron

From Comcast SportsNet
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)The birdie putt on the final hole to win. The sweeping fist pump. The red shirt.

It all looked so familiar Sunday afternoon in the Chevron World Challenge, where Tiger Woods ended a drought that once would have seemed inconceivable. He went 749 days and 26 tournaments without winning as he tried to repair his image, his personal life and a golf game that used to be the best in the world.

When the final birdie putt from 6 feet disappeared into the cup, Woods swept his arm across the air, yelled through the din of the gallery and slammed his fist in a celebration that was a long time coming.

He birdied the last two holes for a 3-under 69 and won against an 18-man field at Sherwood Country Club. It was a two-man race against former Masters champion Zach Johnson over the final hour. Even so, winning is all that ever mattered to Woodsnow perhaps more than ever before.

Any different? Woods asked about his win. It feels great. Kind of hard for me to elaborate beyond that. I know its been awhile, but for some reason, it feels like it hasnt. As far as making the putt and the feeling afterward, I think I was screaming something. But it was just that I won the golf tournament. I pulled it off with one down, two to go.

To go birdie-birdie is as good as it gets.

The last time Woods won was Nov. 15, 2009, at the Australian Masters for his 82nd title worldwide, and his seventh win that year, back when winning at least looked routine for him. Twelve days later, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home, and stunning revelations of extramarital affairs soon emerged. It cost him his impeccable image, his marriage and four major sponsors.

He has added three sponsors in the last five months. He showed signs of coming back with nine solid rounds in the wind in Australia, finishing third at the Australian Open and delivering the clinching point for the Americans in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

It wasnt clear if Woods was elated or relieved, whether he felt satisfied or vindicated.

It didnt really matter to him.

It just feels awesome, whatever it is, he said.

A two-shot lead on the back nine had turned into a one-shot deficit as Woods faced a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. He thought Johnsons birdie putt was going in until it stayed just high of the hole. Woods adjusted his line ever so slightly and drained the putt to pull even going to the 18th.

From 158 yards in the middle of the fairway, Woods hit 9-iron that landed on the slope and rolled down to easy birdie range.

If this win felt different than the last one, Woods wasnt saying.

They all feel good, he said. Theyre not easy. People dont realize how hard it is to win golf tournaments. Ive gone on streaks where Ive won golf tournaments in a row, but still I dont think Ive taken it for granted. And I know because of how hard it is.

Johnson had done just about everything right on the back ninea tough birdie putt on the 13th to tie for the lead, a spectacular pitch from the putting surface, over a ridge to 4 feet to escape with par, and a 12-foot birdie on the 16th to take the lead.

He had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th that never had a chance, and stood to the side watching a familiar sightWoods making clutch shots at the end of a tournament to win.

If the man is healthy, thats paramount, Johnson said. I mean, hes the most experienced and the best player Ive ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win.

Although those situations have been rare of late, Woods looked as if he had not forgotten how to win. The only other times he has been in contention this year were the Masters and the Australian Open.

I felt normal, felt very comfortable, Woods said. Ive been here so many times that, you know, I just feel very comfortable being here in this position. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Always nervous in that position. But its a comfortable feeling, and I enjoy being in that position. For some reason, its kind of a comfort to be in there with a chance to win.

Woods won the Chevron World Challenge, which he hosts for his foundation, for the fifth time. He finished at 10-under 278 and donated the 1.2 million to his foundation.

The win moved him from No. 52 to No. 21 in the world ranking, and likely will send expectations soaring for 2012. Woods will not play again until starting next season in Abu Dhabi at the end of January.

There were similar expectations last year, even though Woods blew a four-shot lead in the final round at Sherwood and lost in a playoff to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. Woods said that was more smoke and mirrors. He only had one shot back then, and took the lead because he made a bunch of putts.

Is there reason for expectations now?

I think theres always expectations, Woods said. So be it.

Johnson closed with a 71 and took home 650,000 for the holidays. Paul Casey, who opened with a 79, had his third straight round in the 60s to finish alone in third at 5 under.

Tiger can have a long career, Casey said when he finished. We might look back in another 10 years and actually forget about the last couple of years.

These last two years are starting to feel like a blur for Woods, this year in particular. He never looked as low as he did when he hobbled off the TPC Sawgrass, withdrawing from The Players Championship after a 42 on the front nine because of leg injuries that ultimately kept him out of competition for three months, including two majors.

Then he missed the cut at the PGA Championship and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

But his peers noticed a difference about the way his game was coming together in Australia, and it appears to be going in only one direction as Woods headed home to Florida.

Last year I played with him here the first round and I thought, Wow, this guy is back, Steve Stricker said. You could tell this time around, hes got even more confidence, more game. He feels even better about the direction hes headed.

Woods tournament has been a good stepping stone for others over the years. The most recent example was Jim Furyk, who won in 2009 and then had his first three-win season the next year and captured the FedEx Cup.

No one ever imagined Woods needing a boost, but that might be the case.

I dont think were going to see another 2011, if that makes sense, Furyk said, alluding to Woods failing to reach the FedEx Cup playoffs this year. If he steadily progresses, keeps getting confidence and moving forward, hes going to return and be one of the best players in the game again.THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP)The birdie putt on the final hole to win. The sweeping fist pump. The red shirt.

It all looked so familiar Sunday afternoon in the Chevron World Challenge, where Tiger Woods ended a drought that once would have seemed inconceivable. He went 749 days and 26 tournaments without winning as he tried to repair his image, his personal life and a golf game that used to be the best in the world.

When the final birdie putt from 6 feet disappeared into the cup, Woods swept his arm across the air, yelled through the din of the gallery and slammed his fist in a celebration that was a long time coming.

He birdied the last two holes for a 3-under 69 and won against an 18-man field at Sherwood Country Club. It was a two-man race against former Masters champion Zach Johnson over the final hour. Even so, winning is all that ever mattered to Woodsnow perhaps more than ever before.

Any different? Woods asked about his win. It feels great. Kind of hard for me to elaborate beyond that. I know its been awhile, but for some reason, it feels like it hasnt. As far as making the putt and the feeling afterward, I think I was screaming something. But it was just that I won the golf tournament. I pulled it off with one down, two to go.

To go birdie-birdie is as good as it gets.

The last time Woods won was Nov. 15, 2009, at the Australian Masters for his 82nd title worldwide, and his seventh win that year, back when winning at least looked routine for him. Twelve days later, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home, and stunning revelations of extramarital affairs soon emerged. It cost him his impeccable image, his marriage and four major sponsors.

He has added three sponsors in the last five months. He showed signs of coming back with nine solid rounds in the wind in Australia, finishing third at the Australian Open and delivering the clinching point for the Americans in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

It wasnt clear if Woods was elated or relieved, whether he felt satisfied or vindicated.

It didnt really matter to him.

It just feels awesome, whatever it is, he said.

A two-shot lead on the back nine had turned into a one-shot deficit as Woods faced a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. He thought Johnsons birdie putt was going in until it stayed just high of the hole. Woods adjusted his line ever so slightly and drained the putt to pull even going to the 18th.

From 158 yards in the middle of the fairway, Woods hit 9-iron that landed on the slope and rolled down to easy birdie range.

If this win felt different than the last one, Woods wasnt saying.

They all feel good, he said. Theyre not easy. People dont realize how hard it is to win golf tournaments. Ive gone on streaks where Ive won golf tournaments in a row, but still I dont think Ive taken it for granted. And I know because of how hard it is.

Johnson had done just about everything right on the back ninea tough birdie putt on the 13th to tie for the lead, a spectacular pitch from the putting surface, over a ridge to 4 feet to escape with par, and a 12-foot birdie on the 16th to take the lead.

He had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th that never had a chance, and stood to the side watching a familiar sightWoods making clutch shots at the end of a tournament to win.

If the man is healthy, thats paramount, Johnson said. I mean, hes the most experienced and the best player Ive ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win.

Although those situations have been rare of late, Woods looked as if he had not forgotten how to win. The only other times he has been in contention this year were the Masters and the Australian Open.

I felt normal, felt very comfortable, Woods said. Ive been here so many times that, you know, I just feel very comfortable being here in this position. Was I nervous? Absolutely. Always nervous in that position. But its a comfortable feeling, and I enjoy being in that position. For some reason, its kind of a comfort to be in there with a chance to win.

Woods won the Chevron World Challenge, which he hosts for his foundation, for the fifth time. He finished at 10-under 278 and donated the 1.2 million to his foundation.

The win moved him from No. 52 to No. 21 in the world ranking, and likely will send expectations soaring for 2012. Woods will not play again until starting next season in Abu Dhabi at the end of January.

There were similar expectations last year, even though Woods blew a four-shot lead in the final round at Sherwood and lost in a playoff to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. Woods said that was more smoke and mirrors. He only had one shot back then, and took the lead because he made a bunch of putts.

Is there reason for expectations now?

I think theres always expectations, Woods said. So be it.

Johnson closed with a 71 and took home 650,000 for the holidays. Paul Casey, who opened with a 79, had his third straight round in the 60s to finish alone in third at 5 under.

Tiger can have a long career, Casey said when he finished. We might look back in another 10 years and actually forget about the last couple of years.

These last two years are starting to feel like a blur for Woods, this year in particular. He never looked as low as he did when he hobbled off the TPC Sawgrass, withdrawing from The Players Championship after a 42 on the front nine because of leg injuries that ultimately kept him out of competition for three months, including two majors.

Then he missed the cut at the PGA Championship and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

But his peers noticed a difference about the way his game was coming together in Australia, and it appears to be going in only one direction as Woods headed home to Florida.

Last year I played with him here the first round and I thought, Wow, this guy is back, Steve Stricker said. You could tell this time around, hes got even more confidence, more game. He feels even better about the direction hes headed.

Woods tournament has been a good stepping stone for others over the years. The most recent example was Jim Furyk, who won in 2009 and then had his first three-win season the next year and captured the FedEx Cup.

No one ever imagined Woods needing a boost, but that might be the case.

I dont think were going to see another 2011, if that makes sense, Furyk said, alluding to Woods failing to reach the FedEx Cup playoffs this year. If he steadily progresses, keeps getting confidence and moving forward, hes going to return and be one of the best players in the game again.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.