Bears

Donald tops money list on both sides of ocean

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Donald tops money list on both sides of ocean

From Comcast SportsNet

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP)In what Luke Donald considers his biggest win of the year, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck presented him the trophy.

Disney featured the weakest field of any event Donald has played this year. Its the final tournament of the PGA Tour season, filled with dozens players well down the money list who were desperate to keep their cards for next year. It hardly compares with his wins at the Match Play Championship in Arizona or Europes flagship event at Wentworth.

Perhaps it was only fitting that after Donald ran off six birdies on the back nine Sunday and closed with an 8-under 64 to win the Childrens Miracle Network Classic, he struggled to hoist the bronze trophy over his head.

Its about a 60-pound trophy, Donald said. I nearly dropped it on the green.

It felt about as heavy as the burden of expectations he placed on himself all week.

Donald knew that his best chance to win the PGA Tour money title, and state a convincing case that he should be voted player of the year, was to win Disney. He had not played at Disney in eight years, and because his caddie was on his honeymoon, Donald had to borrow Gareth Lord from Thomas Bjorn.

He was five shots behind going into the final round, and four shots back at the turn.

And then he left no doubt who was No. 1 in the worldor on the PGA Tour.

Starting with a simple up-and-down from just short of the par-5 10th green, Donald unleashed the kind of golf expected out of the worlds No. 1 player. He dropped a wedge into 8 feet on the 11th, and an 8-iron to 6 feet on the 12th. Then came a lob wedge to 5 feet on the 13thSimpson missed from just outside of himand an 18-foot birdie on the 14th to take his first lead.

Then came one of the most moments when everyone should have knownor at least heardthat there was no stopping him. Donald rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt for his sixth straight birdie, crouching when it fell, slamming his fist in a rare display of emotion, that sent him on his way.

Im thrilled, Donald said. Im over the moon.

Three pars was enough to seal his win, which was memorable for so many reasons.

Simpson, who decided to play at Sea Island last week, took over the lead on the money list by 363,029 when he finished second. Simpson was one shot out of the leadand two ahead of Donaldwhen they made the turn.

By winning, Donald captured the money title with just over 6.68 million 335,861 clear of Simpson, who tied for sixthand kept alive his bid to become the first player to win the money list on the PGA and European tours in the same season. Donald lead in Europe by about 1.8 million with just over a month to go.

Donald wrapped up the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.

It was his second win of the year, as many as anyone else. The last player who won the money title, Vardon Trophy and at least tied for most wins on tour without winning the player of the year award was David Duval in 1998. He was beaten that year by Mark OMeara, who won two majors. PGA champion Keegan Bradley is the only player with multiple wins and a major this year.

Donald, who finished at 17-under 271 and earned 846,000, was asked to make a case for someone other than him.

Not sure I could at the moment, he said. I think Ive answered everyones questions. Coming into this week, I felt like Webb was probably the favorite, based on he was ahead of me on the money list and he was ahead of me in wins this year. Obviously, Ive drawn level on wins and Ive gotten ahead on money.

Feels like Ive answered all the questions thrown at me.

Simpson wasnt quite sure.

I dont know yet, said Simpson, who won twice and was No. 2 on the money list and the FedEx Cup. I think Ive played great. Luke has played great. Couple other guys have played well. Still probably up in the air a little bit. But Im sure Ill vote for myself.

Other than Disney, the biggest win for Donald would have been the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he beat Lee Westwood in a playoff to replace him atop the world ranking. Donald has been No. 1 ever since.

Wentworth is far more significant than Disney.

He had to go head-to-head against Westwood, compared with a collection of players in the hunt at Disney, from Justin Leonard to Kevin Chappell to Nick OHern to Billy Mayfair.

But it was the all-or-nothing aspect of the tournament that Donald later summed up on Twitter after he won. Wow! What a day, its nice to come up with the goods when I needed them most. Thats why I play this game.

In a way, there was a little bit more on the line this week, Donald said in his press conference. I felt like if I hadnt won at Wentworth, I felt I was playing well enough that I would have got to No. 1 in the world at some point. Obviously, winning Wentworth was a huge event and it meant a great deal to me.

But I think having this amount on the line this week, and coming up and shooting 30 on the back nine on Sunday, finding the shots when I needed to, really will mean a lot to me and to all the people that I work with.

Leonard finished with eight pars for a 71. He already is exempt for next year, but kept alive his streak of never finishing out of the top 125 on the money list since joining the tour in 1994.

Tom Pernice Jr., a 52-year-old who refuses to give up on playing with guys half his age, closed with a 69 for a three-way tie for third, earning enough money to finish at No. 121 and earn back his PGA Tour card.

Pernice only moved into the top 125 when Nick OHern bogeyed his last hole and fell out of the logjam at third place. On the other side of the Magnolia Course, D.J. Trahan knocked in a 22-foot birdie putt on his last hole at No. 9 the second-toughest hole.

That ultimately enabled Trahan to finish at No. 125 on the money list by 1,431 over Bobby Gates.

I dont know what par would have done, Trahan said. I really, honestly dont know what difference that would have made, but birdie certainly didnt hurt me. So Im thrilled that I made that putt.

Donald, however, stole the show.

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

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USA TODAY

Jordan Howard's newfound receiving skill expands critical realm of the possible for Bears' offense

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The Bears desperately need more from Jordan Howard, which may sound greedy given that he has been one of the only offensive sparks of the last two seasons. And they may be getting it.

Through the early practices in Bears Camp ’18, the nascent offense of coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich has been ... interesting. The intensity and conditions can be posited as factors, but the fact remains that the defense has intercepted a half-dozen passes and the pass rush has had Mitch Trubisky and the other quarterbacks frequently scrambling after coverage locked down their intended receivers.

Amid all that, something decidedly positive and mildly surprising was unfolding.

Rush-and-cover combos force check-downs to shorter routes, in particular running backs. If this were the Kansas City Chiefs offense under Nagy last year, that would have been Kareem Hunt, who caught 84 percent of the 63 passes on which he was targeted. If this were the Bears from 2008 through 2015, that would have been Matt Forte, who never caught fewer than 44 passes in any of his eight Chicago seasons.

But those were thens, this is now, and the featured back in the Chicago offense is Howard. That qualifies as a question for the developing Bears offense, an iteration of the West Coast system that is predicated on positive plays and ball control using the pass.

The reason is that Howard has developed two competing personas through his first two NFL seasons. One was that of a workhorse running back, the first in Bears franchise history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. A model of consistency at 4.6 yards per carry.

The “other” Jordan Howard was the model of inconsistency — a running back among the worst pass-catchers at his position, low-lighted by the drop of a potential game-winning touchdown pass against the Atlanta Falcons last opening day. Howard dropped six of his 29 targets last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The year before he was determined to have dropped seven of his 50 targets.

An emerging 'new' Howard

But maybe that latter was then and this training camp is now.

The defensive pressure has, by chance or by choice, sent Trubisky passes toward Howard. The third-year tailback has responded with both efficient pass-catching and occasionally light acrobatic work, turning off-target throws into positive plays.

The results qualify as a significant positive from early camp. Howard is getting a clean-slate start from Nagy and running backs coach Charles London, and the hope is for a three-down back in the Hunt/Forte mold, which Howard can only be if he is an effective third-down option. His head coach thinks he is.

“Obviously, there’s this façade out there, there’s this notion that (Howard) is just a first- and second-down back, and I don’t believe that,” Nagy said. “Jordan can play all three downs. We’re going to do that. We’re going to use him. And we’re going to use other guys on first and second down when we need to.

“For us, it’s important for Jordan to know and for everybody on our offense to know that he’s a big part of this. This kid’s had a very successful career so far. We’re crazy as coaches and as offensive coaches if we don’t understand it and if we don’t use that to our advantage.”

Wanting Howard to be a three-down force and achieving that are two different things. For his part, Howard has worked to effect what can become a tidal shift for the offense.

“Definitely it’s important to me, just building my confidence more and more with catching the ball and working my body,” Howard said. “It’s definitely important to me. ... I definitely have improved my hand placement. I used to have my hands all over the place, but now coach London is working with me on my hand placement and looking the ball in.”

Possible impact on Howard

The impact of a multi-dimensional Howard cannot be overstated, and it could be overlooked in the buzz of all the other “weapons” the Bears brought in this offseason. It shouldn’t be.

Neither should the effect his enhanced skillset can have for Howard himself.

When the Bears’ offense broke out under Marc Trestman in 2013, finishing second in scoring, Forte caught 74 passes while posting his career-high 1,335 rushing yards on an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Hunt as a rookie last season led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while being the Chiefs’ third-leading receiver in both catches and targets. Howard was the only of the top eight leading rushers in 2017 with fewer than Leonard Fournette’s 36.

Tarik Cohen delivered 53 receptions. But Cohen is not a three-down back with the capability of the 200-plus carries that 17 of the top 19 running backs logged last year.

A critical element projects to be Howard’s conditioning and ability to take on a larger and more diverse workload. That limited him in his rookie season, when his usage in fourth quarters dropped at times because he simply wasn’t in requisite shape. The Bears hope that issue and the drops are behind Howard.

“He’s a patient running back,” Nagy said. “I think he as good vision so he’s patient, has good vision, and when you combine that with the power that he has, he finds ways to get yards. The nice thing for us is that we can move him around and do different things.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here: