Cubs

Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

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Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Tiger Woods on the tee wearing an American flag instead of a swoosh. Steve Williams right there with him, standing guard over a bag. It might look like any of the previous 44 times they were together in a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Far from it. The feature match in the opening session Thursday at Royal Melbourne took on qualities of a sideshow when captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman allowed Woods to be placed opposite his jilted caddie in the Presidents Cup. "I think it's great for the tournament," Norman said. "It needed to be done." The most compelling matches of any cup competition usually don't happen until Sunday singles. And they're usually about two players with clubs in their hands, not a guy who is carrying the bag. On paper, the sixth and final foursomes match will be Woods and Steve Stricker, a tandem that went undefeated two years ago, against K.J. Choi and Adam Scott, the popular Australian who hired Williams after he was fired by Woods this summer. The firing alone is not enough to make a Woods-Williams reunion the least bit interesting. Caddies get fired all the time, even those who have been at the side of a player who won 72 times and 13 majors in their 12 years together. It's the soap opera that led to so much speculation until the pairings were announced Wednesday. They disputed publicly whether the firing was done over the phone or face-to-face. Williams gave one of more incredible TV interviews after Scott won the Bridgestone Invitational, calling it "the best win of my life." And then came the Shanghai surprise. Williams was getting roasted at a caddies award dinner two weeks ago when he was asked about his TV interview at Firestone. "My aim was to shove it up that black a------." Amid accusations of racism, Williams apologized. Scott said that was enough for him not to discipline his caddie, and so did golf executives. Woods accepted the apology last week, and bailed out his old caddie by saying Williams was not a racist. He said they ran into each other in the gym in Sydney and shook hands. But it remained such a topic that both captains felt it was best to get it out of the way. Couples and Norman said the pairing was not planned, though that rang hollow. In the Presidents Cup, captains take turns filling out the lineup for every match, so both captains had ample opportunity to make sure Woods was not in the same match as Scott. The last chance fell to Couples. Norman put K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang in the fifth match. Couples inserted Hunter Mahan and David Toms. That left only one team available for the sixth match, and U.S. assistant captain Jay Haas broke up the room when he said, "Who's left?" At the opening ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Couples said of the opening session, "You're going to see six great matches." Yet it was the one match that grabbed everyone's attention. Williams has taken such a public beating since Shanghai that he likely will think of nothing but wind direction, yardage, hole location and helping Scott pick the right club. Woods doesn't like to bring much attention to anything but his golf, either. Any fireworks would be a surprise, and everyone involved -- Woods, Williams and even Scott -- are ready to move on. "I'm sure Freddie and I -- everybody -- we want to put this behind us," Norman said. "It's a dead issue as far as we're concerned. There's no animosity between any of the players. I know it's good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it's dead and gone. And we would like to keep that way going forward." Even so, it became a talking point once the pairings were announced. "That's going to be interesting, isn't it?" Robert Allenby said. "I think there will be a lot of media out there." "You can kind of see it coming, with what's been going on recently," Nick Watney said. "I think it's great. I think it will definitely add some drama to the matches, and I know that they will both be ready. So it should be a good match." Woods might have other things to worry about, anyway. He now has gone two full years without a win anywhere in the world, though he comes to Royal Melbourne having finished alone in third at the Australian Open -- his best finish against a full field since he last won down the street at Kingston Heath. This is his first cup when he had to rely on a captain's pick. In the days leading up to the matches, no one looked at him that way. He's still Tiger Woods. "Pre-tournament fashion, Tiger never really shows a lot of stress, whether it be as an individual or whether as a teammate," Jim Furyk said. "It's not that he looks nonchalant, but he never looks flustered. Even he's playing poorly, he doesn't look flustered." In the middle of this mess is Scott, who has said that it's up to Woods and Williams to sort out their friendship, or lack of one. Scott grew up in Queensland, though his primary home is now Switzerland. How fitting. Norman said he at least talked to Scott ahead of time, along with his two assistants. And while the Shark said this was not premeditated, it sure sounded as though he had a master plan. "If we had to defuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn't you rather have it sooner than later?" Norman said. "Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met." "Adam and Tiger are good friends," Norman said. "It's got nothing to do with Adam and Tiger, and at the end of the day, the atmosphere that will exist walking to the first tee will be exactly the same if none of this took place in the past week."

Cubs by the numbers: Key stats behind club's best start in over 50 years

Cubs by the numbers: Key stats behind club's best start in over 50 years

True or false: The last time the Cubs won a championship, they started 27-5.

False. The 2016 Cubs started 25-7. 

That 27-5 mark is what the Cubs' record through 12 games in this 60-game season equates to in a normal season. They're off to a 10-2 start, and each game this year is equivalent to 2.7 in a normal season.

One can debate the significance of that 27-5 mark, but what's certain is the Cubs are already 20 percent through their schedule and are off to a hot start. Their record is one of many impressive figures through the first fifth of the season. 

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Here's a few others, entering Thursday's game against the Royals.

28 — The number of runs the Cubs have scored in the seventh inning or later this season, tied for first in MLB with the Padres.

10-2 — The Cubs are off to their best 12-game start since 1969, when they started 11-1 (11-2 after 13 games). The 1907 and 1934 teams also started 10-2, and the 2016 team started 9-3. 

7 — Alec Mills, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish have each pitched seven innings against the Royals this week. According to the team, it’s the first time Cubs starters have thrown at least seven innings in three straight games against one team since Sept. 19-21, 2016 (Reds; Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and John Lackey). 

They haven’t thrown 7+ four straight times against one team since April 21-24, 2014 (Diamondbacks; Travis Wood, Hammel, Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson).

3 — The number of Cubs managers, including David Ross, to win nine of their first 12 games managing the team. Albert Spalding (10-2 in 1876) and Cap Anson (11-1 in 1879) also accomplished the feat.

1.95 — Cubs starters have the best ERA in baseball entering Thursday. Their 0.81 WHIP also is No. 1 among all 30 teams. 

0.71 — Tyler Chatwood’s ERA through two starts, best among Cubs starters. He’s allowed a single earned run in 12 2/3 innings entering his outing on Thursday.

0 — The most important figure. The Cubs have had zero players test positive for COVID-19 since testing began ahead of Summer Camp.

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How Bears’ new coaching structure will help decide quarterback competition

How Bears’ new coaching structure will help decide quarterback competition

Let’s make one thing clear: When it comes down to making the final decision between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, Bears head coach Matt Nagy will have the loudest and final voice.

Whichever quarterback earns Nagy’s trust in executing the plays he plans on calling against the Lions in Week 1 will earn the starting job in Detroit on Sept. 13.

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But over the next four weeks at Halas Hall, it will be a collaborative effort among a restructured coaching staff to execute a fair and thorough competition. Besides Nagy, there are three other significant coaching voices with day-to-day influence in the biggest decision of the season. Here’s a look at each one of their roles:

Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor

This isn’t the first time Lazor has helped facilitate a competition involving Nick Foles. In 2013, Lazor was the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, where Foles competed against Michael Vick and rookie Matt Barkley. Vick won the job out of training camp, but it was Foles who went to the Pro Bowl that year.

“When the decision was made that Michael Vick would start, there was no blinking for Nick. He just kept going, kept going,” Lazor said. “He got in the fourth game of the year, I believe at Denver, threw a touchdown pass. But then when Michael got hurt in the fifth game and Nick went in, he just took off and kept getting better and better and better. So I guess that would be the biggest thing as a coach that it didn’t affect his desire to continue to improve.”

That scenario is relevant because it’s one of the many circumstances that could unfold this fall. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and cancelation of offseason practices, Foles is naturally behind Trubisky at the start of the competition because Trubisky is familiar will his teammates and worked out with many of them over the summer in the Chicago suburbs. It's also worth pointing out that Trubisky has feasted on the Bears’ Week 1 opponent – the Lions – throwing 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions with a 106.3 passer rating in five starts against Detroit.

So it’s entirely possible that Foles comes off the bench to start games for the Bears this season, and Lazor’s experience from 2013 could come in handy if the competition spills into the regular season. In fact, the two are already reminiscing.

“Yesterday, he reminded me of something that I had said back in 2013 and it was really a cool experience for me,” Lazor said Thursday. “He probably doesn’t even know it. He brought up a coaching point … He told me how it affected him and I guess as a teacher and as a coach, what greater compliment can you get than for one of the guys who played for you to tell you that something you said that many years ago, he still remembers it today.”

Lazor is in his first season with the Bears and will have an entire offense to oversee (while also taking on some responsibilities that Nagy is shedding) but he will certainly have a voice in the daily evaluation of both quarterbacks.

Passing game coordinator Dave Ragone

While Lazor arrives on the coaching staff with previous experience with Foles, it’s Ragone who has intimate knowledge of Trubisky. He was involved in the original scouting of Trubisky coming out of college and was his quarterbacks coach for his first three seasons. They remain very close.

But Ragone is in a new role now, one that until Thursday, hadn’t been very well defined to the public.

“It’s one where being able to work hand-in-hand with Coach Lazor from the logistics of putting things together, to working with Coach Nagy, as well things that he had to do that were on his plate in the past and have now been passed forward to Coach Lazor, and obviously with my help as well, to get those things rolling,” Ragone said. “To me, being in this league as a coach now for a little bit of time here, having a chance to move into a coordinator role was something I thought was a great opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of.”

But in that role, with a broader scope of the offense to oversee, Ragone won’t be as hands on with the quarterbacks as he was in the past.

“For me, watching how this plays out is more about the offense in general than just the quarterback spot,” he said. “I know that’s where the spotlight will be on, but the reality is getting the other 10 guys to be in sync with whatever quarterback is gonna be behind center is obviously all of our goal going forward.”

In other words, Ragone still has an opinion and will be evaluating the competition, but the day-to-day, hands-on execution of the competition will not fall on desk like it would in the past. In fact, he hasn’t even spoken to Trubisky much about the details of the competition yet.

“I obviously know Mitchell inside and out. At least I think I do. It's my job to oversee other things and be where I'm needed to be for Coach Lazor and Coach Nagy,” Ragone said. “The conversations with Mitchell are more so how's my family, how are my kids? It's been those type of conversations. To me, it's not my role to get into those conversations with him right now.”

Still, Ragone’s relationship with Trubisky and his library of the quarterback’s performances over the last three seasons will be helpful in the evaluation.

Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo

When it comes to the day-to-day execution of the competition, Nagy will rely heavily on DeFilippo, who enters his first season as the Bears’ quarterbacks coach. After two years of mixed results as an offensive coordinator (with the Vikings/Kirk Cousins in 2018 and Jaguars/Foles/Gardner Minshew in 2019), DeFilippo returns to a comfortable role in which he’s enjoyed success. The last time he was a quarterbacks coach, he helped Foles become a Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles in 2017. He was such a hot commodity at the time that he interviewed for the Bears head coaching gig that Nagy received.

Now, DeFilippo will play a huge role in helping Nagy pick his starting quarterback.

“I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to do to take it one step further than a normal practice that I’ve graded when we have an established starter,” DeFilippo said. “We’re going to take it to the next level a little bit in terms of accuracy, in terms of timing, decision making. We’re going to not just grade whether the ball was completed or not. We’re going to try to divulge into, OK, who’s the more accurate guy, who threw it on time, maybe who was the more mobile guy, who got us the first down with his feet? Little things that you have to make sure of for both guys.”

Much like Nagy, DeFilippo operates with an energetic swagger and confidence that rarely wanes. You can see why the head coach hired him to oversee what they knew would be a competition before the Bears even traded for Foles. While Nagy will make the final decision, it’s obvious he is delegating more this season, and DeFilippo has earned the trust to execute the day-to-day operation of the competition. No one will be around the quarterbacks more than DeFilippo.

“The definition of the quarterback coach, to me, is eliminating as much gray area as you can so the quarterback can play fast,” DeFilippo said. “So if you ask me the definition of my job, that’s my job. So I like to bring a lot of passion, energy and swagger every day to the field. I think it does rub off on our players … I’m not afraid to get after a guy if he’s doing wrong. I’m not afraid to pat a guy on the back. I just think that when you’re the same guy every day, whether you’re going through a four-game losing streak, four-game winning streak, whatever, I think the players respect that every day if you’re the same guy with the energy, passion and swagger at your job. And that’s what I like out of our guys as well — they’re the same guy every day.”

There certainly are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. But there’s only so much space available in a socially distant quarterback room. At least now, the roles of the coaching staff are better defined.

And when Sept. 13 comes around, there’s no doubt it will be Nagy making the call.

 

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