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Johnson has 3-shot lead at Kapalua

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Johnson has 3-shot lead at Kapalua

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) The players sat around all week waiting for the wind to relent so the PGA Tour season could finally get going. Once it did, the Tournament of Champions shifted into overdrive. It was the opening round and ``moving day'' in a span of 10 hours at Kapalua.

Dustin Johnson was in high gear for the entire ride.

He showed up on the west coast of Maui a week before the tournament was supposed to start, wanting to shake off whatever rust had accumulated in the last month and try out some of his new equipment. He played six practice rounds, none in the kind of wind that scrapped the opening round twice - Friday and Sunday - and was so bad on Saturday that no one hit a shot.

Johnson had to wait four days to hit a shot on the Plantation Course. Once he got started, he hardly missed a shot.

In 36 holes on Monday, he had seven putts at eagle. He made the last one from about 6 feet to polish off a 7-under 66. Combined with a 69 in the morning - another solid round that included a pair of three-putt bogeys and a three-putt par over five holes - he had a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker.

``I hit the ball really well this afternoon,'' he said.

Johnson is the master of the understatement, but only when he knows his game is working as well as he can expect. He was at 11-under 135, and it took only one day and two rounds for him to separate himself from the 30-man field of PGA Tour winners from last year.

Stricker holed out from 67 yards for eagle on the 18th hole and added a pair of birdies on the front nine for a 67, putting him in the final group for a chance to become the first American to win back-to-back at Kapalua.

The only other players within five shots of Johnson were Bubba Watson, who was four shots behind after going 70-69; Keegan Bradley (71-69) and Brandt Snedeker, the FedEx Cup champion who posted a pair of 70s.

That sets up an 18-hole finish on Tuesday, with a forecast for slightly diminished wind.

Stricker normally would be a tough guy to have at your side on this golf course, particularly the way he putts. But a strange week took on another bizarre quality with this development - after waiting all week for the event to start, Stricker didn't think he could finish.

He began feeling pain in his left side about a month ago, and it won't seem to go away. Stricker limped badly down the hill on the 18th - right before his pitch shot rode the slope and the wind to perfection for an eagle - and the pain never went away. The good news for Stricker is that it never got worse.

``It felt as crappy on the first hole as the last hole,'' he said.

Stricker doesn't know the cause of the pain that shoots down his left side. He doesn't know how he will play Tuesday, and the prospects of making up a three-shot deficit against Johnson on this golf course are stout even in the best of health.

``You've just got to go out and play, and play your hardest and see what happens,'' Stricker said. ``I've been in that position where he's at now. It's a tough spot. It's tough to win in front. We've got really nothing to lose tomorrow and it makes it a little bit easier for us, but tougher on him.''

No matter the player or their position on the board, most were thrilled to be playing.

The wind was ripping down the mountain at dawn, even as players were on the putting green under floodlights for the 7:10 a.m. HST start. But in the half-hour before the tournament was supposed to start, it died enough that they could play.

That's not to suggest it was easy. The tour tried to slow the greens to keep golf balls from moving, and these might be the slowest surfaces they get all year. But they could play, which was a big deal, even though the tournament started on the day it was supposed to end.

The wind still blew - hard.

It was tough enough that Stricker, who started his second round on the 10th hole, had 97 yards to the front of the green and hit 7-iron. He still came up short. Johnson had a 9-iron from 100 yards on six occasions, though he also hit a sand wedge from 160 yards. That was the measure of the wind.

Through it all, Johnson was simply superb.

``The way he's playing, the way he's striking it, the way he's controlling his golf ball, it's pretty good right now,'' said Watson, who played with Johnson. ``And I don't see any different tomorrow from him.''

Beyond the scorecard, Johnson's two rounds went like this:

-He missed only three greens in regulation.

-He made only three bogeys, two of them on three-putts from inside 25 feet, the other on a drive he smashed on the 17th hole that went through the fairway and into the hazard for a penalty drop. Johnson tried to ``bunt'' his driver and hit it pure, like everything else. His caddie wanted him to hit 3-wood.

-He had four putts at eagle on the last seven holes. Two of them were on par 5s - a 259-yard 3-wood into the wind on the 15th, and a 5-iron from 243 yards on the 18th hole with the wind at his back. He drove just off the green on 425-yard 12th hole downwind, and the 292-yard 14th hole into the wind.

``I'm pretty pleased with my equipment. I'm pretty pleased with my game right now,'' Johnson said.

Stricker said at the start of the tournament that he was going into semi-retirement this year, playing only about 10 events. He won't return to the PGA Tour after this week until the end of February at the Match Play Championship. And he's not going to roll over for Johnson, regarded as the best American player under 30.

Johnson, though, will gladly take his position. He will be trying to win in his sixth straight season since leaving college, the longest streak of any player since Tiger Woods. And he won the last two 54-hole events on the PGA Tour, at the hurricane-shortened Barclays in 2011 and rain-delayed Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2009.

``Just happened to win those two events,'' Johnson said. ``I've still got 18 more holes of golf. It wouldn't matter if it was 72 holes or 54. Tomorrow is still the last round and there's 18 holes to play, so got to get the job done.''

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Canadiens halt Capitals' point streak at 13

Canadiens halt Capitals' point streak at 13

WASHINGTON -- You've got to lose sometime. The clock finally struck midnight on the Capitals' point streak on Friday as Washington fell 5-2 to the Montreal Canadiens. A sleepy first period gave way to an onslaught in the second where Montreal scored four of its five goals.

The loss was the Caps' first regulation loss since Oct. 14, ending a streak of 13 straight games with at least a point.

Here is how the Caps lost.

Ovechkin’s hit

Early in the second period, it would be fair to call this a lifeless game. The score was tied at 0 with neither team generating much in the way of offense. There were no real highlight plays, highlight, nothing. It was just...blah.

Alex Ovechkin changed that.

Just over four minutes into the second, Ovechkin obliterated Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin with a heavy hit.

Drouin was slow to get up and immediately headed to the locker room. Those type of hits can be momentum-changers, but it is not always the hitter that gets that momentum boost. In this case, it seemed to wake up Montreal and not the Caps.

About two minutes after the hit, Phillip Danault would score the first of four goals the Canadiens would score in the second period. All four goals came in a span of 8:20.

It's hard not to draw the connection between the hit and the immediate response from Montreal on the scoresheet.

Defensive zone turnovers

Defensive zone turnovers are very dangerous in hockey. When a team has possession of the puck and is trying to break out, players head down the ice ready to transition from defense to offense.

In the second period, the Caps and Canadiens were locked in a board battle off a faceoff in Washington's defensive zone. John Carlson kicked the puck up near the blue line and T.J. Oshie stepped in. It looked like he was going to get the puck out or at least that's what his four teammates thought. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were already out of the defensive zone and both while Carlson and Kempny began skating up after them. Tomas Tatar and Ben Chiarot continued battling for the puck on the boards and prevented Oshie from getting it out. The puck squirted away from the boards and Montreal took possession. The Caps thought they had the puck on the breakout, but the defense suddenly found itself out of position thanks to the turnover. Tomas Tatar passed to Danault who was all by his lonesome in front of the net and he made it 1-0.

It wasn’t just that one moment. Puck management was an issue all night long for the Caps and it cost them again about five minutes later.

Now down 2-0, the Caps shut down an offensive zone possession for Montreal and had taken away the puck. Lars Eller attempted a stretch pass from the defensive zone right up the middle, but Tatar batted the puck down with his stick and Nate Thompson picked up the puck right behind the blue line and took it right back in to continue the offensive pressure. Less than 20 seconds later, Jordan Weal backhanded a shot that hit off the post and bounced off Samsonov to barely trickle over the goal line.

Out of gas

Lengthy streaks can be exhausting for teams and it certainly looked through 40 minutes like the Caps were just out of gas.

Montreal played well, but each goal in the second seemed to take more of the wind out of Washington's sails until there wasn't much left in the second period.

Through the first 40 minutes, the Caps were being outshot 30-18 in shots on goal and 50-36 in total shot attempts. The team rallied somewhat in the third period with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov each scoring to make things interesting, but there was not enough time or energy left for Washington to mount a real comeback.

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Karl-Anthony Towns gets technical foul for frustration with Mo Wagner

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Karl-Anthony Towns gets technical foul for frustration with Mo Wagner

Mo Wagner became the NBA's leader in charges drawn Friday night, and his activity during the first half helped him get under Karl-Anthony Towns' skin. 

After Wagner attempted to draw yet another charge on Towns, the Minnesota big man finished a layup on the drive and laid the ball in Wagner's lap when the foul went uncalled. 

Towns received the technical foul as the Wizards continued to play a strong first half against one of the better offenses in the league on the road. 

Towns has been on a mean streak this season. He got in an epic brawl with Joel Embiid earlier this season and got into it with Rudy Gay just a few nights ago. He's demonstrated that he's a player you can get to, and Wagner did just that early on. 

The Wizards' defense has seemingly responded to Wagner's activity, so we'll see if they can keep it up to supplement one of the league's best offensive units. 

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