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Grace aims for home title at South African Open

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Grace aims for home title at South African Open

JOHANNESBURG (AP) After winning four times in his breakthrough season on the European Tour, South Africa's Branden Grace can cap it with a title he prizes above all: His home country's national open.

Scotland's Richie Ramsay is the only international player to win the historic South African Open in the last decade, making home players Grace, former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and defending champion Hennie Otto early favorites for victory at Serengeti this weekend.

Grace won at the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions, China Open and Alfred Dunhill Links to put him sixth in the tour's Race to Dubai rankings in his first season since winning back his card.

The South African Open is the second oldest tournament in golf (1893) after the British Open (1860). A victory for Grace would put him alongside Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and South African greats Gary Player and Bobby Locke.

``I've really been looking forward to this. If you're a South African golfer, this is the one tournament you want to win,'' Grace said.

Germany's Martin Kaymer makes his first attempt at the Open title and what would be a first tournament victory this year. It would be something to go with the 8-foot putt that retained the Ryder Cup for Europe and has so far defined his season.

``Obviously it's a great thing that I can keep that for the rest of my life,'' Kaymer said of the putt at Medinah. ``Even when I watched it two weeks later, obviously I knew what was going to happen, but I was never nervous watching it. I can only imagine how it was for the guys who had no idea, who were just watching it live.''

Kaymer - once the second youngest player to be No. 1 before Rory McIlroy - was impressed with the Northern Irishman's year.

``It's quite impressive how Rory handles the whole situation at 23 years old. It takes some time to get used to the thought that you are quite a big athlete in the world, quite a big sportsman,'' Kaymer said. ``It's just something that you can be very, very proud of.''

While Kaymer talked of the ``rare'' excitement he had experienced from fans in South Africa, Grace was curious about the reception he will receive this week after emerging as the latest in a bunch of South African youngsters.

It'll likely be a warm welcome.

McIlroy undoubtedly reigned in 2012, winning the U.S. and European money titles, but Grace gained some attention in Europe with an opening-round 60 at the Dunhill Links last month to lead from start to finish.

With the South African Open and then the season-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai to come, Grace has a chance at more titles and a top-five finish or better on Europe's money list.

All after he lost his tour card at the end of 2009 and went back to qualifying school.

``Over the last couple of years, I've felt that I've played good golf, but never really got the push out of it. I never really got where I wanted to be,'' he said. ``Obviously, this year has been a dream year so far and going back home, I hope I get rewarded for what I've done.''

Grace may vie with Schwartzel and Otto for the title on Sunday and the $201,000 winner's check. There's also no Els, Goosen or Louis Oosthuizen at the 102nd South African Open.

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Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

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Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

The Wizards are reportedly preparing to make Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a massive offer to run Washington's NBA franchise. And they may have some big-time help recruiting him to D.C. 

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is trying to persuade Ujiri to leave the NBA champions to join the Wizards, according to The Athletic's Ethan Strauss. 

"I hear Barack Obama's a part of that whole Masai recruitment to D.C.," Strauss said on a recent episode of the "Back To Back" podcast. "I've heard Obama wants Masai in D.C. Obama wants to do something with basketball."

Obama and Ujiri are close friends. Obama was in attendance at Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, while Ujiri attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2015 when Obama was in office. 

The Wizards' potential offer for Ujiri is reportedly for six years, $60 million, and could possibly include an ownership stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment and other responsibilities within the company, sources have told NBC Sports Washington. 

And hey, it doesn't hurt to have the former Commander in Chief making your sales pitch.

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Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosted one of their final prospect workouts in anticipation of the June 20 NBA Draft on Friday, as six players battled in three-on-three drills with every member of Washington's front office and coaching staff in sight. But behind the glass wall of the dining lounge at the Wizards' practice facility at St. Elizabeth's was the player everyone wanted to see.

Sekou Doumbouya, who is projected to land in the lottery on draft night, made a visit to Washington to speak with Wizards personnel. He did not participate in the workout, but through face-to-face interviews gave the Wizards an up-close look at a player who may or may not be on the board when they are on the clock with the ninth overall pick.

Doumbouya is the youngest player in the draft at just 18 years old, with his birthday not until late December. He is originally from Guinea but played professional basketball in France. Given his age and the fact he played in a second-tier league before making the leap to the NBA, Doumbouya holds some mystery as a prospect.

In his meetings with teams, Doumbouya has tried to hammer home one point in particular.

"My defense," he said. "I can play everywhere [because] if you play defense, you can play everywhere in the league."

Defense certainly stands out when it comes to Doumbouya's potential. He is 6-foot-9 with a reported 7-foot-2 wingspan. At his age, he could keep growing. And at that size, he has the mobility to guard multiple positions, force turnovers and maybe even block some shots.

The Wizards need help with just about every area of their defense. They were 27th in defensive rating last season and 29th in points allowed. They couldn't defend the perimeter or the lane, allowing the fourth-highest three-point percentage (37%) and the fifth-most three-point makes (12.1/g), while also allowing more field goals within five feet of the rim than any team (22.1/g) and the third-highest percentage (64.2%) in that range. 

Doumbouya projects as the type of defensive anchor who could help in a variety of ways. He could step out to guard three-point shooters while also clogging lanes to the basket with his length.

The questions for Doumbouya center around how NBA-ready he is at his age and experience, and what his ceiling will ultimately be on the offensive end. Doumbouya, though, believes he can be especially effective in transition.

"Fastbreak," he said when listing his strengths. "I love running [the floor]."

Whether Doumbouya will be available at the ninth pick depends on who you ask. Most mock drafts have him at nine or lower, but his athleticism and versatility could entice a team that picks before the Wizards.

The Hawks, whom Doumbouya met with the day after seeing the Wizards, are a team to watch. They have the eighth, 10th and 17th picks in the first round, so they can afford to take a risk. They could snag Doumbouya at No. 8, then go with a safer pick or two with their other selections.

But there is a very good chance Doumbouya is the best player available when the Wizards get set to make their pick. If he does, defense will be his biggest selling point.

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