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Attention shifts back to golf at Torrey

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Attention shifts back to golf at Torrey

SAN DIEGO (AP) The chatter and speculation hasn't stopped since the players arrived at Torrey Pines earlier in the week for the Farmers Insurance Open. The focus of such a busy week is sure to shift to another topic on Thursday.

Yes, there's a golf tournament to be played.

Tiger Woods is back on the course that has brought him seven titles as a pro, hoping to get a good idea where his game is headed this year. It's the first time he has played Torrey Pines when his game and his health were in reasonably good shape since that Monday playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Brandt Snedeker returns as the defending champion. So does Kyle Stanley, who served up the win to Snedeker last year when he made triple bogey on the final hole to lose his three-shot lead, and then lost in a playoff.

Phil Mickelson is celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the first of his three PGA Tour wins at Torrey Pines, his home course on tour. He tees off Thursday on the North Course, which he has been hired to redesign.

It was easy to overlook all this for the three days leading up to the opening round. Credit that to Mickelson suggesting he might have to leave California because of the hit he's taking in federal and state tax increases on close to $50 million he brought in last year. Or players leaving a mandatory meeting just as quietly as they entered to learn about the proposed rule that affects long putters.

Or even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggesting that bifurcation - two sets of rules - might work in some areas of golf, even though he doesn't think that would apply to anchored putting. On that issue, he said the tour prefers to follow whatever rules the USGA and Royal & Ancient Golf Club make.

Now for the golf.

The Farmers Insurance Open is the first PGA Tour event of the year on network television, the week the NFL takes off to get ready for the Super Bowl, and it offers magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean below the bluffs. And it usually serves up an interesting finish, though last year will be tough to top.

Stanley overpowered the South Course to build a three-shot lead, and then made the smart play by laying up short of the water on the par-5 closing hole. And that's where it all went wrong. His wedge spun off the green and into the water. He went well behind the flag on his next shot, lagged his putt down to just outside 3 feet and then missed that for an 8 to get into a playoff. Two holes later, Snedeker was posing with the trophy and Stanley was in tears.

``It's still pretty crazy when you look at the number of events that had to happen for me to get into a playoff, and then to get in the playoffs and win,'' Snedeker said. ``I obviously didn't want Kyle to have to go through that, but I had a great benefit from it, and I appreciate the fact that he did do that for me. And I hope I never return the favor, but you never know in this game. You might.''

Snedeker feels a connection to Torrey Pines. As a rookie, it looked as though he might shoot a 59 on the North Course. He was 10 under through 10 holes until he had to settle for a 61 that tied the course record. That was in 2007, and by the end of the week, Woods wound up the winner again. It was his seventh straight PGA Tour win, a streak that ended at his next tournament.

With so much buzz over tax rates and belly putters, Woods has been able to get around in relative peace. He at least arrived with a little more sleep, considering he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week and left two days earlier than he planned.

He has lived in Florida from the moment he turned pro, though Torrey Pines can feel like home.

``I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt,'' Woods said. ``There are few courses that are like that where I've had my share of success, either I've won or been in contention to win. This, Firestone, Augusta. I just feel comfortable on those venues, and I feel like my record over those three courses has been pretty good.''

Woods and Mickelson, always the top attraction at Torrey Pines, will be on different sides of the golf course the opening two rounds. Woods will be playing with Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney, who have their own connections to this public course along the Pacific.

Fowler grew up not too far away and made his U.S. Open debut at age 19 at Torrey Pines, where he made the cut and tied for 60th.

``It's one of my favorite courses,'' Fowler said. ``It's got the length. I like the small greens. I grew up on poa annua greens, and some guys don't like poa annua. I do. Obviously, there's some decent views. But it's just a great piece of property, being close to home. It's a special place for me.''

Woods won four straight years at Torrey Pines through 2008, a streak that ended when he didn't play while recovering from knee surgery. Watney won that year.

Fowler hasn't played with Woods since the Memorial last year, when they were paired in the final round. Woods got him by 17 shots that day - he closed with a 67 to win, while Fowler staggered home to an 84.

``I was just on the sidelines watching,'' Fowler said with a smile. ``I enjoy playing with Tiger. There is some extra energy out there. There are a lot of fans involved, and a lot of people moving around. So between Nick and I, we'll make for about 5 percent of the crowd out there. Tiger will take up the rest.''

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Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Dwayne Haskins played really well Sunday against the Eagles, and it wasn't just on certain drives or in specific situations. Haskins put together a complete and encouraging performance in Week 15, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.

But the Redskins' coaching staff, and most notably Kevin O'Connell, should be praised as well for setting Haskins up to shine versus Philly.

Here are three things O'Connell and the offense did at FedEx Field that contributed to the rookie's best effort as a pro.

They were more aggressive on early downs

The following two things are true: 1) Bill Callahan loves Adrian Peterson, and 2) Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at rushing for more than 1,000 yards this season. Because of those two facts, it felt like Sunday was setting up to be the Peterson Show, especially on first down.

It wasn't, though, and that greatly benefitted Haskins.

No. 7 found Terry McLaurin for a nine-yarder to start the contest, a throw that allowed the QB to settle into a nice rhythm from the start. The 75-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to McLaurin was also a first down toss, one that featured play-action:

A first down pass in the second quarter, meanwhile, led to a defensive pass interference that advanced the ball 14 yards. On that possession, Haskins would eventually find Steven Sims for a score. 

Throughout the matchup, the Burgundy and Gold seemed more comfortable with trusting Haskins to attack the Eagles, and that's something he very much enjoyed.

"I hope to continue to do it," he told reporters postgame.

They targeted Steven Sims a bunch

Want another example of O'Connell's influence over the gameplan? Look no further than how much Sims was involved.

Overall, Sims was targeted 11 times, and while he only hauled in five of those passes, he's a guy worth looking to often. O'Connell has talked for weeks now about how much he wants to use Sims, and while it may sound odd to say that an undrafted receiver from Kansas deserves lots of chances on a unit that includes McLaurin and Peterson, it's true.

He's really difficult for defensive backs to stay in front of and he's shown a penchant for making some tremendous grabs, including his toe-tapper for his first career receiving TD on Sunday.  

"I'm seeing everything and I'm playing faster," Sims said in the locker room. 

O'Connell and Haskins are seeing him, too, and his larger role is giving Haskins another weapon to rely on.

They introduced a creative option play

In addition to the uptick in aggressiveness, the Redskins also were more creative against the Eagles than they had been lately. The best example of that is the option they introduced and executed perfectly on two separate snaps.

On the first option, Haskins fake-tossed it to Peterson before lateraling it to him a second later. The fake from Haskins was a nifty way to buy more time for the play to develop and it set Peterson up to pick up a first down:

They went back to it again in the third quarter, but this time, Haskins kept the ball and cut upfield for a 23-yard gain:

Watch any NFL game on any weekend, and you'll see offenses trying new concepts and surprising defenses with those concepts. In Week 15, the Redskins were finally one of those offenses, and the group as a whole was the most effective its been under Haskins. And for that, both the player and the staff should be recognized.

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Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

The entire Donald Dell interview with Mark Lerner can be seen Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

For seven seasons, the Nationals and Bryce Harper enjoyed a happy marriage that included four NL East division titles, an MVP award and the respect from the rest of the league as legitimate playoff contenders year in and year out.

But principal managing owner Mark Lerner knew their relationship might not last forever. In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell, Lerner talked about how the team balanced making a business decision with the personal side of hoping to extend Harper when he hit free agency last offseason.

“We all like Bryce but at the end of the day, there’s the economic factor, there’s other factors that come into it: clubhouse, interaction with teammates, everything you could imagine in a decision about a free agent,” Lerner said.

Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which at the time was the record for the most expensive contract in MLB history. The Nationals reportedly made him an offer for 10 years and $300 million that included $100 million in deferrals at the end of the 2018 season.

“He [was] a free agent for a reason, he earned that right,” Lerner said. “It’s his decision and his family’s decision where they play. And he chose to move on. He obviously got an incredible offer.

“Everybody seems to forget it’s not just a bidding war to get the players, the player has to want to play here and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”

By the time Harper signed with Philadelphia in early March, the Nationals had already reported to Spring Training with starter Patrick Corbin signed to a six-year, $140 million deal as well as a slew of new faces on the roster that had joined the club through free agency. Lerner said Washington never heard back from Harper and didn’t want to wait for him to make a decision.

“We were moving down a different path at that point anyhow,” Lerner said. “Because, as you may recall, Bryce had not given us a response through his agent Scott Boras and we had decisions we had to make so we didn’t get caught waiting too long for him to find out we can’t get other players to replace him.

“And our choice at that point in time was either wait for him or we had the opportunity to sign Patrick Corbin. And we chose to sign Patrick Corbin and get another great starter, which has worked out great, and it was really more us at that point to say, ‘We have to move on.’”

The Nationals went on to win the World Series in 2019 while Harper posted an .882 OPS with 35 home runs in 157 games for the 81-81 Phillies. But as division rivals, Harper and the Nationals will see each other plenty over the next 12 years he’s locked into Philadelphia.

Only time will tell which side ends up wondering what could’ve been.

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