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Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

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Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Tiger Woods on the tee wearing an American flag instead of a swoosh. Steve Williams right there with him, standing guard over a bag. It might look like any of the previous 44 times they were together in a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Far from it. The feature match in the opening session Thursday at Royal Melbourne took on qualities of a sideshow when captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman allowed Woods to be placed opposite his jilted caddie in the Presidents Cup. "I think it's great for the tournament," Norman said. "It needed to be done." The most compelling matches of any cup competition usually don't happen until Sunday singles. And they're usually about two players with clubs in their hands, not a guy who is carrying the bag. On paper, the sixth and final foursomes match will be Woods and Steve Stricker, a tandem that went undefeated two years ago, against K.J. Choi and Adam Scott, the popular Australian who hired Williams after he was fired by Woods this summer. The firing alone is not enough to make a Woods-Williams reunion the least bit interesting. Caddies get fired all the time, even those who have been at the side of a player who won 72 times and 13 majors in their 12 years together. It's the soap opera that led to so much speculation until the pairings were announced Wednesday. They disputed publicly whether the firing was done over the phone or face-to-face. Williams gave one of more incredible TV interviews after Scott won the Bridgestone Invitational, calling it "the best win of my life." And then came the Shanghai surprise. Williams was getting roasted at a caddies award dinner two weeks ago when he was asked about his TV interview at Firestone. "My aim was to shove it up that black a------." Amid accusations of racism, Williams apologized. Scott said that was enough for him not to discipline his caddie, and so did golf executives. Woods accepted the apology last week, and bailed out his old caddie by saying Williams was not a racist. He said they ran into each other in the gym in Sydney and shook hands. But it remained such a topic that both captains felt it was best to get it out of the way. Couples and Norman said the pairing was not planned, though that rang hollow. In the Presidents Cup, captains take turns filling out the lineup for every match, so both captains had ample opportunity to make sure Woods was not in the same match as Scott. The last chance fell to Couples. Norman put K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang in the fifth match. Couples inserted Hunter Mahan and David Toms. That left only one team available for the sixth match, and U.S. assistant captain Jay Haas broke up the room when he said, "Who's left?" At the opening ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Couples said of the opening session, "You're going to see six great matches." Yet it was the one match that grabbed everyone's attention. Williams has taken such a public beating since Shanghai that he likely will think of nothing but wind direction, yardage, hole location and helping Scott pick the right club. Woods doesn't like to bring much attention to anything but his golf, either. Any fireworks would be a surprise, and everyone involved -- Woods, Williams and even Scott -- are ready to move on. "I'm sure Freddie and I -- everybody -- we want to put this behind us," Norman said. "It's a dead issue as far as we're concerned. There's no animosity between any of the players. I know it's good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it's dead and gone. And we would like to keep that way going forward." Even so, it became a talking point once the pairings were announced. "That's going to be interesting, isn't it?" Robert Allenby said. "I think there will be a lot of media out there." "You can kind of see it coming, with what's been going on recently," Nick Watney said. "I think it's great. I think it will definitely add some drama to the matches, and I know that they will both be ready. So it should be a good match." Woods might have other things to worry about, anyway. He now has gone two full years without a win anywhere in the world, though he comes to Royal Melbourne having finished alone in third at the Australian Open -- his best finish against a full field since he last won down the street at Kingston Heath. This is his first cup when he had to rely on a captain's pick. In the days leading up to the matches, no one looked at him that way. He's still Tiger Woods. "Pre-tournament fashion, Tiger never really shows a lot of stress, whether it be as an individual or whether as a teammate," Jim Furyk said. "It's not that he looks nonchalant, but he never looks flustered. Even he's playing poorly, he doesn't look flustered." In the middle of this mess is Scott, who has said that it's up to Woods and Williams to sort out their friendship, or lack of one. Scott grew up in Queensland, though his primary home is now Switzerland. How fitting. Norman said he at least talked to Scott ahead of time, along with his two assistants. And while the Shark said this was not premeditated, it sure sounded as though he had a master plan. "If we had to defuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn't you rather have it sooner than later?" Norman said. "Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met." "Adam and Tiger are good friends," Norman said. "It's got nothing to do with Adam and Tiger, and at the end of the day, the atmosphere that will exist walking to the first tee will be exactly the same if none of this took place in the past week."

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”