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Beljan takes lead at Disney despite heart issues

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Beljan takes lead at Disney despite heart issues

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Charlie Beljan thought he was only fighting for his PGA Tour card in the final event at Disney.

As he struggled to take a breath over five frightening hours on Friday, with paramedics following him along the back nine when they were alarmed by his blood pressure, there were times when Beljan wondered if he was fighting for something far more important.

``He kept saying he thought he was going to die,'' caddie Rick Adcox said.

Beljan, a 28-year-old tour rookie, knew something was wrong on the practice range when he got ready for his second round, and he asked his caddie to find a doctor. Heading over to the Palm Course, he ripped a long iron onto the green at the par-5 opening hole and when Adcox handed him his putter, Beljan told him he didn't feel good.

``He got up there and made the eagle and still said he didn't feel good,'' Adcox said. ``It's been not good all day. The score was good.''

Considering the circumstances, the score was remarkable.

Despite straining to take a breath, kneeling with his head bowed before it was his turn to putt, even sitting down in the fairway to rest, Beljan made two eagles on his way to an 8-under 64 that gave him a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

Now it's a matter of Beljan playing the final two rounds, critical to his career because he is No. 139 on the money list. Only the top 125 have full status for the following season, and Beljan likely would need to finish around 10th.

A surreal, sometimes scary afternoon across the Magic Kingdom ended with Beljan making a superb pitch to save par for his 64, going into a hotel room to sign his card and then leaving on a stretcher that wheeled him to an ambulance parked not far from the 18th green.

His agent sent a text message to the PGA Tour from Celebration Hospital that Beljan was waiting on tests, feeling better and hopeful of being released Friday night. The agent, Andy Dawson, said even if Beljan stayed overnight, he still planned to play the third round on Saturday.

The tour said Beljan complained of an elevated heart rate, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Adcox said Beljan told him of numbness in his arms and he felt like he was going to faint.

``I thought they were going to stop him on 10 when they told him what the blood pressure was,'' Adcox said. ``He just said, `I'm going to keep going until either I pass out or they take me off.' I kept saying, `It doesn't matter to me. It's only a golf tournament. You've got many more.'''

The struggle was painfully clear the way Beljan constantly stooped over with his hands on his knees, backed off shots and tried to take deep breaths. That he wound up in the lead at 12-under 132 was simply amazing.

``It was bizarre,'' said Edward Loar, who played with Beljan. ``I don't know if he thought he was going to make it. It sure didn't affect his golf. I heard him call for a paramedic on No. 9. Before the round, he said he was having a hard time breathing. Hopefully, the guy was all right. He was having a hard time breathing in there.''

Beljan had a three-shot lead over seven players, including Henrik Stenson, Harris English, Charles Howell III and first-round leader Charlie Wi. He likely would need to finish in about 10th place to move into the top 125 and keep a job for next year - assuming he can even play.

Golf didn't seem to be a big priority at Disney, and there were concerns Beljan would even finish his round.

``I thought a lot of times he was going to stop,'' Adcox said. ``I didn't even think he was going to start. He asked me to go find a doctor at the beginning, and I did. The paramedics ... were on No. 10 waiting on him. Blood pressure wasn't good then. For him to go on, that was pretty much his decision.

When he did get over a shot, the outcome generally was superb.

``He hit four of the best iron shots I've seen on the par 5s,'' Loar said. ``It was awesome to watch.''

The caddie said they didn't pay attention to the score Beljan was putting together, and because they were playing on the Palm Course that doesn't have many leaderboards, they didn't even know Beljan was in the lead until the round was over.

They simply started a countdown - one more hole, one more shot.

``Not feeling good,'' Beljan said into a camera after finishing the 15th hole. ``Three more holes.''

Beljan had two eagles and played the par 5s in 6 under. He struggled to finish, picking up a bogey on the 17th and missing the green to the right on the 18th. Facing a difficult chip, made even tougher that he looked wobbly over the ball, he hit a beautiful shot to 4 feet to save par.

The final two rounds move to the tougher Magnolia Course, which effectively feels like the final stage of Q-school for some of the players. Matt Jones and Mark Anderson, in that group at 9-under 135, can avoid going to the second stage of Q-school. Wi needs a win to have any hope of getting into the Masters. English is going for his first win.

Rod Pampling will have to sweat out his future at home in Dallas for the second straight year. He is No. 124 on the money list, made bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes and missed the cut by one shot. All that helps Pampling is that Billy Mayfair, who is No. 125 on the money list, also missed the cut, as did Gary Christian at No. 127.

Kevin Chappell was at No. 123, but he put together another solid round and suddenly is only four shots out of the lead. His card would appear to be safe.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS LOADED CLASS

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

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Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."