Bears

Questions loom heading into the golf season

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Questions loom heading into the golf season

From Comcast SportsNetKAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) -- Even without the top four players in the world around to kick off the season, every new year in golf is shrouded in mystery like clouds over Molokai across the channel from Kapalua.Among the most pressing question: What will Bubba Watson serve for dinner at the Masters?"When you show up for dinner on Tuesday night, that's when you'll find out," Watson said.One problem. The press isn't invited."That's what I mean," Watson said.With a wink and a smile, he walked over to the first tee and smashed the first of what figures to be several 400-yard tee shots. There were 67 tee shots that went at least 400 yards last year on the PGA Tour, and 41 of them were on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.There are more serious issues going into 2013. What follows is the front nine of what to look for in the new season.------1. EUROPEAN CAPTAIN: The biggest news in Abu Dhabi later this month won't necessarily be the first showdown between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. This is where the European Tour traditionally selects its Ryder Cup captain, and the choice became a little more complicated when the Americans went back in time by picking Tom Watson.Watson is beloved in Scotland, site of the 2014 matches. Does that mean Europe needs to answer with a larger-than-life figure for its captain? That has led to suggestions Colin Montgomerie would return as captain, though Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley were said to be next in line. Clarke would seem a better fit when the matches return to America at Hazeltine in 2016, though McGinley might be dwarfed by Watson's presence.------2. RORY AND THE SWOOSH: Players changing equipment companies is nothing new. It's different when that player is No. 1 in the world.Nikeis not likely to announce its deal with McIlroy until he starts his season in Abu Dhabi, and that's when the scrutiny begins.McIlroy givesNikeanother world-class athlete in its stable. But whatever recognition his clubs receive might be akin to an offensive lineman who gets his name called only when there's a penalty. Remember, McIlroy is known to have a bad patch of two. Even last year, when he won five times and swept all the major awards, he missed four cuts in five starts in the summer. When he plays poorly, critics will blame the equipment. And when he plays great, well, he's Rory McIlroy.------3. SHORT SEASON: The PGA Tour season might feel more like a sprint than a marathon this year. The season, in effect, ends with the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 18, the cutoff for qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs. And once the playoffs end at the Tour Championship, the 2013-14 season starts in October.That might mean more players competing more often, which could put the squeeze on Q-school and Web.com Tour graduates by limiting the number of tournaments they can play to try to qualify for the playoffs. The motto always has been, "Play better." A tweak might be in order this year. "Play better, now."------4. ANCHORS AWAY: The R&A and USGA announced late last year that anchored strokes used for the belly putter and long putter will be banned starting in 2016. The question is whether the PGA Tour, which has the right to set its own rules, will enact the new rule much sooner.There already is evidence of a stigma attached to those who anchor their putters -- Keegan Bradley said a fan called him a cheater at the World Challenge last month -- and it might be in the best interest of the tour to make the change quickly. But when? At the end of the FedEx Cup, meaning a player can use a belly putter in September but not October? At the start of 2013, meaning the rule would change in the middle of a season?------5. MASTERS INVITATIONS:For the last six years, the Masters has been awarding invitations to winners of PGA Tour events that offer full FedEx Cup points. The Fall Series didn't count, nor did the events opposite a major or World Golf Championship.One problem. Starting later this year, there is no Fall Series. When the tour goes to the wraparound season, there will be an additional six tournaments that under the previous policy would award the winner a spot in the Masters.The concern for Augusta National is keeping a small field -- it has not had more than 100 players since 1966. The question is whether the tour's change will mean an end to tournament winners driving down Magnolia Lane.------6. ALL-MALE CLUBS:Just because Augusta National now has two women in green jackets doesn't mean the debate over all-male clubs is going away. If anything, it might be more intense than ever when the British Open returns to Muirfield. There are no female members in the "Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers," nor are there any female members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.That received cursory criticism over the years, though most of the scrutiny was on the Masters. Now that the British Open is the only major played in which the host club has no women on their membership rolls, R&A chief Peter Dawson might have some explaining to do. If he's not too busy talking about changes to the Old Course.------7. DISTANCE DEBATE:Those concerned that distance is ruining the game and making golf courses obsolete might appreciate a prediction in Golf Illustrated magazine that if the "carrying power of golf balls is to be still further increased all our golf courses will be irretrievably ruined as a test of the game."That was in 1910, and the game has been evolving since.The R&A and USGA have leaned on their "Joint Statement of Principles" in 2002 when it comes to distance. Even so, Dawson sounded an ominous tone while announcing the ban on anchored strokes."We haven't shelved distance. It's very much on the radar," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. "Anchored strokes are separate. Just because we're doing one doesn't mean we have taken our eye off the other."Stay tuned.------8. MINORS VS. MAJORS:With the PGA Tour starting a new season in October, the only way to earn a card will be through a series of four tournaments called "The Finals" that will include the top 75 players from the Web.com Tour and the next 75 players from the PGA Tour who fail to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.Privately, the brass at PGA Tour headquarters is curious to see how the Web.com Tour players will fare against the second-tier PGA Tour players who faced stiffer competition and tougher golf courses all year.------9. TIGER: Woods and Jack Nicklaus were talking about rivalries a decade ago when Nicklaus told him it was important to always be part of the conversation. That's never been a problem for Woods. Even with McIlroy assuming the role of golf's No. 1 player, Woods is part of every conversation in golf.The only difference is the context.Can he end a four-year drought in the majors? Can he get back to No. 1? Will he ever dominate as he once did?The new season should provide some answers.

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

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USA TODAY

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

1. Don’t let Aaron Rodgers beat you. Really! 
You’d think this goes without saying, and yet here we are, going and saying it. There’s some truth to the counter-argument, I guess: Rodgers hasn’t thrown for more than 243 yards since mid-October, and over the last 2-3 years, his QBR has leveled out well below where it was when he was tearing the souls from every other NFL team’s body. It helps when you have Aaron Jones and the 4th-ranked (DVOA) rushing attack, but I just find it hard to believe any Bears fan can look at this game and think they have a better chance to win if they let Rodgers throw the ball 40+ times. Over his career, he’s averaged more yards per game, and has more touchdown passes, against the Bears than any other NFC North opponent. Getting Akiem Hicks back, even in a limited fashion, obviously helps on both fronts. If the Bears are going to be comfortable putting the ball in someone’s hands and hoping they don’t beat them, maybe don’t make it the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has a history of humiliating your franchise? 

2. Give the ball to David Montgomery and let him cook. 
Montgomery’s finding a groove, evident by the fact that he’s been given more rushes and gained more yards in each of the Bears’ last three wins. I’ve probably hammered this point a half dozen times already this season, but the Bears are 7-2 when they run the ball 20+ times. 7-2! And they’d be 8-1 if Eddy Pineiro hit the game-winning field goal against the Chargers. And while you could probably find one or two moments in most NFL games that swing the outcome, the bigger point remains: the Bears’ run game isn’t pretty, but they win when they commit. It’s also going to be like, four degrees out and the Packers’ have the 26th-ranked run defense (DVOA) in football. Run the ball! 

3. It’s just a football field – treat it like that. 
The Bears talked at length this week about how the spectacle of Week 1’s Bears-Packers game kind of got to them, and that they were disappointed with how players and coaches seemed shell-shocked for much of it. Now think back to Week 1 of 2018, when the Bears let a big halftime lead slip away. Since then, Nagy’s admitted that the moment may have been a little big for him that night, too. And frankly, there’s so much noise and so many narrative retreads during Packers Week, so it’s not exactly hard to blame them. It’s a lot easier said behind a keyboard than done on a (cold, so damn cold) field, but if the Bears want to find themselves in bigger moments down the road, they’ll need to minimize the one coming on Sunday. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24 (OT)
I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, and I think if you got them in a moment of honesty, they’d agree and admit they’re playing these last three games for pride. That’s not a slight against them at all – they’ve looked legitimately better across the board over the last month. The Packers don’t seem like a 10-3 team to me; they’re a 7-5 team according to their Expected W-L, football’s version of baseball’s Pythagorean formula. Their best win of the season came against a Chiefs team that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes. And while this game means everything to Chicago, there is actually not a whole lot on the line for Green Bay: per FiveThirtyEight, the Packers’ odds of winning the division currently sit at 93%. A loss would drop that to 86%. There are fair gripes out there about what Nagy’s shown as a play caller though two seasons, but these types of motivational situations are where he does his best work. The Bears get their biggest win of the season, and are rewarded with a week of Pat Mahomes prep. 

Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

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USA TODAY

Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Less than two and a half seasons was all we needed to see from Alex DeBrincat, a highly-skilled and crafty winger for the Blackhawks, who's usually looking to shoot instead of pass. 

DeBrincat was one of the biggest steals from the NHL Draft in recent years. The Hawks taking him in the second round, No. 39 overall, of the 2016 draft changed the way teams selected players.

There's been less hesitation for GMs to pick forwards around DeBrincat's height (5-foot-7) if they're point-producing machines with strong vision and skating. Right out of the gate, the 21-year-old recorded 28 goals for his rookie campaign during the 2017-18 season and followed it up with 41 last year.

"The Cat" has seen a dip in production tallying 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 32 games so far this season, but expect that to pick up.

DeBrincat has utilized his size in being able to sneak by defensemen and find open areas in the offensive zone like the left circle, where he's rifled in a lot of his goals with the Hawks. The Farmington Hills, Michigan native has 151 points (77 goals, 74 assists) in 196 games with Chicago.

He hasn't hoisted the cup or even played one playoff game yet with the Blackhawks, but if/when he does reach the postseason in his career, he'll be a reason why his team got there and will surely be a difference maker.

Alex's chemistry (and interesting friendship) with old Erie Otter (OHL) pal Dylan Strome, as well as with Patrick Kane, amplify the forward's strengths and make him even more fun to watch. 

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