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Brian Gay wins Humana Challenge playoff

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Brian Gay wins Humana Challenge playoff

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Scott Stallings' chip on the par-5 sixth skidded and released instead of checking up, leading to a lost-shot par.

He missed a 2-footer on the next hole for his first bogey in four days in the Humana Challenge, then watched a short birdie try catch the edge and stay out on the eighth.

A few holes later, the five-stroke lead he took into the final round was long gone. And a few hours later, Brian Gay was holding the big trophy after an unexpected playoff.

``You're going to have your good days and your bad days, but if you live and die with every shot out there, your career is not going to last very long,'' Stallings said.

The two-time PGA Tour winner saved par on the par-5 14th after driving into the All-American Canal on the right side, but dropped a stroke on the par-4 16th when his 4-iron tee shot went farther than he expected and ended up in the lip of a left fairway bunker.

``I flushed it and it went right up in the lip,'' he said. ``I didn't really have a play.''

On the par-5 18th, needing birdie to win and par to get into a playoff, Stallings hit a perfect 315-yard drive to set up a 6-iron approach from 220 yards.

He took a big divot and watched helplessly as the ball landed in the left rough, rattled around the rocks and tumbled into the water. He still had a chance to get in the playoff after a penalty drop, but left himself 10 feet after a chip and missed the par putt.

``There wasn't any nerves or anything like that going into it,'' Stallings said. ``Just hit a bad shot. Same thing that happened on 14. .. Coming down the stretch on the 72nd hole, you can't make mistakes like that. It stinks, but it's something that I'll definitely learn from.''

He finished with a 2-under 70 to miss the playoff by a stroke.

Gay took advantage of a chance he didn't expect to win his fourth PGA Tour title, finding the extra distance off the tee he has longed for without sacrificing control.

Gay cracked a 300-yard drive down the middle to set up a birdie on the first playoff hole, then split the fairway with a 297-yarder and made another birdie to hold off Charles Howell III with the sun setting behind the Santa Rosa Mountains.

``I'm still in a little bit of shock,'' Gay said. ``It kind of happened so fast there at the end the way things went down. Last year was a struggle. It was a long year, a lot of work. I just wanted to come out this year kind of refocused, recharged, and believing in myself.''

Gay won on the par-4 10th, putting his 9-iron second shot 5 1/2 feet below the hole. Howell drove into the right rough, hit into the back bunker, blasted out to 15 feet and two-putted for bogey and his 14th runner-up finish.

The 41-year-old Gay, hardly an imposing figure at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, worked hard last year with Grant Waite and Joe Mayo to increase his driving distance.

``My whole game's been about accuracy and short game,'' Gay said. ``I've always been a short hitter on the tour and I felt like as I was getting older I'm only going to get shorter and shorter. ... It was tough last year trying to play making those changes.''

Gay closed with a 63 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course to match Howell and Swedish rookie David Lingmerth at 25-under 263. Howell shot a 64, and Lingmerth had a 62.

Lingmerth dropped out on the first extra hole - the 18th - after hitting his approach into the left-side water and making a bogey.

Howell tied for second a week after opening the season with a third-place tie in Hawaii at the Sony Open. He won the last of his two tour titles in 2007.

``Anybody that says that golf is fun or whatever, has really not done it for a living,'' Howell said. ``I would never characterize this as fun. It's different than that. It's awfully challenging mentally.''

Gay began the round six strokes behind Stallings.

``The thoughts were, `Just be aggressive, shoot as low as you can,''' Gay said.

After birdieing nine of the first 13 holes, Gay closed with five straight pars. On 18, he hit into the right greenside rough, chipped past the hole and missed an 8-foot birdie try.

``I was happy to be in the playoff,'' Gay said.

Given a second chance, he outlasted Howell for his first victory since the 2009 St. Jude Classic. Gay also won the 2008 Mayakoba Golf Classic and 2009 Verizon Heritage.

Playing in the second-to-last group, Howell had a chance to pull ahead on the final hole of regulation, but left his approach about 85 feet short and three-putted for par. His 5-foot birdie attempt veered left inches from the hole.

``Going into the day, I didn't really think that anybody had a chance apart from Scott,'' Howell said. ``He's won before, he hits it long enough to take advantage of the par 5s. At 22 under, I figured if he shoots 6, 7 under, he's really not catchable. So, then to have a chance there in regulation, that's where I really would like that one back, that three-putt.''

Making his second career PGA Tour start, Lingmerth hit his 4-iron approach left into the water in the playoff. He had an awkward stance with the ball above his feet.

``I didn't feel that comfortable over it, obviously,'' Lingmerth said.

Phil Mickelson had a 66 to tie for 37th at 17 under in his season debut.

``I was rusty starting the year,'' Mickelson said. ``I had a great four days here where I can work on my game with perfect weather and wonderful golf courses, where I could build some momentum. Heading into San Diego, I feel a lot more confident.''

DIVOTS: James Hahn eagled the 18th for a 62 to tie for fourth with Stallings. ... Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner last week in his first start as a PGA Tour member, tied for 56th at 15 under after a 69.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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Clarifying the confusion about the Redskins' Week 16 game at the Titans

Clarifying the confusion about the Redskins' Week 16 game at the Titans

There was some confusion about the Redskins’ Week 16 game in Tennessee when the NFL schedule dropped. The schedule pushed out by the Redskins said that the game date and time are to be determined. Other versions that went out, including the one on NFL.com, says the game will be on Sunday, December 23 at 1 p.m.

So what’s the story? Well, if you’re thinking of making reservations to go to Nashville to watch the game you just might want to hold off for a while. Like, until early November. 

In an under the radar move, the NFL has established flex scheduling for its late-season Saturday games. Here are the details from the schedule press release from Redskins PR:

“Flexibility for Saturday games in Weeks 15 and 16 is also part of the 2018 schedule. In Week 15, there will be two games played on Saturday on NFL Network, with the game times of 4:30 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. to be determined. In Week 16, two of four possible matchups will be scheduled for Saturday. Start times and Saturday games for Week 15 and 16 will be announced no later than following Week 8, with the non-Saturday games to be played on Sunday.”

The way it sets up, if the Redskins and Titans are playing well in midseason there is a good chance the game will be played on Saturday, December 22 at either 4:30 or 8:20. If one or both teams are struggling, the league and networks could choose to flex two of the other four matchups to Saturday. 

This is taking flex scheduling to a different level. It’s one thing shifting a Sunday kickoff seven and a half hours from 1 p.m. to 8:30. It’s another to shift a whole day. The visiting teams can’t make travel arrangements, not knowing if they need to come into town on Friday for a Saturday game or on Saturday for Sunday. Fans who want to travel to the game are in the same boat. 

Of course, if you can afford it, you can just add a day to your Nashville excursion. There are worse things in the world than spending an extra day or two in Music City. 

If you have to wait to make your plans, as the Redskins do, you will find out no later than October 29, which is when Week 8 ends. 

Do you believe in trends? Then you should hope that the game does get flexed to Saturday. The Redskins have won three straight Saturday games, beating the Eagles in both 2014 and 2015 (the latter game clinching the division title for Washington) and the Bears in 2016. 

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