Nationals

Hanson trying to overtake McIlroy in Europe

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Hanson trying to overtake McIlroy in Europe

The Race to Dubai on the European Tour heads for the home stretch, and Rory McIlroy is sitting out one of the richer events this week in the HSBC Champions.

McIlroy is trying to match Luke Donald's historic feat last year, when he became the first player to win the money title on the PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same season.

McIlroy already has wrapped up the PGA Tour money title with just over $8 million, and the European race figured to come down to McIlroy and Justin Rose.

That was before Peter Hanson held off McIlroy last week to win the BMW Masters.

McIlroy's lead on the money list in Europe is just over $1 million (812,572 euros), and a win this week at Mission Hills in the final World Golf Championship would be enough for the Swede to take over the lead.

``I am moving closer to Rory in The Race to Dubai, and the fact he is not at Mission Hills this week gives me a chance to close the gap even more,'' Hanson said. ``Hopefully, I can keep this form going and be up there again Sunday because I will need to keep playing like I did last week to have a chance of catching him, given how well he is playing this year.''

McIlroy, who won an 18-hole exhibition against Tiger Woods on Monday, plans to play Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai to finish the year.

It already has been an amazing season for Hanson, who started the year at No. 42 in the world and had been trying for years to establish himself deep into the top 50 so he could be a regular in all the majors and perhaps do well enough to become a PGA Tour member. He lives at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.

He has secured PGA Tour membership for 2013, primarily through a pair of top 5s in the WGCs and two top 10s in the majors. Hanson has won twice, in the Dutch Open and last week in Shanghai. And he made his second straight Ryder Cup team, even though he played only two matches.

Rose also is playing in the HSBC Champions and could overtake McIlroy with a win.

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LPGA RACE: For so much of the summer, Stacy Lewis was poised to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win LPGA player of the year.

Not so fast.

Inbee Park won in Malaysia, and then two weeks later was on the cusp of another win until Suzann Pettersen ran her down on the final day to win in Taiwan.

Even so, the runner-up finish was enough to get Park to within 28 points of Lewis. Wins are worth 30 points, with 12 points for second, nine for third, on down to one point for 10th place.

Lewis, who has three wins and three second-place finishes this year, and Park are each playing the LPGA Tour's final three tournaments - the Mizuno Classic in Japan, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and the season-ending Titleholders in Naples, Fla.

Betsy King in 1993 is the last American to win the LPGA money title, though that appears to be out of reach for Lewis. Park's late run has put the South Korean atop the money list by just over $533,000, though the Titleholders pays $500,000 to the winner.

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DONALD AND DISNEY: Luke Donald won't be defending his title next week at Disney, a decision he doesn't take lightly. One of his daughters has a scheduled medical procedure at home north of Chicago, and Donald doesn't want to miss it.

Donald can be excused for not playing even if there was nothing going on at home. The only reason he played last year was for a chance to win the PGA Tour title, and thus become the first player to win the money list on the PGA and European tours in the same year.

It was the first time in six years that Disney had the No. 1 player in the world. Donald, who had not played Disney since 2003, was five shots behind until running off six straight birdies on the back nine for a 64.

Considering what was at stake, and the fact Donald might not get another chance at such a milestone, his win was one of the top performances of the year.

Instead of explaining why he couldn't return, Donald went an extra step. He has pledged a ``significant donation'' to Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, part of the Children's Miracle Network of hospitals.

Children's Miracle Network is the title sponsor at Disney.

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ASIA-PACIFIC AMATEUR: It took more than 100 years of the U.S. Amateur before a player - Tiger Woods - won it three straight times. Hideki Matsuyama will be going after his third straight Asia-Pacific Amateur title this week in Thailand.

The championship is only in its fourth year.

At stake for the winner is a spot in the Masters, and being exempt into International Final Qualifying for the British Open. Matsuyama has made the cut twice in the Masters, and he won on the Japan Golf Tour.

``I was able to win twice so that I was able to go to the Masters twice,'' he said. ``So I am really looking forward to winning again this time in Thailand.''

The tournament will be played at Amata Spring, where Matsuyama played for British Open qualifying.

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PADRAIG'S RUN: Padraig Harrington lost a 54-hole lead and was runner-up in the Italian Open on May 2, 1999, moving him up to No. 83 in the world ranking. He replaced Paul McGinley as the highest-ranked player from the Republic of Ireland, and that didn't change for more than 13 years.

Shane Lowry won the Portugal Masters, and his fifth-place finish in the BMW Masters moved him to No. 57, making him Ireland's highest-ranked player.

Harrington skipped the BMW Masters to play as an alternate in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which he won to earn $600,000 (but no ranking points). Harrington is at No. 59.

Harrington has finished the season as Ireland's top golfer in the world ranking every year since 1997.

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`SENATOR' FRITSCH: Brad Fritsch of Canada finally made it to the PGA Tour, and he's bringing his favorite NHL team with him.

The Ottawa Senators have announced a partnership with the 34-year-old Fritsch, who earned his card by finishing 18th on the Web.com Tour money list. The Senators will provide financial support, and Fritsch will wear their logo on his shirt and golf bag.

``I am overjoyed to partner with and represent the NHL team that I've grown up with the last 20 years,'' Fritsch said. ``It is an honor and a pleasure to be associated with the Senators and my hope is that this is a partnership that will last for many, many years.''

Fritsch starts his season in January, and he can only hope the NHL is playing by then.

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DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia are the only players from Europe's winning Ryder Cup team who are not playing in the HSBC Champions. The U.S. team is missing Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and Jim Furyk. ... Three PGA Tour events will have new tournament directors next year. Coachella Valley business executive is taking over the Humana Challenge for Larry Thiel, who is retiring. Joe Mazzeo has been promoted to tournament director of the Mayakoba Golf Classic following the departure of Larson Segerdahl, who will be the new tournament director of the Texas Open. ... The Australian Masters found a title sponsor in Talisker, a single-malt Scotch whisky. It will be played at Kingston Heath and five hours of live television coverage each round. Ian Poulter is the defending champion.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods matched a career-best with 28 birdies in Malaysia. He also had 28 birdies in the 2006 Buick Open, which he won by three shots, and the 2007 Tour Championship, which he won by eight shots. In Malaysia, he tied for fourth.

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FINAL WORD: ``Piling up the cash. Just need to get a win.'' - Robert Garrigus, after his fourth runner-up finish this year at the CIMB Classic.

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Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

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USA Today Sports

Dozier and Long a match made in launch angle heaven

Brian Dozier came to a realization following his rookie season in 2012. Why not hit the ball more often in the air and accentuate a strength? Instead of drilling to fix a weakness -- like opposite-field hitting or even ground ball rate -- choose to club away, in the air, to the pull side, as often as possible.

No en vogue terminology explained Dozier’s pursuit of six years ago. Omnipotent terms like “launch angle” remained shrouded and in development. Dozier didn’t need a phrase. He just needed to do what worked more often.

The idea took with career-altering results. Dozier hit 18 home runs, then 23, then 28, then 42. Pull-side fly balls turned him into an All-Star and commodity at second base. His new one-year deal with the Nationals brings him a hitting coach who is elated by the idea of hitting up and over.

Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long is the effervescent patriarch of launch angle. “We want to hit it over the shift,” Long will tell anyone willing to listen. Do damage, hit bombs, whatever slang term is preferred. Just hit the ball in the air. On the ground equals outs. In the air produces runs.

Melding a second baseman in search of a reboot after a down year with a hitting coach who is going to trumpet a cause the infielder already backed could be a powerful formula.

“When I changed my approach at the end of 2012 going into 2013, there was no launch angle, any of that stuff, but looking back at it now that’s kind of exactly what it was,” Dozier said Tuesday on a conference call. “We just didn’t have a name for it. “[It’s] recognizing your strength and doing everything you can to be really good at your strength rather than try to tweak weaknesses and stuff. And one of those strengths for me is hitting the ball in the air to left field, left-center field. Once I kind of got that part of it, I really enjoyed doing that. It’s going to be a fun year with a hitting coach that kind of sees the same thing, whether your strength is hitting the ball in the air or hitting the ball the other way, I believe in really honing into your strength and really running with that. Some guys’ strengths aren’t hitting the ball in the air, which is fine.”

The numbers coinciding with Dozier’s rise from eighth-round pick to among the league leaders in homers from 2014-2017 are stark. His fly ball rate increased year after year until peaking in 2016 at 47.7 percent, the same season he hit 42 home runs. His 120 OPS-plus in that span showed what kind of work he performed in Minnesota’s cool and spacious Target Field.

 

However, 2018 brought a significant recession when an April bone bruise in his left knee hindered him throughout the season. Tuesday, Dozier explained the importance of load bearing and stability from his front leg in order to execute his upward swing. Instead of landing on the front of his foot, the knee bruise pushed him back to his heel, opening his hips early. Grizzly results followed: 21 homers, a .215 average, sub-.700 OPS.

Dozier said Tuesday his knee is healed. Finally receiving a break from baseball following the World Series allowed him to recover. That’s also when he had to decide his future. Dozier wasn’t sure how the market would react to his down season following years of being one of the heaviest second base bats in baseball. He said he received multiple offers -- some providing more years and money than the Nationals’ one-year, $9 million deal he settled on -- before selecting Washington. Conversations with his ex-Minnesota teammate Kurt Suzuki, in his second stint with the Nationals, and former Washington outfielder Josh Willingham, who played with Dozier in Minnesota, too, helped sway his decision.

“It just seemed like a really good fit,” Dozier said.

That is applicable to this coming partnership between Dozier and Long. In the air, often and to the pull side. It’s a subtle pairing that could help Dozier return to the 30-home run mark, and the Nationals to receive inexpensive bop from an infield spot.

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How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

How Holtby’s return could help Capitals escape mid-season doldrums

The Capitals look to rebound from an ugly loss with a road game against the Nashville Predators (8 p.m. NBC Sports Washington). Washington has lost two games in a row and five of eight. The Predators beat the Capitals 6-3 on Dec. 31 at Capital One Arena and has won five in a row over against them.

Here is what to watch for in tonight’s game:  

1. Back to Holtby

After sustaining an eye injury in Saturday’s overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Braden Holtby is expected to play against the Predators. The Capitals did not hold a morning skate on Tuesday after traveling following a 4-1 loss at home Monday to the St. Louis Blues. Holtby started last season’s game in Nashville, a 6-3 loss on Nov. 14, 2017 where he allowed four goals in the second period and was pulled from the game. But Holtby still leads the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.939) since Nov. 4 among goalies who have started at least 13 games and it could be time to get him more consistent work – even with backup Pheonix Copley playing well behind him. Holtby has had his rest. If he’s healthy, it might be time to let him carry the weight for a while. 

2. Another Chance for Burakovsky?

There’s constant talk now about the future of Andre Burakovsky, who returned to the lineup Monday after a two-game absence. Caps coach Todd Reirdan was clear about what Burakovsky had to do to stay in the lineup. We’ll see tonight if that happens. Playing on the third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, Burakovsky played just 10:46 against the Blues and was on the ice for a goal against. But he did have three shots on goal and seemed engaged. Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch in six of the past 16 games. 

3. No. 700 for Oshie

One night after defenseman Brooks Orpik played in his 1000th career game, forward T.J. Oshie will reach a milestone of his own with game No. 700. Oshie has been kept off the score sheet the past two games, but had two goals in a Jan. 8 game against the Philadelphia Flyers. 

4. Powering Up

Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal in the loss to St. Louis on Monday might mean the Capitals are coming around in that area. A struggle for weeks, they at least now have two goals on the man advantage in the past four games. But they have slipped all the way to 14thin the NHL (21.2 percent) so there is work left to be done.

Monday’s game featured much better puck movement by the top unit.   

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