Bulls

Rory McIlroy holds off Tiger to win Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy holds off Tiger to win Honda Classic

From Comcast SportsNet
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Rory McIlroy, the new No. 1 player in golf, is not easily rattled. He didn't see a scoreboard in the final round of the Honda Classic until he walked onto the eighth green, looked at the large video screen to his left and saw that Tiger Woods -- who started the day nine shots behind -- already was tied for fourth, four shots behind. McIlroy buried a 10-foot putt for his first birdie of the day. The pressure of trying to win and reach No. 1 in the world didn't really hit him until he was lining up a putt on the 13th green at PGA National, his concentration shattered by a cheer that could be heard a mile away from the 18th green. It was so loud that McIlroy not only knew what it was for -- an eagle on the 18th green -- but who it was for. Tiger Woods. "I wasn't really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18," McIlroy said. "I heard the huge roar. And it definitely wasn't a birdie roar. That's when I knew that he probably got to 10." That would be 10-under par for Woods, courtesy of a 62, his lowest score ever in a final round in his 15 years on tour. The birdie-eagle finish, just like the Tiger Woods of old, pulled him within one shot of the lead. McIlroy still faced the scariest stretch of golf at PGA National, with water in play on every shot over the last four holes. What followed was a clutch performance worthy of the new No. 1. McIlroy made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th to restore a two-shot cushion. Standing some 65 feet away, in grass so deep he could barely see the golf ball, he gouged out a wedge to 4 feet for a par he badly needed to keep momentum. On the two par 3s over the water, Nos. 15 and 17, he splashed out of a bunker toward the water and saved par both times. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland finally played it safe at the end, making par on the last hole for a 1-under 69 that was meaningful in so many ways. It made him the 16th player to be No. 1 in the world, and the second-youngest behind Woods, who was 21 when he first reached No. 1 after the 1997 U.S. Open. It was his fifth career win, three of those on the PGA Tour, which includes his record-setting performance last year at Congressional to win the U.S. Open, and a 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow. And he won despite Woods, that red shirt brighter than it has been in two years, posting a score that McIlroy didn't think possible in such blustery conditions Sunday. Lee Westwood, whom McIlroy beat in the semifinals of the Match Play Championship a week earlier in Arizona, closed with a 63. Even in such strong company, this day belonged to golf's new No. 1. "It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it," McIlroy said. "But I didn't know what I would be able to get here this quickly. ... Hopefully, I can hold onto it for a little longer." However long, it sets the tone for a big year in golf -- especially with the Masters a month away. Even in defeat, Woods showed that he is hitting the ball well enough not to be counted out at any time. His 62, which featured two eagles in the final round, was nearly nine shots better than the average score Sunday. "It feels good, because I felt like I was close," Woods said after the 28th runner-up finish of his PGA Tour career, and his best result since he was second at the 2009 Tour championship. "I've been close to shooting this score, or scores like this. And it was just a matter of time before things all fell into place." Tom Gillis birdied the last hole for a 69 and tied Woods for second. Westwood was alone in fourth. The 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th was a big moment for Woods. The eagle on the final moment was a shot under pressure that had not been seen in some time. With a 5-iron from 216 yards, he aimed at a tunnel beneath the grandstand and ripped it, the ball clearing a bunker and settling 8 feet away. "It was a lot of fun out there," Graeme McDowell said. "It was just roars going up all over the golf course. For Rory to go out today with a two-shot lead and have Tiger shoot 62 on him and Westwood shoot 63, it just shows how hard it is to win golf tournaments on any tour in the world, but especially this tour. "This golf season just got a lot more spicy." But it starts with McIlroy, who had been building to this occasion when he would replace Luke Donald at No. 1. Since injuring himself at the PGA Championship trying to hit a 7-iron with a tree root in his way, McIlroy had finished out of the top five only once in 12 tournaments he played. He won the Hong Kong Open, along with an unofficial event against a limited, world-class field at the Shanghai Masters. He was runner-up at the Dunhill Links in Scotland, the Korean Open, the Abu Dhabi Championship and the Match Play. And he won the Honda Classic, finishing at 12-under 268, with two former No. 1 players making a move. "It was a lot more meaningful," McIlroy said. "I think the way I won today was great. I missed a few greens coming in. I was able to get up-and-down. I made a couple of big par saves early, which kept my momentum. It was just one of those days. There was a 62 and a 63 out there, which is unbelievable playing. "I just needed to focus on my game and do what I needed to do," he said. "And thankfully, that's what happened." He hugged his father on the 18th green, posed with the crystal trophy and flashed a No. 1 sign. Before long, he was off to New York to spend a few days with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, before going to Miami for a World Golf Championship. It will be his first tournament as No. 1, a spot that McIlroy intends to keep as long as he can. "There's very few players as good at him at his age out there winning tournaments," three-time major champion Padraig Harrington said. "There are guys with potential, but he's already delivered. And he has a good balance in his life. He doesn't look like a guy who is going to burn out. He looks like he's going to be here for a while."

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA playoffs are finally here for all of boys basketball as regionals begin this week in the Class 3A and 4A. Since Class 2A only has one team in the top 25, defending champion Orr, most of the focus on the Power Rankings falls on teams in the Class 3A and 4A fields. 

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- The heavy favorites in Class 4A, the Wolverines start the playoffs against Hubbard or Reavis before potentially facing Sandburg or Crete-Monee for a regional title.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- The Spartans won a regional in Class 2A as they move on to play Uplift in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday. The Titans might be the toughest team Orr faces in its quest to repeat as 2A champions. 

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The No. 1 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional of Class 4A, the Condors could face York or Riverside-Brookfield for a regional title as that could be a tough matchup. 

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- The defending Class 4A champions are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could face St. Joseph or St. Ignatius for a regional title next week. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) -- The Mustangs will try to repeat in Class 3A as they might face Vocational or Perspectives/Leadership for a regional title. Now that Ayo Dosunmu is healthy and back, Morgan Park should be the favorites once again.

6. Fenwick (19-7, 8-0) (6) -- Catholic League champion Fenwick is up in Class 4A this year as they're a No. 4 seed in a loaded Riverside-Brookfield Sectional. The Friars might have a showdown with Proviso East for a regional title if both teams win earlier in the week. 

7. Evanston (21-5, 8-2) (8) -- The Loaded Maine East Sectional will be tough but Evanston is the No. 1 seed. The Wildkits could have a tough regional title game ahead of them as Maine West and Notre Dame are both capable of making it a close game.

8. Oak Park-River Forest (22-5, 12-0) (9) -- Knocking off Hinsdale South for the West Suburban crown, the Huskies have a lot of positive momentum entering the Class 4A playoffs. OPRF is the No. 3 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could play Lincoln Park for a regional title.

9. Benet (23-4, 8-1) (10) -- With a 14-game winning streak entering the playoffs, the Redwings are red hot. Benet is the No. 2 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional in Class 4A as they could match up with Naperville Central or Glenbard West for a regional title. 

10. West Aurora (21-4, 10-0) (11) -- Winners of 13 straight, West Aurora is the No. 2 seed in the Romeoville Sectional. The Blackhawks could face Andrew or Plainfield North for a regional title at Plainfield South. 

11. Marist (24-4, 7-2) (12) -- An impressive 24-win season has Marist as the No. 2 seed in the Thornton Sectional as they host a Class 4A regional. The RedHawks might play Thornwood or Bloom to win that regional on Friday night. 

12. Niles North (24-4, 6-4) (13) -- The Vikings took down New Trier to pick up a great win right before the loaded Maine East Sectional in Class 4A. Niles North, a No. 3 seed, might have to face ESCC champion St. Viator for a regional title, which would be one of the most-anticipated matchups in Class 4A. 

13. New Trier (22-5, 8-2) (7) -- Dropping two games during the week, New Trier is limping into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Maine East Sectional. It won't get any easier for the Trevians as they might face Mid-Suburban champion Prospect for a regional title.

14. Naperville North (24-2, 15-1) (15) -- The top seed in the Glenbard East Sectional, Naperville North hosts its own regional in Class 4A. The Huskies might play Geneva or Downers North for a regional title. 

15. DePaul Prep (21-6, 5-3) (16) -- The No. 1 seed in the North Chicago Sectional, DePaul Prep hosts its own regional in Class 3A. The Rams could face Foreman or Sullivan for a regional title as DePaul Prep has a winnable sectional. 

16. Loyola (22-6, 5-3) (17) -- Loyola is the No. 4 seed in the Maine East Sectional. The Ramblers could have a tough regional final against host and No. 5 seed Maine South as that would make for a great matchup.

17. Marian Catholic (20-5, 5-4) (14) -- A No. 1 seed in the Pontiac Sectional of Class 3A, the Spartans will be one of the teams to watch in that field. Marian Catholic could potentially take on Thornridge or Rich Central for a regional title during the week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (18) -- The Hawks are a No. 2 seed in the Pontiac Sectional in Class 3A as they try to make another deep run in March. Hillcrest could face Rich East or Oak Forest for a regional title.

19. Homewood-Flossmoor (19-6, 9-1) (20) -- The Vikings had some close wins during the week preparing for the Class 4A field. Homewood-Flossmoor could play Oak Lawn for a regional title at T.F. South this week. 

20. St. Viator (23-5, 9-0) (22) -- The unbeaten champs in the ESCC, the Lions are on a six-game winning streak. A No. 6 seed in the Maine East Sectional, St. Viator could have a major test against Niles North for a Class 4A regional title. 

21. Bolingbrook (19-6, 7-3) (23) -- Top seed in the Romeoville Sectional, the Raiders have been a major threat in the postseason the past few years. Bolingbrook might play Lemont or Plainfield East for a regional title.

22. Maine South (21-7, 6-4) (24) -- The Hawks have the recent win over Niles North as they're the No. 5 seed in the Maine East Sectional. As the host in the regional, Maine South could get a home game against No. 4 seed Loyola.

23. Hinsdale South (20-6, 10-2) (21) -- Hinsdale South dropped a close one to OPRF right before the postseason. The Hornets might face Willowbrook for a regional title as the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional as the two teams split the season series. 

24. Willowbrook (23-5, 9-3) (25) -- The Warriors had an outstanding season as they are in the tough Glenbard East Sectional. A No. 5 seed, Willowbrook could face Hinsdale South for a regional title, which could be the best title game of the entire week. 

25. Jacobs (24-3, 16-0) (NR) -- Winners of the Fox Valley for the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles are on a roll as they're a No. 2 seed in the Jacobs Sectional in Class 4A. If Jacobs gets senior Ryan Phillips back from hand injury they could be dangerous.