Rookies rule the day at Sony Open


Rookies rule the day at Sony Open

HONOLULU (AP) The rookie debut of Scott Langley in the Sony Open made him feel like he was back in college again.

Langley spent the final two hours of the opening round exchanging birdies and battling for the lead with Russell Henley. They were low amateurs in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and immediately afterward they sat together on a plane for a long flight to Northern Ireland to play in the Palmer Cup. They've been close friends ever since.

Joining them on Thursday at Waialae was Luke Guthrie, a highly touted rookie who was Langley's roommate at Illinois.

This was the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season, and the rookies stole the show.

``It was fun to be able to break the ice on all our careers playing with friends,'' Langley said.

Langley did more than break the ice. Despite a few jangled nerves at the start, he made it around without a bogey, holed 192 feet worth of putts and opened with an 8-under 62. He hit a delicate flop shot over the corner of a bunker on the par-5 18th hole to 6 feet for one last birdie, giving him a one-shot lead over Henley, who settled for par.

Only when they were walking toward the 16th green did it begin to sink in how far they had come in one year. They gazed at the sun falling toward the Pacific horizon, the swaying palm trees on both sides of the green and the gentle surf. And to think just last year they were at a Hooters Tour event.

``He had just missed the cut, I barely made the cut, we were on the range trying to help each other find it,'' Langley said. ``We were just walking up 16. You could see the ocean behind, PGA Tour signs everywhere. We looked at each other and realized this is pretty cool, to look back one year ago and to know that we weren't here. We were in a far different place.''

The golf was special.

Langley, a lefty who grew up outside St. Louis learning to swing on mats at a family golf center, relied heavily on what he calls his ``S-3'' - stinger 3-wood - a beautiful, piercing ball flight that he kept under the wind and in play. His putter certainly helped, most notably the 55-foot eagle putt he holed on the par-5 ninth, and the 30-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole that gave him the outright lead.

Henley, who made five birdies on the back nine, knocked in a pair of 15-foot putts on the 14th and 15th holes to tie for the lead, and he made another birdie on the 17th to answer Langley's big putt on the previous hole. All that separated them was Henley's chip on the 18th that came out hot and settled 30 feet away for a two-putt par.

``I think there was a lot of nerves for me the first few holes and I think playing with Scotty and Luke was huge for me, and watching them play well kind of gave me a goal to try to keep up with them, so it was definitely fun feeding off them,'' Henley said.

One group had to return Friday morning because they didn't finish before dark, but the evidence was clear. The wind was typical of Waialae, though nothing like the gusts that caused the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start four days late. And there was reasonable scoring on a course with only two par 5s.

Scott Piercy, one of 20 players on Maui, had a much easier time on these greens and had a 64. Tim Clark matched him in the afternoon, excited about his start and that he finally feels healthy after a mysterious elbow injury cost him just about all of 2011 - right after his runner-up finish at the Sony Open.

``It's going to be an exciting year for me because I do feel like I'm healthy again and can play a full schedule,'' Clark said. ``I'm obviously doing a lot better than I was last year.''

But even Clark couldn't help but notice the names on the leaderboard, mainly because he didn't know who they were. There are always a few rookies to get off to a quick start at the Sony Open. It was rare to see them leading, and with such low scores.

``I'm a young guy, but I'm old enough to know that we have a lot of golf left,'' Langley said. ``We've barely started, and I'm excited about the next few days.''

Dustin Johnson, trying to become the first player in 10 years to sweep the Hawaii swing after his win last week at windy Kapalua, finished with a pair of bogeys for a 70. His gallery included his companion of late, Paulina Gretzky, who was joined by her parents. Her father, Wayne Gretzky, watched intently except for when fans recognized The Great One. Two men with a maple leaf on their shirts didn't have to look twice.

But this day belonged to the rookies, and not just Langley and Henley.

Morgan Hoffman, another rookie, opened with a 66 in the morning. Ben Kohles, who turned pro last summer and won his first two starts on the Web.com Tour, had a 67.

``It just seems like the last few years, there's been so many more younger guys and new guys out here on tour,'' Clark said. ``It's going to be exciting to watch some of these guys play.''

The top two rookies were not totally new to the game, from a few sponsor exemptions they have received over the years, along with the U.S. Open. Henley won on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur, and then twice last year when he turned pro.

Outside of golf, Langley and Hoffman lived last year with Rickie Fowler, along with Cameron Tringale.

``Kid has a heart of gold,'' Langley said of Fowler. ``Last year, I can really point to some areas in my golf game that were really improved just by being around Rickie and being around Cam and Morgan. They're such competitors, and there's so much good confidence - the right kind of confidence - and I really fed off that, living in the house. It was just a blast to live there.''

Yes, but who did the dishes.

``I think I tried to do my share because I was rent-free,'' Langley said with a laugh. ``It was like living in a house with a bunch of guys in college.''

Playing on the PGA Tour, at least for one day, didn't feel much different.

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.