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9 questions for golf's 2013 season

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9 questions for golf's 2013 season

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) Even without the top four players in the world around to kick off the season, every new year in golf is shrouded in mystery like clouds over Molokai across the channel from Kapalua.

Among the most pressing question: What will Bubba Watson serve for dinner at the Masters?

``When you show up for dinner on Tuesday night, that's when you'll find out,'' Watson said.

One problem. The press isn't invited.

``That's what I mean,'' Watson said.

With a wink and a smile, he walked over to the first tee and smashed the first of what figures to be several 400-yard tee shots. There were 67 tee shots that went at least 400 yards last year on the PGA Tour, and 41 of them were on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

There are more serious issues going into 2013. What follows is the front nine of what to look for in the new season.

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1. EUROPEAN CAPTAIN: The biggest news in Abu Dhabi later this month won't necessarily be the first showdown between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. This is where the European Tour traditionally selects its Ryder Cup captain, and the choice became a little more complicated when the Americans went back in time by picking Tom Watson.

Watson is beloved in Scotland, site of the 2014 matches. Does that mean Europe needs to answer with a larger-than-life figure for its captain? That has led to suggestions Colin Montgomerie would return as captain, though Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley were said to be next in line. Clarke would seem a better fit when the matches return to America at Hazeltine in 2016, though McGinley might be dwarfed by Watson's presence.

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2. RORY AND THE SWOOSH: Players changing equipment companies is nothing new. It's different when that player is No. 1 in the world. Nike is not likely to announce its deal with McIlroy until he starts his season in Abu Dhabi, and that's when the scrutiny begins.

McIlroy gives Nike another world-class athlete in its stable. But whatever recognition his clubs receive might be akin to an offensive lineman who gets his name called only when there's a penalty. Remember, McIlroy is known to have a bad patch of two. Even last year, when he won five times and swept all the major awards, he missed four cuts in five starts in the summer. When he plays poorly, critics will blame the equipment. And when he plays great, well, he's Rory McIlroy.

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3. SHORT SEASON: The PGA Tour season might feel more like a sprint than a marathon this year. The season, in effect, ends with the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 18, the cutoff for qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs. And once the playoffs end at the Tour Championship, the 2013-14 season starts in October.

That might mean more players competing more often, which could put the squeeze on Q-school and Web.com Tour graduates by limiting the number of tournaments they can play to try to qualify for the playoffs. The motto always has been, ``Play better.'' A tweak might be in order this year. ``Play better, now.''

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4. ANCHORS AWAY: The R&A and USGA announced late last year that anchored strokes used for the belly putter and long putter will be banned starting in 2016. The question is whether the PGA Tour, which has the right to set its own rules, will enact the new rule much sooner.

There already is evidence of a stigma attached to those who anchor their putters - Keegan Bradley said a fan called him a cheater at the World Challenge last month - and it might be in the best interest of the tour to make the change quickly. But when? At the end of the FedEx Cup, meaning a player can use a belly putter in September but not October? At the start of 2013, meaning the rule would change in the middle of a season?

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5. MASTERS INVITATIONS: For the last six years, the Masters has been awarding invitations to winners of PGA Tour events that offer full FedEx Cup points. The Fall Series didn't count, nor did the events opposite a major or World Golf Championship.

One problem. Starting later this year, there is no Fall Series. When the tour goes to the wraparound season, there will be an additional six tournaments that under the previous policy would award the winner a spot in the Masters.

The concern for Augusta National is keeping a small field - it has not had more than 100 players since 1966. The question is whether the tour's change will mean an end to tournament winners driving down Magnolia Lane.

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6. ALL-MALE CLUBS: Just because Augusta National now has two women in green jackets doesn't mean the debate over all-male clubs is going away. If anything, it might be more intense than ever when the British Open returns to Muirfield. There are no female members in the ``Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers,'' nor are there any female members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

That received cursory criticism over the years, though most of the scrutiny was on the Masters. Now that the British Open is the only major played in which the host club has no women on their membership rolls, R&A chief Peter Dawson might have some explaining to do. If he's not too busy talking about changes to the Old Course.

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7. DISTANCE DEBATE: Those concerned that distance is ruining the game and making golf courses obsolete might appreciate a prediction in Golf Illustrated magazine that if the ``carrying power of golf balls is to be still further increased all our golf courses will be irretrievably ruined as a test of the game.''

That was in 1910, and the game has been evolving since.

The R&A and USGA have leaned on their ``Joint Statement of Principles'' in 2002 when it comes to distance. Even so, Dawson sounded an ominous tone while announcing the ban on anchored strokes.

``We haven't shelved distance. It's very much on the radar,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. ``Anchored strokes are separate. Just because we're doing one doesn't mean we have taken our eye off the other.''

Stay tuned.

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8. MINORS VS. MAJORS: With the PGA Tour starting a new season in October, the only way to earn a card will be through a series of four tournaments called ``The Finals'' that will include the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and the next 75 players from the PGA Tour who fail to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Privately, the brass at PGA Tour headquarters is curious to see how the Web.com Tour players will fare against the second-tier PGA Tour players who faced stiffer competition and tougher golf courses all year.

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9. TIGER: Woods and Jack Nicklaus were talking about rivalries a decade ago when Nicklaus told him it was important to always be part of the conversation. That's never been a problem for Woods. Even with McIlroy assuming the role of golf's No. 1 player, Woods is part of every conversation in golf.

The only difference is the context.

Can he end a four-year drought in the majors? Can he get back to No. 1? Will he ever dominate as he once did?

The new season should provide some answers.

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5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

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Associated Press

5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

The Washington Wizards signed point guard Ramon Sessions to a 10-day free agent contract on Thursday. Here are five things to know about the newest Wizards player...

**Sessions has played for Washington before. He was acquired by the Wizards at the trade deadline in 2015 and played out the 2014-15 season, appearing in 28 regular season games and 10 more in the playoffs. Sessions then spent the whole 2015-16 season with the team before leaving the following summer to sign a free agent deal with the Charlotte Hornets. In 1 1/2 seasons with the Wizards, Sessions averaged 9.2 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. He shot 46 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three.

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**Sessions played one season for the Hornets and spent part of this year with the New York Knicks. The Knicks waived Sessions on Jan. 13. Over the past two seasons in Charlotte and New York, Sessions has averaged 5.7 points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds while shooting 37 percent.

**This is Sessions' 11th NBA season. In addition to the Wizards, Hornets and Knicks, he has spent time with the Bucks, Cavs, Lakers and Kings. He began his career in Milwaukee after getting selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.

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**Sessions went to the University of Nevada from 2004 through 2007 and left an impressive legacy as one of the best players in the program's history. The school's practice facility is, in fact, named after Sessions. It is called the 'Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center' and Sessions donated $1 million towards construction costs.

**Sessions overlapped with former Wizards player JaVale McGee at Nevada. Sessions was in his final season as a junior when McGee was a freshman. The Wolfpack were quite good that year. They peaked at No. 10 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

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2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

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USA Today Sports Images

2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

The 2018 bubble watch has been relatively subdued with the plethora of upsets throughout the latter half of the college basketball season. At the same time, teams that are providing these upsets have slowly worked themselves from being a question mark at the bubble to now solidly in the tournament (ie. Virginia Tech).

Of the major conferences, the Big Ten is up in the air on how the end of February/ beginning of March will play out. Remember, to host their tournament in Madison Square Garden, the conference elected to move it a week earlier than the rest of the power leagues. Will it affect how many teams they have in the big dance? Right now they have four teams in but two more are hovering at the bubble.

READ MORE: BRACKETOLOGY ROUND-UP, RIGHT NOW SYRACUSE IS IN

Aside from the Big Ten, several other teams are striding the line. Many of which have done so all season long. 

Of the teams listed, they are battling for roughly 10 spots in the field of 68.

All rankings and records are as of Thursday, Feb. 22 at 12:00 pm

Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 32     BPI: 43      KenPom: 43    SOS: 12
Could Trae Young’s Oklahoma actually miss the NCAA Tournament? Yes. The Sooners have dropped six straight games and nine of their last 11. Yes, they have racked up the most high-quality wins in the country, but they are in a tailspin. They have beaten Kansas, TCU twice, Texas Tech, and Wichita State, but some of their losses are bad and they are piling up. Of their final three regular season games, two are against bubble teams that are desperate for a respectable win. If they lose out and then don’t make it past the first round of the Big 12 tournament, they are 16-15 (6-12).

St. Mary’s (CA) (25-4, 14-2 WCC)
RPI: 29     BPI: 20      KenPom: 22     SOS: 137
Early season losses to Georgia and Washington State are not as okay as they appeared back in non-conference play. Added to it was their surprising loss to San Francisco has now put the Gaels falling down the slide. Its hard to imagine though a 25-4 team not making the tournament.

Kansas State (20-8, 9-6 Big 12)
RPI: 55      BPI: 47     KenPom: 46     SOS: 73
The Kansas State Wildcats are your typical bubble team. They have beaten everyone in the Big 12 aside from the ranked teams.  They have some good wins but lack a high quality or ‘Quadrant 1’ victory. Their win over Texas on Feb. 21 give them a head-to-head over another team attempting to steal a bubble spot.

Providence (17-11, 8-7 Big East)
RPI: 37     BPI: 72      KenPom: 69     SOS: 20
Being in the Big East will always give a team a strong SOS, but the Providence Friars have lost to teams they should not have. While they have impressive wins over Xavier and Villanova at home, they have a DePaul loss at home that counters one of those wins. Their looming contest against Xavier has now developed into a must-win on Feb. 28.

NC State (19-9, 9-6 ACC)
RPI: 57     BPI: 51      KenPom: 50     SOS: 61
A team that has benefited from a strong conference has been the Wolfpack from NC State. Out of the ACC, NC State had a horrid schedule and even dropped games against Northern Iowa and UNC Greensboro.  However, they have made up for that with some of the most impressive wins in the ACC. They beat Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina on the road to climb back to the bubble watch.

Baylor (17-11, 7-8 Big 12)
RPI: 59     BPI: 37      KenPom: 36     SOS: 23
Beating Kansas and Texas Tech at home are really the only reasons the Baylor Bears are in consideration at the bubble. But, they are in the deepest conference in college basketball this season, which gives them a ton of decent wins that they can add to their resume. The Bears realistically have to win out to get into the dance.

St. Bonaventure (21-6, 11-4 A10)
RPI: 25     BPI:  58     KenPom: 68     SOS: 91
As a borderline bubble team, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have followed that with a nine-game winning streak and a crucial victory over Rhode Island. As long as the Bonnies take care of their own business and make no worse than the semis in the A10 Tournament, they should be good. Guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley are overdue for a tournament berth.

READ ALSO: AP POLL SHAKES UP THE TOP 10

Syracuse (18-10, 7-8 ACC)
RPI: 46     BPI: 52      KenPom: 51     SOS: 22
A month and a half ago, the Syracuse Orange had no business being in the bubble conversation. Still, their four best wins are over Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and then Buffalo. They have some work to do in their final three weeks.

Louisville (18-10, 8-7 ACC)
RPI: 52     BPI: 35      KenPom: 37     SOS: 29
The Louisville Cardinals are in a worse spot than Syracuse, they only have one would be ‘Quadrant 1’ win at Florida State from nearly two months ago. With all the drama surrounding this program through the entire 2017-18 season, you have to give it to David Padgett for keeping them in the race.

USC (20-9, 11-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 36     BPI: 50      KenPom: 52     SOS: 49
The Pac-12 could be in extreme trouble. If USC does not make the push into the NCAA Tournament, there will only be two teams from that conference dancing. With an interesting resume, there is not much that jumps off the Trojans record. Then again, there isn’t much that takes away from it either.

UCLA (19-8, 10-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 47     BPI: 60      KenPom: 54     SOS: 66
Their win over Arizona solidified their claim to the bubble. Win-out situation upcoming for the Bruins who have been hurt by a weak Pac-12.

Texas (16-12, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 54     BPI:  39     KenPom: 41     SOS: 16
The Longhorns have such a good schedule. They’ve played all of their games close, but few close games against high-quality teams have translated to wins.

Marquette (16-11, 7-8 Big East)
RPI: 58     BPI: 45      KenPom: 48     SOS: 18
The Golden Eagles were sitting pretty until a four-game losing streak and a loss to St. John’s took them out of the conference race. Not much room for error with Marquette as they move closer to Selection Sunday.

Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 Big Ten)
RPI: 60     BPI: 61      KenPom: 57     SOS: 101
A win against Michigan and a six-game winning streak in the Big Ten has the Cornhuskers alive despite a sub-.500 SOS. They still need a Big Ten tournament upset to get in.

Washington  (18-9, 8-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 48     BPI: 109   KenPom: 95     SOS: 37
The only reason the Washington Huskies are in this conversation is because they beat Arizona and Arizona State back-to-back.

Utah (17-9. 9-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 49     BPI: 70      KenPom: 60     SOS: 65
Another bubble team that hasn’t done much. They’ve won the games they should have and only have snagged an upset on Arizona State.

Other teams:

Florida (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
RPI: 64     BPI: 34      KenPom: 29     SOS: 39

Georgia (15-12, 6-9 SEC)
RPI: 70     BPI: 84      KenPom: 71     SOS: 48

LSU (16-11, 7-8 SEC)
RPI: 74     BPI: 64      KenPom: 63     SOS: 47

Temple (15-12, 7-8 AAC)
RPI: 44     BPI: 83      KenPom: 85     SOS: 9

 

Games to Watch This Week:

UCLA at Utah 2/22 – 9:00 pm (ESPN)

Baylor at TCU 2/24 – 12:00 pm (ESPN2)

LSU at Georgia 2/24 – 2:00 pm (ESPNU)

Louisville at Virginia Tech 2/24 pm – 1:00 pm (CBS)

Syracuse at Duke 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN)

Kansas State at Oklahoma 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN2)

No. 12 Auburn vs. Florida 2/24 – 8:30 pm (SECN)

Penn State at Nebraska 2/25 – 5:15 pm (BTN)

NC State at Florida State 2/25 – 6:00 pm (ESPNU)

Oklahoma at Baylor 2/27 – 9:00 pm (ESPN2)

Davidson at St. Bonaventure 2/27 – 9:00 pm (CBSSN)

Providence at No. 4 Xavier 2/28 – 6:30 pm (FS1)