Bears

Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

581486.jpg

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."

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

The Bears are embracing an underdog mentality as playoff push continues

After the final horn sounded on the Bears' signature win of the season so far — a 31-24 trouncing of the Cowboys that wasn't as close as the final score — and all the patented 'Club Dub' celebrations had concluded, a subdued, resolute and focused locker room remained.

These aren't the 2018 Bears — no matter how decisive and dynamic Mitch Trubisky was tonight; no matter the fits the team's depleted front seven gave one of the most talented offensive lines in the league; no matter the balanced plan of attack deployed by Matt Nagy, or that they're now one game closer to an improbable run to the playoffs.

Three weeks ago, this team had been all but dismissed by the greater Chicago faithful. And perhaps that was fair. In year two of the Nagy-Trubisky coach-quarterback pairing, the team was on pace to regress in just about every category you could conjure — most importantly wins. Now, they're 7-6, above .500, and only 1.5 games behind the Vikings for the No. 6 seed in the NFC (with a matchup against them looming in Week 17). 

Tonight, the process may have been even more encouraging than the result, especially looking forward to a challenging three-game close to the season.

"When you win, your confidence goes up. Players, they play different in regard to when you're winning," Matt Nagy said postgame. "You play looser. You don't press as much. I think right now the identity between the defense, the offense, it doesn't feel like one of those deals where if we don't hold them to under 14 points, we don't have a chance to win."

Trubisky was as sharp as he's ever been in one of the bigger games of his career, tossing for 244 yards and amassing four total touchdowns — three through the air, one on the ground. And talk about loose: He also put together his most impressive rushing performance in over a calendar year, breaking out for 63 yards on 10 attempts, including a late-game 23-yard touchdown (to put the Bears ahead 31-14) that ignited Soldier Field around him.

His resurgence has come in lockstep with the Bears' season turning. Perhaps that's no coincidence.

"I think it says we're resilient, stick together, believe in each other even when nobody else believes in us," Trubisky said. "That's a special group in that locker room. We want to keep this feeling going, focusing on the little things, focusing hard, sticking together, doing our jobs."

Allen Robinson said that the team's confidence has "never wavered." Charles Leno said the offense is firing on all cylinders. The defense, missing four starters, didn't miss a beat until the Cowboys tacked on some garbage-time fluff late in the game.

A crucial, yet challenging, stretch looms. First, the Bears travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers for the second time this season. Then, back home for Kansas City — though mortal, still one of the more potent offensive attacks in football. And finally, to Minnesota for a potential postseason play-in game. The Bears probably need all three of those games to be wins, save for late-season collapses from the Rams and Vikings (not impossible), to pull off a playoff berth. As it stands currently, they project as underdogs in both those road contests, and possibly even against the Chiefs (though a win in Green Bay would go a long way, there). 

As far as Nagy is concerned... Good. 

"I'm okay with that. For our guys, it's different," Nagy said of assuming the underdog role for the stretch run. "Last year, there was a different type of mentality because we didn't know, there were no expectations. This year, a lot of expectations. So now here we are at 7-6. Who knows really what we're going to be at. We know we have some really good teams coming up. Our guys, as you can see, they're just focused on winning each week. That's what they're doing."

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

The Bears still face long playoff odds, but they're clicking at just the right time

If you wanted to throw water on the Bears’ playoff chances, the hardest part would be deciding what well to draw it from. The data overwhelmingly agrees: the Bears, even after a reassuring 31-24 win over Dallas, are longshots to make the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s playoff predictor gives them a 5% chance. The Cowboys, with their 6-7 record and three-game losing streak, have a 59% chance. 

“If we don't win, none of those percentages matter,” Matt Nagy said after the game. “The percentages part, [I don’t know]. I know we’ve got to win.” 

And not only that, but the Bears will have to win while playing the hardest remaining schedule of any team in football. Next Sunday they go to Green Bay, where they haven’t won since 2015. Then all that stands between them and a potential play-in Week 17 game in Minnesota is Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s brutal, but it doesn’t seem as impossible as it did this time yesterday. 

“I think we said that a few weeks back,” Allen Robinson said. “We’ve been saying one game at a time, and I think for us, we’re definitely on the verge of going up right now. So we just want to keep it that way. We’ve been saying it now for the past few weeks. We just want to keep stringing good practices together, good weeks together, and some good runs together.” 

Games like Thursday night’s show you what the Matt Nagy Bears are capable of when things click. It starts with Nagy, who’s finally come around on running the offense that works, even if it is the diluted version. Against Dallas the Bears ran the ball 34 times and threw 31 passes; they’re now 7-2 when running 20 times or more. 

“It’s being able to create chemistry with my O-line,” David Montgomery said. “Those guys have been doing good. I credit them with the little bit of success I’ve had towards the end of the season.”

The passing game has been opened up, ironically enough, with the emergence of three different undrafted tight ends. Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted, and JP Holtz have become legitimate cogs in the offense, which is again a testament to how critical the position is to Nagy and the Bears’ success.

“That's nice to have that,” Nagy said, grinning. “It definitely helps out.” 

“I mean, there were a few things we had in this game plan that were going to give more opportunities. He happened to be that guy on some of the plays. Those guys have stepped up. They've helped us out in that role. You can see when you have that tight end, that presence there, it helps out.”

Holtz joked after the game about being caught off guard by how much open field was in front of him on his 30-yard screen play. It was a well drawn-up and executed play – a good example of a more rigorous attention to detail that Bears coaches and players were finally happy with. 

“Guys are stepping up,” Anthony Miller said. “We’ve got some guys hurt, but we don’t miss a beat. Everybody knows what’s at stake. Everybody knows that we have to win. It’s like every game we’re playing with our backs against the wall. So, every game is a must-win, and we’ve got to get (the Green Bay Packers) in Lambeau next week.”

The injuries are a real concern. Getting Akiem Hicks is taking a step forward but losing Roquan Smith is taking two back. Playoff talk is probably still premature, but like Nagy said, all the Bears can do is win the games in front of them. They’ll play a second straight week of meaningful December football, which is two more than anybody would have guessed before Thanksgiving. 

“We are clicking on all cylinders, with all three phases,” Charles Leno added.  “Even four phases, thanks to the fans out there in Chicago that are always bringing it. 

“It was a really good performance by everybody.”