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Johnson gets PGA Tour season off to wild start

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Johnson gets PGA Tour season off to wild start

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) The power of Dustin Johnson is undeniable, especially the way his ball pierced through the wind at Kapalua. His touch with the short game doesn't get much attention, even though two such shots were pivotal to his win in the Tournament of Champions. His lack of fear is becoming his trademark.

Johnson believes there are no limits to what he can achieve in golf, as long as he keeps mistakes to a minimum and makes better decisions.

And even that doesn't always stop him.

With a pair of wild tee shots mixed in with a chip-in for eagle, Johnson won the PGA Tour's season opener on Tuesday by closing with a 5-under 68 for a four-shot victory over Steve Stricker, extending his streak of winning every season in the six years since he left college.

Don't be fooled by the score or the margin. This was a lot closer than it needed to be.

``It was nowhere near ho-hum,'' Johnson said.

He made sure of that by staying aggressive even when he had a five-shot lead with 11 holes to play in the final round Tuesday.

Johnson took a big swing with the driver on the par-5 ninth and the ball vanished into high grass, costing him two shots. He still managed only a bogey, however, because he walked back to the tee with the same club and hammered that one down the left side, far enough that he could reach the green in two.

On the 13th hole, coming off a birdie to rebuild his lead to three shots, Johnson blasted driver to the left into bushes and tall grass, leading to another double bogey. That cut the lead to one shot, and when Johnson reached the 14th tee, he didn't hesitate.

Out came the driver.

``I was like, `Dude, what are you doing?' He took out driver on a couple holes and he let me back in the game,'' Stricker said. ``We're walking up 15 and I was like, `Why don't you take iron out, make me have to make birdies instead of you hitting it in the trees and opening it up for me?' And he's like, `Yeah, yeah, I know.'

``But he's got a lot of talent,'' Stricker said. ``It looks like very little fear in him, because he'll hit one a little crooked but he'll pull out that driver again and try it again. And he pulled it off, especially at 14. That was the deciding shot and chip for the tournament.''

That it was.

Stricker was safely in the fairway on the 14th, which plays dead into the wind with bunkers down the right side and big trouble even farther to the right, the kind of grass where golf balls are never found. The prudent shot would be a 3-iron to leave a short pitch to the green. Johnson smashed his tee shot, a tight draw, that rolled up to the green and fell back. No problem. He chipped in for eagle, Stricker smiled and slapped hands with him, and Johnson was on his way.

Johnson hit another delicate pitch-and-run up a dangerous slope on the 15th to match Stricker's birdie and stay three ahead.

It was only fitting that this weird, windy week ended with such a wild ride.

The tournament was supposed to end Monday. That's when it started after gusts topping 40 mph forced officials to scrap the first round on Friday and Sunday, with no golf played on Saturday. The tournament was reduced to 54 holes.

Once it started, it ended about 29 hours later.

Johnson also added a peculiar footnote to his record. He now has won the last three PGA Tour events reduced to 54 holes because of weather - rain at Pebble Beach in 2009, a hurricane at The Barclays in 2011 and gusts that topped 40 mph in Hawaii from a freak weather pattern that led to a bizarre season opener.

``I've got a long way to go but I will be ready for the Champions Tour,'' Johnson said, referring to 54-hole event on the 50-and-old circuit.

It was only appropriate that a tournament delayed by a powerful wind was won by a guy who overpowered the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

``It definitely got close out there today,'' Johnson said. ``Sometimes I hit a couple of bad drives, but I was always able to bounce back and do what I needed to do to stay out front.''

He never felt truly in command until the final two holes, which are downhill. Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, was spotted with Johnson all week and watched from the gallery as he finished without drama at 16-under 203.

Johnson won for the sixth straight season since leaving college at Coastal Carolina, the longest streak since Tiger Woods won in 14 straight years. Only Phil Mickelson (nine) has a longer active streak of most consecutive years with a PGA Tour win.

Johnson has all the tools for greatness, though his decision-making remains open to criticism. Instead of hitting an iron off the 13th tee - it's tough to get it close to the pin even with a short iron - he went with driver and invited all sorts of trouble. Remember, this is the guy who lost a three-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by rushing through wild shots in a round of 82. He lost a shot at another major by not realizing he was in a bunker on the last hole at Whistling Straits.

``I've done it enough times that it doesn't really bother me anymore,'' Johnson said. ``I've been in this situation enough now and I've made enough double bogeys in my life. You know, it's just another hole, and you've got a lot more holes to go where you can make it up. Fortunately, today I made a double and then the next hole I made eagle. That definitely was the turning point of the day, because walking off 13, I was like, `Oh, no, here it goes again.'

``But I came right back, focused and hit two great shots.''

Stricker put up a good fight on one good leg. He has been feeling a shooting pain down his left side on every shot and limped his way around the hilliest course on the tour for 54 holes in two days. He closed with a 69.

``I knew it was going to be tough, but I gave it a run for a little while,'' Stricker said.

Brandt Snedeker went 5 under during a four-hole stretch on the front nine to get within one shot of the lead until he closed out the front nine with three straight bogeys. Snedeker had a 69 and finished alone in third, six shots behind. He moved to No. 8 in the world ranking, second only to Woods among Americans.

Masters champion Bubba Watson (71) and former PGA champion Keegan Bradley (70) were another shot back.

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Capitals vs. Predators: Alex Ovechkin returns from suspension

Capitals vs. Predators: Alex Ovechkin returns from suspension

The Capitals (34-11-5) are back home for the first time since Jan. 16 to take on the Nashville Predators (22-19-7). Pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live followed by Caps Pregame Live at 7 p.m. Catch the game at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN then tune back to NBC Sports Washington for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Wednesday’s game.

Ovechkin is back

Alex Ovechkin returns to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game. With him back, the lines returned to normal from what we saw before the break:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Ovechkin currently sits tied for ninth on the all-time scoring list at 692, just eight goals shy of 700.

Holtby starts

Braden Holtby will get the start after a strong performance on Monday against the Montreal Canadiens. He made 31 saves on 33 shots for a .939 save percentage. It was the first time in his past eight starts that Holtby was able to register a save percentage over .900.

9 games and counting

Ovechkin may have eight goals in his last three games, but Jakub Vrana is the hottest Cap with a nine-game point streak. He has eight goals and three assists during that stretch.

When last we met

Wednesday’s game is the second and final meeting between these two teams this season. They last met early in the season on Oct. 10 in a 6-5 win for the Predators in Nashville. Washington actually held a 4-2 lead heading into the third period, but gave up four goals in the final frame to take the regulation loss. Those types of games have been typical for Caps-Predators as this seems to be a matchup the Caps just can’t quite figure out.

Washington has lost seven straight against Nashville and almost all of them have been high-scoring affairs. In those seven losses, the Caps gave up at least five goals five times, at least six goals four times and held the Predators to fewer than four goals only once. You have to go all the way back to March 18, 2016 for the last time Washington has beaten the Predators.

A chance to get right on the power play

Washington’s power play has been abysmal of late, but showed some promising signs in Monday’s game against Montreal as Tom Wilson was able to score in a game in which Ovechkin was suspended. Now Ovechkin is back and the power play will have a chance to build on its momentum against a bad Nashville penalty kill. The Predators rank 29th in the NHL on the PK with only 74.0-percent.

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Kurt Warner believes Dwayne Haskins has the skill set to be a franchise QB

Kurt Warner believes Dwayne Haskins has the skill set to be a franchise QB

When the Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the organization hoped their investment in the passer would result in Washington finding its franchise quarterback of the future.

Whether Haskins becomes that franchise quarterback is still up for debate, as the signal-caller had an up-and-down rookie season. But the Ohio State product seemed to improve by the week and ended the season playing his best football, giving fans hope for the future.

Kurt Warner, a Super Bowl-champion quarterback who had to wait several years before getting his first NFL shot, believes Haskins can eventually develop into that franchise QB for the Burgundy and Gold.

The Super Bowl-winning quarterback joined the Redskins Talk podcast on Tuesday, and spoke highly of the 22-year-old's ability.

"The skillset, without question, is there," Warner said. "We saw that in college, we saw that in moments last year."

Warner explained that one of the things he looks for in young passers is their week-to-week improvement. That's something Haskins did very well towards the end of the 2019 season.

"To me, that's what greatness is all about," Warner said. "It's not about coming into the league and being a finished product. It's about working and getting better all the time."

In his final two games, Haskins threw for 394 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions on 72 percent completion rate. He was on his way to the best game of his brief career in Week 16 against the Giants before an ankle injury ended his afternoon in the third quarter.

"What I saw with Dwayne this year, he did improve game by game," Warner said. "As he got more comfortable with the NFL, as he got more comfortable with the system, he played better and better and made them more competitive each and every time out."

The 2020 offseason is crucial for Haskins. It's his first full offseason in the NFL, and seems poised to make a jump in Year 2. 

Haskins dealt with a lot in 2019, rookie or not. Five weeks into the season, his head coach was fired. He wasn't named the starter until Week 9, only due to injury to Case Keenum. Entering his second season, Haskins has a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, and new position coach.

There's little carryover from a season ago. Very few organizations that constantly change in the NFL are successful. 

"For young quarterbacks or players in general, you want to be able to find something you’re comfortable with and grow in," Warner said. "Hopefully this is the only move they make during Dwayne's career and he can get comfortable in that offense and hopefully one day be playing in the Super Bowl as well."

Warner knows plenty about waiting to get his opportunity; he didn't get his first shot in the NFL until he was 28. But he was put into an offense nicknamed 'The Greatest Show on Turf" that featured plenty of weapons -- Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Torry Holt -- which allowed the inexperienced Warner to thrive.

In his first season as the Rams starter, Warner threw for a league-high 41 touchdown passes on an 8.2 percent touchdown rate, with just 13 interceptions. His 109.2 quarterback rating was the NFL's best that season. The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl, defeating Tennessee.

"I think the other component is finding the right situation, the right system for you," Warner said. When I got back into the NFL with the Rams, I was 28 years old when I got my first start. I was able to have a lot of success early because I found myself in the right system. The offense did what I did well. It played to my strengths."

Washington doesn't have the weapons that Warner's Rams did, but the Redskins have several young assets -- Terry McLaurin, Derrius Guice and Steven Sims -- that have shown promise. Getting Haskins in the right system, one that caters to his strengths, will be crucial in the development of the young passer.

"I believe that is key for players, especially at the quarterback position. You've got to find a system," Warner said. "In this case in Washington, they need to build a system around what Dwayne Haskins does well. That's how you thrive. That's how you get to and win Super Bowls."

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