Capitals

Disney the last chance to keep a job

Disney the last chance to keep a job

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) One player dug his feet into the sand and hit one bunker shot after another, his focus unbroken. A few hundred yards away, another player cast his line into a pond filled with bass next to the 15th tee on the Magnolia Course.

Disney is a vacation for some, a grind for so many others. It's easy to see who falls into which category.

This is the final PGA Tour event of the year, and the stakes have never been higher. The top 125 on the money list keep full tour cards, meaning they can play whenever and wherever they want next year except for the majors, World Golf Championships and a few other invitational events that have smaller fields.

That much hasn't changed.

What makes a tour card so valuable now is that 2013 is a transition year on the PGA Tour, which translates into a shorter season with fewer opportunities. The regular season will last only about seven months leading into the FedEx Cup playoffs. After that, a new season (2013-14) will start in October.

For the last six years, players who either didn't get into a lot of tournaments or got off to a slow start could always count on the Fall Series - four tournaments at the back end of the season - to make up ground and get into the top 125. But that opportunity is going away. The Fall Series events, along with two tournaments in Asia, will be the start of the new wraparound season.

Players who finish out of the top 125 can still play, as long as there was room for them at tournaments. They had to get in line behind the fully exempt players, along with 50 others who earned cards through Q-school and the Web.com Tour.

But with more players expected to sign up for more tournaments in the shorter season, playing opportunities for the others could be limited.

That's putting it nicely.

``Those guys are in deep, deep trouble,'' William McGirt said after a few attempts trying to find the right words for a family newspaper.

McGirt was in that position last year, needing a big finish at Disney to keep his card. He didn't come particularly close, wound up at No. 141 and earned his card at Q-school. Knowing that status out of Q-school would be lower this year, imagine his relief when McGirt was runner-up at the Canadian Open to secure his card. He is at No. 70 with just over $1.2 million. The only roller coaster he will be on this week can be found across the street at the Magic Kingdom.

``Compared with last year, this is as relaxed as you can be,'' McGirt said Tuesday. ``I've talked to a couple of guys about that situation. I told them the last thing you can do is think about it. From the U.S. Open last year, it was getting into FedEx Cup, and I went from that to keeping my job. I spent the better part of last year thinking about what would happen. I was mentally fried.''

McGirt wound up playing every tournament for which he was eligible from June to early November, 14 events in 17 weeks.

Disney has been the final official event on the PGA Tour schedule for the last six years, and it's always been fascinating to watch the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Those who were safe inside the top 125 on the money list were mainly concerned about the lines at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Those on the outside were concerned about keeping their jobs. There is tension over every shot, broken up by the long, low whistle from the train at Thunder Mountain.

Jeff Maggert, who turns 49 in February, has been on the PGA Tour for 22 years. His first tour victory was at Disney in 1993, when the tournament had to set up floodlights on the final hole to beat darkness. He had to go to Q-school last year, made it with a few shots to spare, and is on the bubble at No. 122 on the money list. He feels reasonably good about his chances because he has a $51,533 lead over Billy Mayfair at No. 125.

``It's probably going to be difficult for tour school players to get in events early in the year,'' Maggert said, looking ahead to 2013. ``Guys will play a lot of tournaments because of the shorter season. It's good to be fully exempt. The top 125 on the money list is probably a bigger deal than in the past.''

The top 150 used to be significant. Even if a player wasn't fully exempt, he could count on playing about 15 to 18 tournaments a year.

Not anymore.

``It's not like 125 is really good status and 126 to 150 is pretty good,'' David Mathis said after wrapping up his tour card a few weeks ago. ``Now it's like 125 is awesome and 126 to 150 is terrible. That's kind of how the players view it.''

Kevin Chappell began the Fall Series by getting engaged. It's going to be easier to plan a wedding knowing that he's fully exempt next year, but the Californian has work left. Chappell is at No. 123, and only $7,318 separates him from Gary Christian at No. 127. Even finishing last at Disney pays more than that, so it starts with making the cut.

``If you finish 126th and don't go to tour school, you're 50 people behind the guy that's 125th on the money list,'' Maggert said. ``You've put 50 guys ahead of you fighting for spots to get into a tournament. And if you don't get any starts until two or three months into the season, with a short season you're pretty far behind.''

A year ago, Roland Thatcher missed the cut at Disney and lost his card by $1,695. Thatcher played out of the No. 126-150 category this year and got into 20 events, a number that figures to shrink next year. D.J. Trahan finished 125th on the money list and played 26 times.

Disney bills itself as the ``happiest place on earth.'' There were plenty of long faces on the practice green, which was quiet even for a Tuesday.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

<< Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53. >>

At NBCSportsWashington.com, we projected the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) right after minicamp. Now we are taking it one step further and ranking the 53 players we think will make the team.

The rankings are determined by who we think will have the most impact on the 2018 Redskins. No consideration was given for past performance or for what a particular player might do down the road. We’ll be revealing the rankings between now and the start of training camp. 

Today we’re starting up the list with the players we ranked from 31-53, Here are some of the players in our latest update:

—Seven of the team’s draft picks, including the pick they made last week.     

—All three specialists.

—The team’s leading rusher from 2017.   

Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53