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Attention shifts back to golf at Torrey

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Attention shifts back to golf at Torrey

SAN DIEGO (AP) The chatter and speculation hasn't stopped since the players arrived at Torrey Pines earlier in the week for the Farmers Insurance Open. The focus of such a busy week is sure to shift to another topic on Thursday.

Yes, there's a golf tournament to be played.

Tiger Woods is back on the course that has brought him seven titles as a pro, hoping to get a good idea where his game is headed this year. It's the first time he has played Torrey Pines when his game and his health were in reasonably good shape since that Monday playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Brandt Snedeker returns as the defending champion. So does Kyle Stanley, who served up the win to Snedeker last year when he made triple bogey on the final hole to lose his three-shot lead, and then lost in a playoff.

Phil Mickelson is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the first of his three PGA Tour wins at Torrey Pines, his home course on tour. He tees off Thursday on the North Course, which he has been hired to redesign.

It was easy to overlook all this for the three days leading up to the opening round. Credit that to Mickelson suggesting he might have to leave California because of the hit he's taking in federal and state tax increases on close to $50 million he brought in last year. Or players leaving a mandatory meeting just as quietly as they entered to learn about the proposed rule that affects long putters.

Or even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggesting that bifurcation - two sets of rules - might work in some areas of golf, even though he doesn't think that would apply to anchored putting. On that issue, he said the tour prefers to follow whatever rules the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club make.

Now for the golf.

The Farmers Insurance Open is the first PGA Tour event of the year on network television, the week the NFL takes off to get ready for the Super Bowl, and it offers magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean below the bluffs. And it usually serves up an interesting finish, though last year will be tough to top.

Stanley overpowered the South Course to build a three-shot lead, and then made the smart play by laying up short of the water on the par-5 closing hole. And that's where it all went wrong. His wedge spun off the green and into the water. He went well behind the flag on his next shot, lagged his putt down to just outside 3 feet and then missed that for an 8 to get into a playoff. Two holes later, Snedeker was posing with the trophy and Stanley was in tears.

``It's still pretty crazy when you look at the number of events that had to happen for me to get into a playoff, and then to get in the playoffs and win,'' Snedeker said. ``I obviously didn't want Kyle to have to go through that, but I had a great benefit from it, and I appreciate the fact that he did do that for me. And I hope I never return the favor, but you never know in this game. You might.''

Snedeker feels a connection to Torrey Pines. As a rookie, it looked as though he might shoot a 59 on the North Course. He was 10 under through 10 holes until he had to settle for a 61 that tied the course record. That was in 2007, and by the end of the week, Woods wound up the winner again. It was his seventh straight PGA Tour win, a streak that ended at his next tournament.

With so much buzz over tax rates and belly putters, Woods has been able to get around in relative peace. He at least arrived with a little more sleep, considering he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week and left two days earlier than he planned.

He has lived in Florida from the moment he turned pro, though Torrey Pines can feel like home.

``I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt,'' Woods said. ``There are few courses that are like that where I've had my share of success, either I've won or been in contention to win. This, Firestone, Augusta. I just feel comfortable on those venues, and I feel like my record over those three courses has been pretty good.''

Woods and Mickelson, always the top attraction at Torrey Pines, will be on different sides of the golf course the opening two rounds. Woods will be playing with Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney, who have their own connections to this public course along the Pacific.

Fowler grew up not too far away and made his U.S. Open debut at age 19 at Torrey Pines, where he made the cut and tied for 60th.

``It's one of my favorite courses,'' Fowler said. ``It's got the length. I like the small greens. I grew up on poa annua greens, and some guys don't like poa annua. I do. Obviously, there's some decent views. But it's just a great piece of property, being close to home. It's a special place for me.''

Woods won four straight years at Torrey Pines through 2008, a streak that ended when he didn't play while recovering from knee surgery. Watney won that year.

Fowler hasn't played with Woods since the Memorial last year, when they were paired in the final round. Woods got him by 17 shots that day - he closed with a 67 to win, while Fowler staggered home to an 84.

``I was just on the sidelines watching,'' Fowler said with a smile. ``I enjoy playing with Tiger. There is some extra energy out there. There are a lot of fans involved, and a lot of people moving around. So between Nick and I, we'll make for about 5 percent of the crowd out there. Tiger will take up the rest.''

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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