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Tiger gets first win on PGA Tour since '09

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Tiger gets first win on PGA Tour since '09

From Comcast SportsNet
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Tiger Woods hit so many great shots that he couldn't single one out as the best. Winning was as sweet as ever, even after a PGA Tour drought that stretched over 923 days and 27 tournaments. The best part about posing with the trophy at Bay Hill? The conversation was back on golf, his favorite subject. Just two weeks ago, Woods gingerly climbed into a golf cart and was taken off the golf course at Doral with soreness and swelling in his left Achilles tendon, the same injury that caused him to miss three months and two majors last year. On Sunday, no one questioned his health. Woods marched to a five-shot victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational that restored his confidence and gave him momentum going into the Masters two weeks away. "This was coming," Woods said. "I've been close a number of times, basically since Australia. Just had to stay the course." Only a month ago, there were concerns that Woods could no longer make the important putts. He had missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the last hole to lose in the second round at the Match Play Championship. He missed several putts just as close when he crashed out in the final round at Pebble Beach. But there he was at Bay Hill, knocking in two big par putts on the back nine to keep his distance from Graeme McDowell. "I just never got close to him," McDowell said. And then there's the book by his ex-swing coach, Hank Haney. "The Big Miss," which goes on sale Tuesday, has been such a sore spot with Woods that he lost his cool with a reporter earlier this month. The book reveals a driven player who is self-centered and rarely satisfied, no big surprise except that it was a side of Woods he tried to keep private for all these years. Woods added a chapter to his own book Sunday. He won for the 72nd time on the PGA Tour -- one short of Jack Nicklaus in second place on the career list -- and 84th time worldwide. It was the 16th time he won by at least five shots, and his seventh win at Bay Hill tied the PGA Tour for most wins on a single golf course. Woods owns both marks. He also has won seven times at Firestone. "I think he really just kind of nailed home his comeback," McDowell said. "Great to have a front-row seat watching maybe the greatest of all time doing what he does best -- winning golf tournaments." The only thing missing was the host himself. Palmer's blood pressure increased during the final round from new medications, and he was taken to the hospital about 15 minutes before the tournament ended as a precaution. Alaistair Johnston, vice chairman at IMG and his longtime business manager, said Palmer would be kept overnight. "Nobody is overly concerned," he said. Woods goes to No. 6 in the world, returning to the top 10 for the first time since May 22. "Heading home now and I can't stop smiling. Thanks to Otown fans and everyone watching for all the love. Get well soon, Arnie," Woods tweeted about three hours after his win. On a Bay Hill course that was crisp, fast and dangerous, Woods ran off four birdies on the front nine to build a four-shot lead, then kept his mistakes to a minimum for a 2-under 70. He quickly stretched his lead to three shots on the opening hole when McDowell, who closed with a 74, caught a buried lie in the bunker and made double bogey. After that, it was vintage Woods. From 267 yards away in the fairway on the par-5 sixth, Woods hit a 3-iron that climbed over the water and landed softly to just over 15 feet away to secure a birdie. Two holes later, facing a tight pin over the water, he ripped an 8-iron from 182 yards that barely cleared the bank and caught a slope to within 4 feet for birdie. The lead was four at the turn, and McDowell never got closer than three the rest of the way. Ian Poulter had a 74 and finished alone in third, and while he never looked behind him to see what Woods was doing, he could hear it. This is a win that will resonate. "He's always a force to be reckoned with when he's not playing his best golf," Poulter said. "And obviously, he's playing a lot of good golf right now. The shots he's hit, just looking at the highlights, he's got a lot of his game back. And when he starts rolling putts in, he's dangerous. So he's going to be a force for everybody at Augusta." Woods finished at 13-under 275. It was the first time Woods had won on the PGA Tour since Sept. 13, 2009, at the BMW Championship. His last win against a full field had been Nov. 15, 2009, at the Australian Masters. Twelve days later, Woods drove into a fire hydrant outside his home, and it wasn't long before revelations of multiple extramarital affairs that led to divorce and cost him an impeccable marketing image. Woods has won back the support of fans who love to see great golf, though corporate support has been lagging. Woods downplayed the significance of Sunday, pointing out on more than one occasion that he considers it his second win since the scandal. He counts the Chevron World Challenge last December, when he went birdie-birdie to beat an 18-man field of top-50 players. But this was significant -- a PGA Tour event with a full field, and a strong field at that. And with a performance so clean that he was never seriously challenged on the back nine. "I've gotten better, and that's the main thing," Woods said. "I've been close for a number of tournaments now. And it was just a matter of staying the course and staying patient, keeping working on fine-tuning what we're doing. And here we are." So where does he go? Next up is the Masters, which looms larger than ever. Woods figures to be a big favorite, along with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, all of whom have won in the first three months of the season. "I've won here on a few occasions going into Augusta, which has always been a good feeling," Woods said. "I still have got some work to do, but I'm excited about the things that we have accomplished. It's been very good." It felt better than that on the 18th hole, when the familiar red shirt was accompanied by a smile that had not been seen in some time at the end of a tournament.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.