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James Hahn, Roberto Castro lead Humana Challenge

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James Hahn, Roberto Castro lead Humana Challenge

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) James Hahn's family moved to Oakland from South Korea when he was 2, and he started playing golf two years later at his father's driving range.

``Just a `Tin Cup' kind of guy,'' Hahn said. ``Just a driving range rat.''

On Friday, in only his third big-league tournament, the 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie found himself tied for the Humana Challenge lead for the second straight day.

``I'm just soaking it in, having a good time,'' Hahn said. ``Any time that I play a good round, it feels good and makes me cherish the momentum a little bit more, because I know they're few and far between.''

He had a brief, combative college career at the University of California - ``Let's just say extracurricular activities got in the way.'' - and took a long, slow path to the PGA Tour. He won twice on the Canadian Tour in 2009 and spent the last three years on the Web.com Tour, winning an event last season and finishing fifth on the money list to earn a PGA Tour card.

``I just worked harder than everybody else,'' said Hahn, coming off a tie for 67th last week in Hawaii at the Sony Open. ``I wasn't doing anything right really the first couple years, but eventually I figured it out. Just going through trial and error is pretty much how I learned to play professionally. And to this day, I still go on YouTube for swing tips.''

He put together a highlight reel of his own Friday on the par-5 fifth hole at La Quinta Country Club, blasting a dead-straight drive, and hitting his second shot so pure that it went a little farther than he wanted. Undaunted, he turned to his trusty 54-degree wedge and holed a 30-foot, bump-and-run chip for eagle - part of a late birdie-eagle-birdie run.

``It was a long-drive stat hole, so I kind of came out of my shoes a little bit,'' Hahn said about his 310-yard poke on the tree-lined hole.

That left him 220 yards, and he figured a smooth 3-iron was his best play

``I didn't want to really overpower a 4-iron,'' Hahn said. ``I had a lot of adrenaline.''

He made perfect contact.

``Just hit it too good,'' Hahn said. ``Hit the center of the green, landed it 220, rolled to the back. ... I could have hit it with a 6-iron and probably hit it within 2 feet.''

It didn't matter when the chip rolled in.

``I read the break perfectly, broke about 2 feet straight down the hill,'' Hahn said.

Hahn finished with a 5-under 67 to match Roberto Castro at 14 under after another day of perfect conditions in the Coachella Valley. Castro shot a 67 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course after they began the round tied for the lead with Jason Kokrak at 63.

Castro had the lead alone at 16 under, but bogeyed two of his last three holes - three-putting the par-4 ninth.

``A couple slipped away there at the end, but yesterday I made a 50-footer on the last,'' Castro said. ``Today, I felt like I hit a good putt and three-putted. So, that's stuff over 72 holes that's going to even out.''

Castro is in his second season on the tour. The 27-year-old former Georgia Tech player missed the cut last week in Hawaii in his first start of the year.

``I learned a lot last year,'' Castro said. ``One of the best things that happened to me was making a lot of the cuts early in the year. I didn't have any big finishes, but I got to play four days and I got to learn pretty quickly. I got to play with some good players and watch what they do.''

Darron Stiles, Scott Stallings and Richard H. Lee were 13 under, all shooting 65. Stiles and Stallings played at La Quinta, and Lee was on the Palmer course. Kokrak had a 69 on the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for sixth at 12 under.

Phil Mickelson shot a 67 on the Nicklaus course after opening with a 72 at La Quinta. The tournament winner in 2002 and 2004, he was nine strokes behind the leaders and two strokes off the projected cut Saturday.

``The last two holes were the first time that I actually hit solid shots and my rhythm felt good and I made good wings,'' Mickelson said. ``I've been quick from the top. My rhythm has been off and I've hit a bunch of squirrelly shots. I made a lot of rusty mistakes.''

The tournament is his first since tying for second in early November at the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup. He plans to play five or six straight events, a run that will end at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.

``I really want to build some momentum here on the West Coast,'' Mickelson said.

Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had a 69 at the Palmer course to reach 11 under. He shot a 64 on Thursday at the Nicklaus course, and is 35 under in his first six rounds this year.

DIVOTS: The Palmer course had the highest scoring average the first two days at 69.596. La Quinta was next at 69.529, and the Nicklaus course the lowest at 67.923. ... Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, followed his opening 67 at La Quinta with a 75 at the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for 130th in the 156-man field at 2 under. The Canadian has missed 16 consecutive cuts and finished only one tournament - a tie for 70th in the AT&T National in July 2011 - in his last 28 events. The top 70 and ties after the third round will play Sunday at the Palmer course.

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Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator

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USA TODAY Sports

Tom Wilson’s suspension reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator

Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension has been reduced to 14 games by a neutral arbitrator meaning he is eligible to return as early as Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the arbitrator’s decision.

Wilson was suspended 20 games for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason. The suspension was announced on Oct. 3 and upheld by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Wilson’s first appeal.

Though the second appeal was technically successful in getting the suspension reduced, the lengthy process ended up costing him an extra two games as the Caps are already 16 games into the season. The good news for him is that he will recoup $378,048.78 of the over $1.2 million he was originally due to forfeit as a result of the suspension.

This marks the second suspension that Shyam Das, the neutral arbitrator, has reduced this season. Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson was suspended 27 games for domestic assault, but had his suspension reduced to 18 games after taking his appeal to the neutral arbitrator.

Tuesday’s ruling may mark the end of Wilson’s suspension and of the appeals process, but it hardly marks the end of the entire saga and controversy surrounding Wilson and his style of play. A 14-game suspension is still significant and should not be seen as vindication that Wilson did nothing wrong in the eyes of the league.

If there is another suspension, it will be longer and neither Wilson nor the Caps can afford for that to happen. Wilson still must change the way he plays or everyone is going to end up going through this entire process again and nobody wants that.

The Caps will have a morning skate at 12:30 p.m. ET which should provide more clarity on whether Todd Reirden intends to play Wilson immediately and where he could slot into the lineup.

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What do the Capitals do with Jakub Vrana?

What do the Capitals do with Jakub Vrana?

You don’t have to watch Jakub Vrana very long to realize just how talented he is. Unfortunately for him, you also don’t have to watch very long to realize how turnover prone he can be as well.

Carelessness with puck management has been one of the glaring issues for the Caps in the early season and Vrana, as he has been for much of his young career, is certainly guilty of that.

Vrana’s combination of talent and penchant for on-ice mistakes presents a problem for head coach Todd Reirden as he has to find the right place plug him into the lineup. That challenge has thus far proven difficult.

Vrana entered the Nov. 3 game against the Dallas Stars on the top line.  After a minus-three game and a turnover in overtime that led to Dallas’ game-winning goal, he found himself on the fourth line the very next game with barely eight minutes of ice time.

“We'll continue to try to remove those glaring turnovers or defense mistakes from his game,” Reirden said recently. “I think it's something that has improved compared to prior years which is why he spent the majority of the time up with those top-six guys, but it's sometimes good for a reset with some of the bottom-six guys and then start slotting him back in.”

At 22-years-old, mistakes on the ice are to be expected. But Vrana may take that to the extreme.

Not only does Vrana commit a lot of careless turnovers, he is also guilty of taking far too many penalties. Vrana ranks third on the team with 14 penalty minutes.

Mistakes by a forward are not nearly as glaring to a coach as those by a defensemen considering the mistakes tend to happen in the offensive zone and are less likely to result in a goal for the other team. When those offensive zone mistakes lead to offensive zone penalties, however, that’s a different story.

But Vrana is simply too skilled to bury in the lineup or take out altogether. With four even-strength goals, Vrana is tied for the third-most on the team behind only T.J. Oshie (7) and Alex Ovechkin (6). Of all the forwards Reirden has cycled into the top line in Tom Wilson’s absence to play with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vrana was the player who seemed to fit the best. He does not provide the same sort of defensive balance to the top line as Wilson does, but no one has been able to step in and adequately fill Wilson’s spot thus far. Vrana added an extra element of speed and offensive skill to an already dangerous line and seemed to show chemistry with Kuznetsov especially.

“There's some really good things that he's showing,” Reirden said. “The speed he plays with, the release of his shot, the chances he's getting, you've got to try to find ways to get him out there more.”

But Wilson will soon return to fill his top line role and Reirden will soon get his full lineup for the first time this season. Yet, almost a quarter into the season Vrana still makes it hard to find the right spot for him.

Putting Vrana on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie – if Reirden reunites Ovechkin and Kuznetsov – seems like the best fit. Backstrom and Oshie can make up for Vrana’s defensive issues and Vrana can provide speed on an otherwise slower line.

But at some point, Vrana has to cut back on the turnovers and the penalties.

“You've got to continue to show him,” Reirden said. “Continue to show him, continue to `remind him, continue to teach and help him grow and get better. That's a young player trying to become a top-six full time.”

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