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Ernie Els wins the British Open in stunning style...

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Ernie Els wins the British Open in stunning style...

From Comcast SportsNet
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) -- Ernie Els plucked the ball from the hole after one last birdie and heaved it into the grandstand. At the time, it looked like nothing more than a classy gesture by a former British Open champion -- not the next one. The name on the claret jug was supposed to be Adam Scott, who had a four-shot lead with four holes to play. But in a shocking turnaround Sunday, Els returned to the 18th green less than an hour later to claim the oldest trophy in golf. Scott joined a list of players who threw away a major. That was not lost on Els, whose heart sank when he looked over at the 32-year-old Australian. "Sorry," Els told him. "You're a great player, a great friend of mine. I feel very fortunate. You're going to win many of these." Scott might not get another chance like this. After hitting a 3-wood into a pot bunker on the final hole, Scott had one last chance when he stood over a 7-foot par putt to force a playoff. It stayed left of the cup, and Scott dropped into a crouch. Standing off to the side, his chin quivered as the magnitude of the meltdown hit him. Instead, he mouthed one word: "Wow." Wow, indeed. Even though Els had gone more than two years without winning, and had thrown away two tournaments in recent months with shaky putting, the Big Easy felt all along that something special was going to happen at this British Open. And it did -- all because of a collapse by Scott that no one saw coming. "I know I let a really great chance slip through my fingers today," Scott said. On a wind-swept afternoon at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that blew away the hopes of Tiger Woods and a handful of others, Scott looked steady as ever by going eight straight holes without making bogey. And that's when it came undone. "I had it in my hands with four to go," Scott said. A bogey from the bunker on the 15th cut the lead to three. That was followed by a three-putt bogey on the 16th, where his 3-foot par putt spun in and out of the cup and made the gallery gasp. From the middle of the 17th fairway, he hit a 6-iron that turned left, ran down the slope and took one last bounce in shin-high grass. "I thought, Hold on. We've got a problem here,' " said Graeme McDowell, playing with Scott in the final group. By then, Els had posted a 2-under 68 with a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, a cheer that Scott recognized while playing the 17th. Scott failed to get up-and-down for par from the rough and suddenly was tied. Els headed to the practice green, where it rarely works out for him. In perhaps the most crushing defeat in a career filled with them, Els was on the putting green at Augusta National in 2004 when Phil Mickelson made an 18-foot birdie putt to win the Masters. "I just thought, I'll probably be disappointed again,' " Els said. "You're not really hoping the guy is going to make a mistake, but you're hoping you don't have to go a playoff, you can win outright. This one was different, because I feel for Adam." Els, who started the final round six shots behind, wound up with his second British Open -- the other one was 10 years ago at Muirfield -- and fourth major championship at a stage in his career when it looked as if his best golf was behind him. "Amazing," Els said. "I'm still numb. It still hasn't set in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years, obviously. So it's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here." The celebration was muted, unlike his other three majors. "First of all, I feel for Adam Scott. He's a great friend of mine," Els said. "Obviously, we both wanted to win very badly. But you know, that's the nature of the beast. That's why we're out here. You win. You lose. It was my time for some reason." The wind finally arrived off the Irish Sea and ushered in pure chaos -- a mental blunder by Woods that led to triple bogey on the sixth hole, a lost ball by Brandt Snedeker that took him out of contention and a topped shot that made McDowell, a former U.S. Open champion, look like an amateur. "I guess my disappointment kind of seems relatively stupid in relation to the guy ... I've just seen a guy lose The Open Championship," said McDowell, who played in the final group of a major for the second straight time. Nothing was more stunning than what happened to Scott, who closed with a 75. "I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes," Scott said. "Look, I played so beautifully for most of the week. I shouldn't let this bring me down." Even so, it added another chapter to Australian heartbreak, most of that belonging to his idol, Greg Norman. Scott was the fourth Australian since the 2007 Masters to lead going into the final round of a major, yet the proud land Down Under remains without a major since Geoff Ogilvy won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006. "Greg was my hero when I was a kid, and I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat," Scott said. "He set a good example for us. It's tough. I can't justify anything that I've done out there. I didn't finish the tournament well today. "But next time ... I'm sure there will be a next time and I can do a better job of it." Already in the World Golf Hall of Fame, the 42-year-old Els joined even more elite company. He became only the sixth player to win the U.S. Open and British Open twice. The others are Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Lee Trevino. Woods came undone on the sixth hole when he tried to blast out of a bunker from a plugged lie, stayed in the bunker, and three-putted for triple bogey. Still with an outside chance after a birdie on the 12th, he stuck with his conservative plan of hitting iron off the tee and made three straight bogeys. He closed with a 73 to tie for third with Brandt Snedeker, who also had his share of problems for a 74. Woods had his best finish in a major since he lost to Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship, though he remains winless in the last 17. "It's part of golf," said Woods, who moves to No. 2 in the world. "We all go through these phases. Some people, it lasts entire careers. Others are a little bit shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have all gone through little stretches like this." Els finished at 7-under 273. He failed to qualify for the Masters this year for the first time in nearly two decades, but that won't be a problem now. His win gives him a five-year exemption into the majors. It was the most shocking collapse at the British Open since Jean Van de Velde took a triple bogey on the final hole at Carnoustie and lost in a playoff. But this was different. It wasn't a last-minute blowup, more of a slow bleed, similar to Jason Dufner losing a five-shot lead to Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship last year, or Ed Sneed making bogey on the last three holes at the 1979 Masters. There was just enough wind to make the 206 bunkers at Royal Lytham look a little bit bigger. And as the gusts increased, a calm week turned chaotic. It started with Woods on the sixth hole, his first triple bogey at a major championship since he lost his ball on the opening hole at Royal St. George's in 2003. "One yard," he said to his caddie, a measure of the miss. It plugged near the steep wall of a pot bunker. Instead of chipping to the middle of the bunker, Woods tried to get out with a ferocious swing. The ball smacked into the wall, nearly hit him and wound up near the left wall. He sat on the grass, his left knee (which has gone through four surgeries) flexed underneath him, his right leg extended as he dipped his upper body toward the sand to make a swing. This one also hit the wall, and caromed around and out to the right. From there, he three-putted for a 7. "The game plan was to fire it into the bank, have it ricochet to the right and then have an angle to come back at it," Woods said. "Unfortunately, it ricocheted to the left and almost hit me." Just like that, he was seven shots behind. It was the second time this year that one of golf's biggest stars made triple bogey in the final round of a major while in contention. Phil Mickelson made his on the fourth hole at the Masters and never recovered. Els made a bogey on the ninth to fall six shots behind. All that did was fire him up, and he came home in 32. His 68 is best measured in these terms -- of the last 12 players who teed off in the final round, no one else had better than a 72. Yet there was one more collapse, in the final hour, and it was the one everyone will remember from this British Open. It's one Scott will somehow need to forget. As winner and runner-up met in a portable trailer before going out to the trophy presentation, Els told him: "Don't beat yourself up."

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Bradley Beal's potential All-NBA scenario leads league sources toward trade route

Bradley Beal's potential All-NBA scenario leads league sources toward trade route

With an All-NBA nod, Bradley Beal and the Wizards would almost immediately find themselves at a crossroads.

The honor would make him eligible for the supermax contract, which could force the Wizards to move the two-time All-Star. The Wizards already handed one of those supermax deals to John Wall. If Beal signed a four-year, $193 million extension, the two guards would gobble up more than two-thirds of the team's salary cap space starting in 2021-22.

Everyone knows of Washington's immediate concern. Wall faces a year-long recovery after suffering a ruptured left Achilles heel in February. Even with a prompt return, the Wizards cannot realistically plan on having the five-time All-Star next season.

Based on the injury and Wall turning 30, Wall's level of effectiveness in 2020-21 remains unclear. Ideally, he looks the part for at least the final two years of the contract.

Hold out for Wall's healthy return and the clock may run out on the two years remaining on Beal's current contract with no guarantee the shooting guard re-signs. Therefore, with the Wizards retooling after a 32-50 season and regardless of the All-NBA result, the answer is clear according to numerous league sources: Trade Bradley Beal for assets and salary cap space.

So where would he go?

That might depend.

Can New Orleans convince the disgruntled big man to reverse course on his trade demands? We'll see if that happens, but the Pelicans' current A, B and C plan involves rolling out Davis, projected No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday next season, according to sources.

How this drama plays out affects the entire NBA off-season. Every team would welcome Davis, but only a few have the realistic assets to acquire one the league's top players. Some franchises stockpiled draft picks and players on rookie contracts for this moment. If the Pelicans keep Davis, a 2020 free agent, those teams must turn elsewhere.

No, that doesn't mean Bradley Beal automatically.

"As good as Bradley Beal is, he isn't Anthony Davis," one GM told NBC Sports Washington. "Beal isn't an alternative to Davis, but to free agency."

Beal has $56 million coming his way over the final two years of his current contract. Signing any of the 2019 free agent headliners would cost much more in terms of dollars and salary cap space.

76ers guard Jimmy Butler, a relative peer of Beal albeit four years older, is in line for a max contract of 5-year, $190 million with Philadelphia or 4-year, $141 with another team.

If there's a trade involving Beal this off-season, logic suggests, from the Wizards perspective, it occurs before or during the June 20 NBA Draft.

Beal's trade value on the current contract will likely never be higher. Since 2019 draft picks would probably be part of any deal, and the new general manager will want to make those selections.

A look at the landscape:

Lakers -- All the Davis trade buzz last season focused on Los Angeles since his camp made it clear that's where he wanted to land. The potential also worked since the Lakers asset class held great appeal. That is until the group largely plateaued during a dysfunctional season, the first Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart played with LeBron James.

One general manager suggested not to diminish the upside on those players, contending the Lakers still have the best trade assets. "That's what they look like in that environment -- and playing with that guy," the GM told NBC Sports Washington.

If there's a deal with the Lakers, most sources would want Ball involved regardless of any parent distractions from his attention-seeking father, Lavar. "People just don't grasp how good he is," a source said.

Los Angeles owns the fourth pick in the 2019 Draft. One source views Ingram, Kuzma and four for Beal as fair value assuming Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, is cleared medically following a blood clot scare that ended his season prematurely.

Knicks -- New York likely would want to wait for Kevin Durant to sign in free agency as the long-running rumors suggest. Then the question is who gets the second max slot.

Kyrie Irving? Certainly possible. We know the Celtics are out. One source said don't sleep on the Nets getting involved.

Kemba Walker is a New York native. The All-NBA candidate is also someone the Hornets might do whatever it costs to keep.

There's also Beal, who would make a great fit next to a fellow perimeter threat in Durant.

The Knicks' assets include the third pick in 2019, which is a projected tier above the fourth slot since it means landing no less than Duke guard RJ Barrett. New York also has impressive rookie center Mitchell Robinson, point guard Dennis Smith and an unprotected first-round pick from Dallas that projects to convey in 2021.

If the Knicks decline to part with Robinson and three, the Wizards would have to consider Barrett, the top recruit in the 2018 class and Duke's leading scorer, a future All-Star. They might.

Celtics -- The bond between Beal and Jayson Tatum began growing up in St. Louis. They could be connected again if Washington and Boston talk trade.

The Celtics own three first-round selections -- 14, 20, 22 -- in next month's draft along with two former top 5 picks on rookie deals: Tatum and Jaylon Brown.

"Tatum's stock took a hit this season," an Eastern Conference scout said. Others made similar claims during the season as the playmaking forward appeared lost at times playing with Irving. Regardless, Tatum is a talented 21-year-old who went head-to-head against LeBron James in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

"Tatum and 22 for Beal? Brown and 20? That's something to consider," the scout said.

The Wizards have plenty to consider over the next few weeks including whether to trade Bradley Beal.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Can the Caps make another run at the Stanley Cup?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Can the Caps make another run at the Stanley Cup?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

No word on who could be a potential trade partner. The first team I thought of was someone like Ottawa. After getting rid of...well, everyone, they are a team that will need to spend some money to get to the salary floor and they could certainly use some veteran leadership.

Do not get too excited about a possible return. No one is blind as to why the Caps may be exploring such a move and no one is going to be in a rush to do Washington any favors. Unless MacLellan is targeting a depth forward which would help fill a need, the Caps cannot afford to take much if any salary back in the deal so I would expect this deal to largely be for draft picks and not players.

What about prospects? I have a hard time seeing any team trading a high-end prospect for a 32-year-old defenseman coming off a tough year with a $5.75 million cap hit. Let’s temper expectations here.

As to your second question, the two guys with the highest ceilings are Kody Clark and Garrett Pilon. If they continue developing I could see them being middle six guys. The second line may be a reach, but in today’s NHL your third line needs to be productive as well. Both guys, however, still need some time to develop.

Nathan S. writes: Given all the analysis about why the Caps came up short in their effort to repeat, a lot was mentioned about the short off-season. This leads me to wonder how the Penguins repeated in 2017? They did it without their leading D-man Kris Letang and also had the short summer following 2016 Cup run? Did Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's experience trying to repeat in 2010 give them wisdom to share with their teammates? Did they get a little lucky in playing a mediocre Ottawa team in the Eastern Conference Final? Did they have more players new to the 2017 team that were hungry?

Actually, the 2016-17 Penguins managed to keep almost its entire roster together losing only Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff so that definitely was a factor in the repeat. It is also not really fair to say Ottawa was mediocre as it took a Game 7 overtime goal for Pittsburgh to finally put the Senators away. They were literally one goal away from playing for the Cup.

I have always been tempted to dismiss the 2017 postseason as an anomaly because the Penguins were able to win without Letang and there is no way that defense should have been good enough to hoist a Cup. There is another factor, however, that played a major role and has again proved huge this year and that is the importance of keeping goalies fresh.

In 2016, Matt Murray carried the bulk of the load for Pittsburgh with 21 starts in the postseason. In 2017, Marc-Andre Fleury was the No. 1 with 15 starts. Now let’s consider that of the four starting goalies in the conference finals in 2019, only one of them, Martin Jones, appeared in more than 50 games in the regular season. Jones played in 62 games, Rask in 46, Petr Mrazek in 40 and Jordan Binnington in 32 (48 if you count the 16 games he played in the AHL).

Add in the fact that Holtby appeared in only 54 games in the 2017-18 season as opposed to the 63, 66 and 73 he played in the three seasons prior and I am beginning to think a fresh goalie may be one of, if not the biggest factor in a deep playoff run.

Nathan S. writes: What are the biggest keys for Caps to make another Cup run next year?

The first key is to lock down the bottom six. You cannot win without depth. If Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky all leave as cap casualties in the offseason, you have to be able to replace them with quality players. You cannot just stick some scrubs on the third line and rely on the top six to do all the work while playing the fourth line seven minutes a night. Those days are over.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has to be better. The team cannot afford for him to be a pretty good second-line center. He needs to play up to the MVP caliber player we saw in the Cup run, especially with Ovechkin getting another year older. Other players are going to have to share in the offensive load because Ovechkin cannot hit 50 goals forever.

Backup goaltending is also quietly becoming more important. I went into more detail above, but the Caps should aim to keep Holtby at about 55 appearances at the maximum. You can only do that if you get solid backup goaltending.

Structurally, the team needs to be smarter with the puck. There were too many lazy passes, too many times when players ignored the easy passes and went for the more difficult and ill-advised ones that led to turnovers, too many times when a player would skate himself into a turnover in the offensive zone, too many times the puck was carelessly given up in the defensive zone leading to penalties and goals. That should be something that is correctable by the coaches.

Finally, take advantage of the long offseason. Few players seemed to know how to handle the shortened offseason in 2018 other than Ovechkin. Now they have extra time this year, they need to use it to both rest and get a full offseason of training in.

It took just four games for Boston to put away the team that eliminated the Caps and there are a few reasons why. Every good team has a strong top six, but depth scoring is the difference between a good team and a championship one. The Bruins were thought to be a top-heavy team coming into the playoffs, but that has not been the case thus far in the postseason.

Washington had 10 players score in seven games against the Hurricanes. It had 20 goals in those games and nine of them came from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In just four games, Boston got goals from 12 different players. Despite having arguably the best line in hockey with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, that line only accounted for six of the team’s 17 goals in the series.

Having a hot goalie certainly helps as well. Holtby was fine with a 2.67 GAA and .914 save percentage and was certainly not the reason Washington lost. Tuukka Rask, however, was better. He torched Carolina with a 1.25 GAA and .956 save percentage.

Williams looked every bit the clutch playoff performer against the Caps, but Boston – and Marchand in particular – was able to get under his skin. I would not advocate for more players to try Marchand’s shenanigans, but while Washington was able to use its physical play so effectively in 2018, that was basically a non-factor in 2019.

One other major issue: the power play. Despite how horrendously bad the Caps looked on zone entries, they actually managed a respectable 25-percent on the power play against the Hurricanes. How did Boston do? OK, I guess, with a 46.7-percent. Read that again, that is not a typo. In 15 power plays, the Bruins scored seven times. The Caps went seven games with Carolina with the series ultimately being decided in double overtime. The margin separating the two teams was that thin. If the Caps had figured out at all how to break into the offensive zone during the power play, that would have tipped the series in their favor.

It is becoming a constant refrain in these mailbags, but I will repeat myself yet again: get rid of the sling shot.

Snively’s strength is more offensive so I do not foresee him being a big penalty killer. He stepped into the AHL and made an offensive impact right away with two goals and five assists in just nine games. When the playoffs started, however, it was a different story. He had no points in two games and from what I heard when I went to Hershey, that was his real “welcome to the pros” moment and he became clearly overmatched. He was sent back to Yale soon after to complete his classes for his degree.

Since most questions regarding prospects are really about if a player can step into the lineup next season, I would say that seems doubtful given how last season ended. I think there may be some NHL third-line potential there, but it is hard to tell after just nine games.

Mary B. writes: The lack of respect for the Capitals seems palpable as I watch the playoffs this year. Examples of what I mean: The NHL made a new commercial about hockey being something you feel, and there’s not a single second of footage of the Caps in the ad being shown during playoff games. MacLellan is not a finalist for Executive of the year. John Carlson is not a finalist for the Norris. Ovechkin is not a finalist for the Messier Leadership award. On the reverse side, Tom Wilson gets more scrutiny and sever punishment than anyone in the league, yet when a Caps player is hit in the head and/or injured, it barely seems to be noticed. 

Why? What have the Caps done to merit such treatment?

In terms of the “Feel” commercial, I don’t know what to tell you. There are several moments of Ovechkin hoisting the Cup and of the parade in Washington. If that got cut for the shortened commercial, well, that happens all the time. There are 31 teams and you are not going to fit all of them in a 30-second commercial spot. MacLellan is not a finalist for general manager of the year because that award is actually voted on after the second round of the playoffs. If your team is eliminated in the first round, chances are you are not going to be a finalist. All three finalists were the general managers of teams in the conference finals.

Can’t argue with you on Carlson. I vote on the Norris and he was second on my ballot. He should at least have been named a finalist. I wonder if there’s just a tendency to dismiss him as an offensive guy or if he gets overshadowed by Ovechkin the same way Nicklas Backstrom does. For the Messier Award, Mark Messier personally chooses the finalists himself so you’ll have to take it up with him. It is hard to argue with any of the three guys he chose.

Wilson is not singled out because he is a Capital, he is singled out because he has been suspended four times in a short span and three of those incidents that led to suspension happened during the preseason which means they were unnecessary. He has to play smarter and he did that once he returned from the Oskar Sundqvist suspension. Do people overly scrutinize his game? Yes, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he plays for the Caps.

Austin C. writes: Do you think that there is still a big rivalry when it comes to Baltimore vs DC sports?

The D.C.-Baltimore rivalry is an interesting one given how much intermingling there is. Baltimore still cheers for the Caps and Wizards and there are still a lot of Orioles fans in Washington, or at least there was until the Orioles became so bad they can’t even figure out how to get an out in an easy in-field play with the bases loaded. Seriously, a little league team would have played that better.

The two biggest issues for the rivalry are the baseball TV rights fiasco and the Ravens-Redskins. I would contend the average sports fan does not know much about the TV feud between the Nationals and Orioles other than the fact that it exists. What everyone knows, however, is that sports coverage in the DMV area is completely dominated by the Redskins, a team that has won three playoff games since 1992. They have won two Super Bowls despite not even being a team until 1996 and they remain completely secondary to the Redskins. I can see why that would rub Baltimore fans the wrong way.

But with the Nationals-Orioles and Redskins-Ravens in different leagues/conferences, you do not get regular matchups to help fan the flames of hatred that fuel the great rivalries. A rivalry definitely exists, but I would not call it a big one.

The real question is whether Joe Flacco or Jason Campbell is more elite?

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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