Bears

U.S. takes 10-6 lead

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U.S. takes 10-6 lead

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley helped stake the Americans to their biggest lead in the Ryder Cup in more than 30 years. Ian Poulter, eyes bulging and fists shaking with every clutch putt, at least gave Europe some big momentum over the final frantic hour Saturday at Medinah.

Right when it looked as if the Americans were a lock to win back the cup, Poulter birdied his last five holes to win a crucial point and keep everyone guessing. Steady chants of USA! USA! gave way to snappy serenades of Ole, Ole as both sides trudged to the team rooms in darkness to prepare for 12 singles matches on Sunday.

The Americans still had a big lead, 10-6. Europe at least had hope.

The last two putts were massive, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said after watching Poulter stay undefeated in this Ryder Cup by rolling in one last birdie putt from 12 feet. That gives us a chance. Its been done before in the past. Tomorrow is a big day.

Only one team has ever rallied from four points behind on the final day the United States in that famous comeback at Brookline in 1999. Olazabal remembers it well. He was in the decisive match when Justin Leonard rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
Is the Spaniard a big believer in fate?

I believe momentum will come our way, Olazabal said. Why not tomorrow?

Olazabal borrowed a page from that American team at Brookline by loading the top of his singles lineup with his best players. Luke Donald leads off against Bubba Watson, followed by Poulter against Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy against Bradley and Justin Rose against Mickelson.

U.S. captain Davis Love III put Tiger Woods winless in the Ryder Cup for the first time going into Sunday in the anchor position against Francesco Molinari, whom Woods beat in Wales last time.

The final two matches Saturday were a showcase of what the Ryder Cup is all about one brilliant shot after another, birdies on every hole, suspense at every turn.

Donald and Sergio Garcia were on the verge of blowing a 4-up lead to hard-charging Woods and Steve Stricker, hanging on when Donald matched two birdies with Woods, including a tee shot into the 17th that plopped down 2 feet from the cup.

Woods and Stricker lost all three of their matches, even though Woods made five birdies on the back nine for the second straight day.

Woods was thinking more of the big picture.

Being up four is nice, he said. We are in a great spot right now to win the cup.
Poulter and McIlroy were 2 down with six holes to play against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson when McIlroy made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th, and Poulter took it from there.
We had to make birdies, and wow! Five in a row. It was awesome, Poulter said. Ive got the world No. 1 at my side, backing me up. It allowed me to hit some golf shots.

The crowd was still buzzing as it filed out of Medinah, and Poulter grinned.

Its pretty fun, this Ryder Cup, said Poulter, who raised his career record to 11-3-0.
Its been plenty fun for the Americans, who for the first time have not lost any of the four sessions since the Ryder Cup switched to the current format in 1979. Mickelson and Bradley were flawless in foursomes, matching a Ryder Cup record for largest margin with a 7-and-6 win over Donald and Lee Westwood.

Mickelson and Bradley have been so dominant that they have yet to play the 18th hole in any of their three matches. They didnt play in the afternoon, part of the master plan by U.S. captain Davis Love III to make sure his players were fresh for Sunday. Love became the first U.S. captain since 1979 to make sure each of his players sat out at least one match before the final day.

Now, he finds out if it will work.

Were not disappointed, Love said of the late rally by Europe. We havent lost a segment yet, and were just going to try to keep that string going.

Despite the last two matches that swung momentum away from them, the Americans only have to look at their 10-6 lead their largest since it was 10-5 in 1981 to realize how close they are to winning back that 17-inch gold trophy. They only need 14 points to win. That translates to four wins and a halve in the 12 singles matches, traditionally an American strength.

And they have built this lead without getting a single point from Woods, who has lost his last five matches with Stricker in two Ryder Cups and a Presidents Cup.

Ive played well the last two afternoons and didnt get a point, Woods said. Its tough. Yesterday I made a bunch of birdies and today I made five on the back nine and it just wasnt enough.

His team has carried him along, though.

Watson and Simpson rolled to a 5-and-4 win in the afternoon, while Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar won for the second straight time in fourballs in a tight match. It was tied going to the par-3 17th, a daunting shot from an elevated tee to a narrow green guarded by water. Johnson hit 8-iron to 20 feet and poured in the birdie putt, setting off the loudest cheer of a raucous week outside Chicago. They halved the 18th for a 1-up win.

Probably the loudest roar Ive ever heard, Johnson said. In that situation, probably one of the best putts Ive ever made.

The Americans had a 5-3 lead to start the day, and it was critical for the Europeans to make inroads. Instead, they saw more American red on the scoreboards and heard endless cheers erupt from all corners of Medinah.

Leading the way was Bradley, the rock star of this Ryder Cup who was so fired up that he came out to the first tee well before his match to ask for noise. In alternate shot, the most difficult format, Bradley and Mickelson had six birdies in 10 holes, and their 7-and-6 win tied the Ryder Cup record last matched in 1991.

Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker atoned for a Friday loss by beating McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in 18 holes, and the Americans took an 8-4 lead to the afternoon. All the momentum was on their side. The crowd felt it, and so did the players from both teams.
It was hard very hard to ignore the red on the board, McDowell said. Its hard to ignore the noise thats been made around the golf course. Theres blood in the water. Theyre up for it.

Thats what made those last two matches so critical.

Woods did not play Saturday morning, the first time hes ever been at the Ryder Cup in uniform without a tee time, and he didnt contribute much in falling so far behind. But he turned it around on the back nine, pointing to the cup when a birdie putt fell, screaming orders at his tee shot as the ball was in the air, looking like he was on the verge of a big comeback. Donald and Garcia, who had yet to win a point, made sure that didnt happen.
That was big, Donald said. Having these matches turn our way has really given the European side a lift that we needed. Its given us a heartbeat for tomorrow.

Poulter and McIlroy came up big in so many ways. The Americans had won every match at Medinah when leading on the back nine until the final match. McIlroy made his sliding birdie putt from 15 feet on the 13th hole, and Poulter did the rest.

Poults gets that look in his eye especially the week of the Ryder Cup and its really impressive, McIlroy said.

The Europeans now hope to repeat the American comeback in 1999. The Americans had Ben Crenshaw, wagging his finger and saying, Im a big believer in fate. The Europeans have Olazabal, a proud Spaniard and teammate of the late Seve Ballesteros. This is the first Ryder Cup since his death from a brain tumor in May 2011, and the Europeans will dress in navy blue, the color Ballesteros favored on Sunday. Their uniforms will bear his iconic silhouette.
Its always possible, Paul Lawrie said. Until its impossible to do it, then you fight on, certainly for Jos Mara this week. No one is going to be giving up.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

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USA TODAY

Reynaldo Lopez is changing his place in the White Sox rebuild: 'When I'm on the mound, I'm the best and I don't care about the rest'

Rebuilds are full of surprises.

Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.

Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.

But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?

Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.

He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?

“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”

Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.

“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”

“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”

Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.

Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.

“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”

What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.

“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”

It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.

There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.

You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.