Wizards

Chinese 14-year-old headed to Masters

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Chinese 14-year-old headed to Masters

Guan Tianlang is an eighth-grader from China who barely weighs 125 pounds and doesn't hit the golf ball far enough to reach some par 4s. The next stop for the 14-year-old prodigy will be the Masters, where he will tee it up with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson at Augusta National.

Guan completed a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, making a 5-foot par putt on the final hole at Amata Spring Country Club for a one-shot win that earned him an invitation to the Masters.

``I'm really excited about it,'' Guan said after closing with a 1-under 71. ``I will be training maybe a little bit harder and got some more power for that because I'm still growing right now. So it will be great fun.''

He is believed to be the youngest male to play in a major championship. Andy Zhang of China, who trained at a golf academy in Florida, was 14 years, 6 months when he qualified for the U.S. Open last summer at The Olympic Club. Guan would be about a month younger.

Woods could have seen this coming.

Just two years ago, Woods was playing in the HSBC Champions pro-am at Sheshan International in Shanghai when Guan was in a group of juniors who played with him on the par-3 17th hole. Woods was amazed that day, not only at the polished swing of a 12-year-old, but the poise Guan showed at performing on such a stage - more than a thousand people in the gallery, an audience that included Woods, a 14-time major champion.

Even with a spot in the Masters on the line, Guan didn't flinch.

Pan Cheng-tsung of Taiwan, the second-ranked amateur in Asia, made par on the 18th hole for a 65 that left him one shot behind. Guan, the youngest player at the Asia-Pacific Amateur, hits the ball only about 250 yards off the tee, and even a 3-wood for his second shot left him short of the green. Guan had made bogey twice on the 18th during the tournament.

``I think about it a little bit at the last hole, but I'm trying not to get it in my mind,'' Guan said, referring to the Masters invitation. ``So just want to focus on my game. I got a little bit nervous on the last putt because that's the winning putt. But I just do my own routine and everything is good.''

He rolled in the final stroke with a belly putter, which he began using in June because he feels more stable over the putts.

Guan's choice of putter is sure to draw more attention to the debate over the club, which is anchored to the body. The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club are close to announcing a decision on whether to ban such a putting stroke.

For now, it's another amazing feat for the eighth-grader at Zhi Xin Middle School in Guangzhou.

Guan started playing when he was 4, going to the golf course with his parents. He goes to California for about three months during the year, staying with relatives in Los Angeles and San Diego to train. He first got attention last year at the Junior World Golf Championships in San Diego when he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots.

He was invited to play in the China Open in April, making him the youngest competitor in a European Tour-sanctioned event. Guan missed the cut.

``I feel pretty comfortable with that,'' Guan said. ``I didn't do pretty well, but it's still a great experience for me. I think it's going to help me in the Masters.''

Guan said he has been watching the Masters every year since 2005, when Woods hit a chip from behind the green on the par-3 16th that hung on the lip for a second before it took one last turn and dropped for birdie, carrying him to a playoff win and his fourth green jacket.

Woods is his favorite player. Along with hitting a tee shot with him on the 17th hole during the HSBC Champions pro-am in Shanghai, he met Woods again during a Nike clinic at Mission Hills a year later.

I think he has a strong mind and a strong heart, so I think that's why he's so great, a good player,'' Guan said. ``I played the hole each time with Tiger, and he knows me the second time,'' Guan said. ``We talk a little bit and I just really like him.''

Guan would like to play a practice round with Woods at the Masters ``or anyone else, because the guys that go to Augusta are all fantastic players.''

He became the first Chinese player to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was created by Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient to help inspire growth in the emerging golf nations of Asia. This was the fourth year for the tournament.

Along with getting into the Masters, Guan earns a spot in the final stage of qualifying for the British Open. Pan, the runner-up, also gets a spot in the British Open qualifier.

Guan, who opened with rounds of 66-64 to build a five-shot lead, finished at 15-under 273. He felt the pressure toward the end of the final round after a bogey on the 16th hole. But he handled the island-green 17th with a par, and then clipped a 60-degree sand wedge for his 5-foot par putt and the win.

Oliver Goss of Australia, a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur, closed with a 72 to finish third. Hideki Matsuyama, Asia's No. 1 amateur who was going for his third straight Asia-Pacific Amateur title, shot 68 and was five shots behind. Matsuyama made the cut at the Masters the last two years.

``I'm so excited,'' Guan said. ``I'm really happy to become the youngest player at the Masters and looking forward to going there. I don't know what's going to happen there, but I know I just want to do well.''

Guan added to what already has been an historic year at Augusta National, which in August invited Darla Moore and Condoleezza Rice to become the first female members in its 80-year history. In April, there will be two women in green jackets, and an eighth-grader from China trying to win a green jacket.

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Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

We’ve reached Tuesday, a game day. The Los Angeles Clippers and Marcin Gortat are in town. What timing. Their arrival and the contest itself aren’t the main focus, not after Monday's drama. What changes if any the Wizards make is.

In the short-term, think lineup and rotation. For the big picture, don’t start crossing names off the roster just yet.

Monday’s headlines included an ESPN report  that the Wizards “started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios.” It would be the surprise of all surprises for a trade to go down before Tuesday’s tipoff.

Despite the 5-11 start and contrary to the report, Wall and Beal have not been made openly available on the trade market, multiple league sources tell NBC Sports Washington. Despite the frustrating and taxing start, 66 games remain in the regular season. For a needed turnaround, Wall and Beal are the types of talented players required.

Yet something must change immediately. The Wizards have lost two in a row, both by at least 10 points. They trailed by 20 points in the first quarter and by as many as 29 in the second half during Sunday’s 119-109 setback against Portland. Head coach Scott Brooks called the effort and enthusiasm “embarrassing.” 

“There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates,” Brooks said Sunday. "And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

That comment alone doesn’t signal an impending change. Brooks has used such language often over the last two seasons yet the starting lineup remained the same outside of injuries. It’s possible Tuesday is different. Lineup changes are being explored ahead of the Clippers game, according to multiple sources familiar with the Wizards thinking.

There’s a possible cheat here. Center Dwight Howard exited Sunday’s loss in the first quarter with a reoccurrence of aggravated gluteal soreness. He did not practice with the team Monday. 

The simple solution means starting Ian Mahinmi if Howard sits, which is actually something he literally cannot do during games because of the soreness. Using Jeff Green for a smaller look is a tick more outside the box.

Let’s ponder a Wizards roster with all intact.

For all the talk surrounding Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and, based on injury, Howard, Markieff Morris is the starter struggling the most. Never a strong rebounder, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward is averaging 3.6 boards in nine games this month.

Whether he’s slowed by an undisclosed injury or another factor, Morris isn’t providing needed energy and big man production. Those aspects are required when Brooks wants to deploy small-ball lineups, and use Morris as the 5-man. Morris, one of the eight players on the roster entering some form of free agency this summer, played only 19 and 20 minutes respectively in the last two games.

Green, Morris' primary backup, had 13 rebounds in 25 minutes against Portland. That level of board work is abnormal, but the 32-year-old’s athleticism has stood out all season. While the streaky shooter’s numbers are starting to trend the wrong way after a hot start earlier this month, Green is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

With Green starting, Morris could serve as the anchor for the second unit, or Brooks could manipulate his rotation so that the pair play together. Neither is a needed rim protector, but both provide more offense than Mahinmi.

Sliding Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup – for Morris, not Otto Porter – is another consideration. The Oubre-Porter pairing along with Wall, Beal, and Gortat was among the top net-rating lineups in the entire NBA over the last two seasons. Brooks hasn’t used a similar look as much this season.

Where Oubre offers clear help is energy. The 6-foot-7 forward flies around the court continuously even during games where teammates don’t. Defending opponent’s straight-on, even small guards, is another strength. Starting Oubre opens the door for using him against guards when Wall and Beal struggle to keep foes from penetrating.

This shouldn’t be considered a promotion if it occurs. Oubre remains prone to gaffes in team defense concepts. He is shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers. We’re talking about changing the Wizards’ trajectory. All options should be explored.

In either case, another way for more urgency in the lineup could come from using first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. or center Thomas Bryant. Both were on the court as the Wizards rallied against the Blazers. Brown is an obvious Oubre replacement on the second unit if Oubre joins the starters with Mahinmi the likely odd-man out in the spot.

Here’s the hope for the Wizards: Whatever anger was unleashed recently leads to the needed fix now that the expressions of frustration reached the public. Teams squabble. Feelings are hurt. There is no denying Washington isn’t right. Surely, other teams are checking in per usual, but with a bit extra interest since doors may be open. For now, that’s not the case.

It’s easy to say Washington would be wise to get its collective head straight, put forth a good effort against the Clippers and move forward from Monday’s show. We’ll see what happens. Based on the opening 16 games and Monday’s tabloid-esque headlines, we’ll see. Something must change. If it's not the roster, that leaves the lineup.

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Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

BALTIMORE -- In a league that relies heavily on the forward pass, the Baltimore Ravens have gone old-school in their bid to reach the NFL playoffs.

With quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the way , the Ravens rushed for 265 yards Sunday in a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson ran 27 times for 117 yards, Gus Edwards garnered 115 yards on the ground and both rookies rushed for seven first downs.

There's a good chance Jackson will start for the injured Joe Flacco again Sunday when the Ravens (5-5) host the Oakland Raiders (2-8). If Jackson is the starter, it's unlikely he will again slither, slide and scramble with the ball 27 times.

"Yeah, you don't want your quarterback getting hit that much," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It's not going to last that way. So, that's pretty self-evident."

That said, Harbaugh mocked those people concerned about Jackson's workload.

"Oh, he had 27 carries," Harbaugh said. "You know what he did? He won the game. He played his tail off. Celebrate that, and move on."

Whatever it takes to win.

"It's not what we're going to be shooting for by any stretch, but if it takes that many, Lamar will do it," Harbaugh said. "But, no, he took some hits. I think they knew the quarterback was going to run the ball. They were going after him a little bit, as you would expect. That's something that we have to look at going forward."

Selected 32nd overall in the 2018 draft, Jackson was thrust into the starting lineup because Flacco has a right hip injury that has been slow to heal and could keep him sidelined against the Raiders.

"He has a chance," Harbaugh said, without much conviction.

Jackson ran 655 times at Louisville and won the 2016 Heisman Trophy for his ability to carry the ball, not throw it. On Sunday, his carries accounted for more than a third of Baltimore's 73 offensive plays, and the Ravens finished with 54 rushing attempts compared to 19 passes.

Harbaugh bristled when someone asked him about Jackson's ability to throw the football, and where that fits into the game plan moving forward.

"Yeah, we're going to throw the ball more down the road," Harbaugh insisted. "All this veiled stuff, `Is he really a thrower?' I got news for you: He's a thrower. He's a quarterback. I don't appreciate the insinuation of the question. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback."

He's a quarterback with 256 yards rushing -- second on the team behind Alex Collins -- and 237 yards passing. Collins scored a touchdown against the Bengals, but his playing time was sheared by Edwards, an undrafted rookie free agent who got 17 carries and played most of the second half.

Edwards, who scored his first NFL touchdown , got the call because of the way he's excelled in the days leading up to game day.

"He's been practicing great," Harbaugh said. "It has been a goal to get him more carries before this."

Baltimore's 265 yards rushing against Cincinnati was tied for the fifth most in franchise history, and it marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and rookie running back each top 100 yards rushing.

After he was done, Jackson made one final run -- after the referee to snag the game ball.

"However you move the ball is good. You do it based on your personnel," Harbaugh said. "You want it to be a mix, but in the end, the players deserve the credit for running the ball so well."

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