Nationals

'Golf junkie' wins The Players Championship

762522_617x262.jpg

'Golf junkie' wins The Players Championship

From Comcast SportsNet
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Matt Kuchar knows all about the prestige and the perks of winning The Players Championship. The richest payoff in golf. A three-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. What means just as much is a framed picture on a basement wall in a tunnel the public never sees. Every day at the TPC Sawgrass, Kuchar walked through a tunnel in the clubhouse that is lined with black-and-white photos of the players who have beaten the strongest and deepest field in golf over the last four decades. Kuchar joined them with a clutch performance Sunday, when he took the lead with a birdie and kept it with two key pars, then navigated his way the final hour as so many other contenders were making mistakes. He closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory, the fourth of his career and by far the biggest. "I can't help but stop and gaze at all the photos," Kuchar said. "And to think I'm going to be a part of that with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd and Phil Mickelson and David Duval and Tiger Woods ... it's all the best of the best. To feel like I'm going to see my picture up there next year is pretty cool." Then again, Kuchar thinks everything is cool. There's a simple reason that he smiles so much -- he loves playing golf. A decade ago, Kuchar missed the cut at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Two days later, on a beautiful Monday afternoon on the Monterey Peninsula, he was spotted sitting on the side of the hill overlooking the eighth tee while eating a sandwich. "Isn't it a beautiful day?" Kuchar said when asked just what in the world he was doing. That certainly was the case on a cloudy, blustery day on a dangerous golf course at Sawgrass. It seemed that way to Kuchar even when he opened with a bogey and quickly fell three shots behind. It felt like that when he was locked in a brief battle with Martin Laird, and when he looked across the water from the 16th green to see Rickie Fowler dressed in his all-orange outfit sink a birdie putt on the island-green 17th to cut Kuchar's lead to two shots. Kuchar answered with a birdie of his own on the 16th to restore his margin to three shots. He found land on the par-3 17th, even though he three-putted for a bogey that extended the drama for one more hole. And best of all was tapping in for par and celebrating with his entire family. His wife, Sybi, and two sons rushed onto the green. He hugged and high-fived his mother, the woman who taught him to have fun when he plays golf. He hugged his father, who was on the bag with Kuchar as an amateur in 1998 when he burst onto the scene with that endless smile at the Masters and U.S. Open. "It's such an amazing feeling -- playing amongst the game's best, to come out on top, to do it on Mother's Day ... it really is magical," Kuchar said. He won by two shots over four players who had a chance on the back nine. Fowler, slowed by a double bogey on the fifth hole, birdied the 16th and 17th and had an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have put enormous pressure on Kuchar. It caught the right lip and he had to settle for a 70. Ben Curtis ran off four straight birdies around the turn, but not enough until it was too late. He made a 10-foot birdie on the last hole for a 68. Zach Johnson was in range until a bogey on the 15th. He made a great par save on the 18th for a 68. Laird was the only runner-up who was tied for the lead, running off three straight birdies on the back nine until a poor tee shot on the 14th led to bogey. Laird, who three-putted the 18th in regulation at The Barclays in 2010 that allowed Kuchar into a playoff that he won for his most recent win, made bogey on the 18th at Sawgrass after nearly hitting into the water. He shot 67. None of them felt as badly as Kevin Na, for so many reasons. Na had a one-shot lead going into the final round and was under pressure from the viewing public more than any player. His pre-shot routine is painful to watch, and he knows it. The waggles. The whiffs he does on purpose so he can start over. The practice swings. The indecision. He tried to speed up, even walking well ahead of Kuchar to get to his ball, and he wonders if rushing hurt him. Na made four bogeys in a five-hole stretch at the turn to lose the lead. But what really stung were the chants he heard from the gallery. Everyone knew this guy had a hard time making his swing. He heard "Pull the trigger!" and "Hit it!" "I backed off and they're booing me," Na said. "I said, Look, guys, I backed off because of you guys.' ... But it is what it is. I also felt that a lot of people were turning towards me and pulling for me, which I really appreciate." The worst of it was on the par-3 13th, when he pulled his tee shot into the water, effectively ending all hope. Some in the crowd sang, "Na-na-na-na ... good-bye." "I deserve it," he said. "I mean, I'm being honest. But is it fair? No. You put an average guy in between those ropes, trust me, they won't even pull it back." He shot 76, extending a remarkable trend at Sawgrass since the tournament moved from March to May in 2007. It's one thing that the 54-hole leader has never won The Players in those six years. None of the third-round leaders has ever shot better than 74 in the final round, with an average score of 76.3. But this day belonged to Kuchar, with a few side notes. Luke Donald shot 30 on the back nine for a 66, making him stick around to see if it would be enough. It wasn't, and he wound up in sixth place, not quite enough for him to return to No. 1 in the world ranking. Tiger Woods shot 40 on his front nine and rallied for a 73, at least finishing The Players Championship under par. That was the smallest of consolations. Far more alarming was that he tied for 40th, the first time in his career that he has finished no better than 40th in three straight tournaments. The streak began after a five-shot win at Bay Hill for his first PGA Tour title in 30 months. "Just keep working. Keep working," Woods said when asked what he could take out of the week. Kuchar finished on 13-under 275 and collected 1.71 million. He moved to No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings, and to a career-best No. 5 in the world ranking. He left the way he arrived -- with a smile. "It's completely a natural reaction," Kuchar said. "I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I'm a golf junkie. I have to force myself to take vacations where I cannot play golf, because the game is just always so challenging. And I think it's that challenge that's addictive to me. ... The smile is there because I'm having a good time. "Now, granted, if I'm shooting 10-over par, you're probably not going to see me real happy. I'm hopefully going to behave myself appropriately, thanks to my mother, but I'm not going to be near as happy as when I'm making birdies." Suffice to say Kuchar was thrilled Sunday.

Quick Links

Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

nats-cubs-rubber.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Nationals rally, but find themselves treading water again

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals lost to the Chicago Cubs, 6-5, Sunday to drop their record to 19-27. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A word about Anthony Rendon first.

His three-run homer dragged the Nationals to within 6-4 on Sunday night. He also walked and a soft liner off his bat was caught by a leaping Addison Russell at shortstop. He was stellar in the field. After an initial rusty patch when returning from the injured list, he is back to his normal self and one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. He could finally be going to his first All-Star Game.

Second, a word about Howie Kendrick.

He homered -- again -- his seventh already this season. Things around the Nationals’ poor start are not great. They would be severely amplified if Kendrick wasn’t walking around with a .317 batting average and an almost 1.000 OPS.

Their work was not enough Sunday. The Cubs took a 4-0 lead early, then hung on late, spoiling the Nationals chance for a rare second consecutive series win.

2. “Little things” kicked in again Sunday.

A fourth-inning passed ball by Kurt Suzuki moved a runner to third with one out. Kyle Schwarber’s sacrifice fly drove him in.

Juan Soto’s late break from second with two outs in the sixth inning led to third base coach Bob Henley giving a rare stop sign at third base. Albert Almora Jr.’s throw for center field went soaring over bot the catcher and pitcher at home plate. If Soto broke early or Henley took his usual chance, another run would have scored.

The Nationals’ overall defense was cleaner Sunday. Rendon made multiple quality defensive plays, Brian Dozier also two slick stops. But, two smaller incidents flipped two runs in what became a 6-4 game.

3. Jeremy Hellickson is going in reverse.

He lasted just three innings Sunday, and was lucky to make it there. Hellickson opened the game by loading the bases via walks. Despite him laying the groundwork for a devastating first inning, he allowed just a run.

Runners made it to second and third to start the second inning, but just one scored. A leadoff homer for Anthony Rizzo bumped the Cubs’ lead to 3-0 in the third. Hellickson wiggled away from a double in the inning to finish his evening in arrears, 3-0.

He threw 64 pitches, just 30 strikes.

The outing was the second time this season Hellickson lasted just three innings in a start. He gave up five earned runs the last time. Four of his previous five outings delivered a Game Score of 34 or lower (50 is the starting point with potential to go up -- or down). A non-analytical measure of those outings is to simply call them uncompetitive.

The trouble for Washington is it has no clear option to replace Hellickson and his 6.23 ERA in the rotation, if it decided that was the best course of action going forward. Joe Ross could swap spots wit Hellickson, flipping Ross into the rotation and Hellickson into the bullpen. Kyle McGowin, called up from Triple-A Fresno on Friday, relieved Hellickson on Sunday. He’s not big-league ready.

Austin Voth is the only minor-league starter on the 40-man roster but not on the 25-man roster. Voth has a 3.89 ERA in Fresno this season.

4. Trevor Rosenthal continues to creep toward a return.

He threw a bullpen session in Nationals Park on Sunday after a day off Saturday. Rosenthal pitched in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

Rosenthal is going to Harrisburg to throw another inning Monday, then be re-evaluated. He had another rough outing Friday for the Senators: ⅓ of an inning, 21 pitches, 11 strikes, a walk and hit allowed.

Nationals manager Davey Martinez said the misses were up and down in the zone. Rosenthal was previously pulling pitches to his left.

“I watched video,” Martinez said. “His mechanics are pretty good right now.”

Is he close to returning?

“I think he’s really close,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how this next outing goes for him.”

5. More progress for the injured.

Matt Adams (left shoulder strain) took 40 swings Sunday, felt good afterward, and is nearing a pre-game stint on the field, possibly Monday with the team in New York.

Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis) continues to swing and play defense. He was expected to run Sunday, the final step in his rehabilitation. He could be ready “very soon” according to Martinez.

Tony Sipp (oblique) took Sunday off after pitching an inning Saturday for Single-A Potomac.

Outfielder Andrew Stevenson (back spasms) was sent back to Triple-A Fresno on Sunday. He will begin playing games with the Grizzlies on Monday.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

 

Quick Links

Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

doolittle-umpires.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: