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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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Orioles catcher Bryan Holaday finishes game as pitcher as Orioles blown out by Nationals 15-3

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Orioles catcher Bryan Holaday finishes game as pitcher as Orioles blown out by Nationals 15-3

After six straight wins led by their offense, the Orioles seemed due for an off night. And they finished it off with catcher Bryan Holaday on the mound.

Holaday was the 17th position player in Orioles history to pitch in a game, and the last since Stevie Wilkerson recorded a save last year against the Angels. But he only entered the game when the score was out of hand. 

The Orioles suffered a blowout loss in the first game of a three-game set against the Nationals on Friday at Camden Yards in a 15-3 loss, the first loss where the team was never in the game in a few weeks. 

Holaday’s finish wasn’t the only unique part of Friday’s game, as Keegan Akin made his major league debut. Akin threw three innings, allowed two hits and three earned runs with one home run allowed. He was sent to the team’s alternate training site at Double-A Bowie after the game.

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Akin’s debut. “I was really encouraged by how he threw the ball. Really nice life to his fastball, good tempo, he flashed some decent breaking balls. He went out and attacked hitters and I was really impressed with him making his debut tonight and facing a lot of tough hitters for the Washington Nationals and he did a nice job.”

As was a problem throughout the night, however, the Orioles didn’t play good defense. They were credited with just one error, but the defense was more shoddy than that would suggest.

Starting pitcher Tommy Milone threw four innings, allowed nine hits and six runs — but three were unearned as the Orioles fell behind in the second inning and never came back. The Nationals scored in six of their nine offensive innings, including a six run outburst in the eighth inning.

The offense wasn’t much help, as they recorded just six hits compared to the Nationals 19 in a disappointing performance across the board. Anthony Santander slugged a home run in the first inning off Stephen Strasburg, who left with an injury in the inning, but the Orioles were quiet the rest of the night in a dominating defeat.

“I just didn’t think we played well defensively,” Hyde said. “I think we’ve been pretty good for the most part, especially in the infield. Tonight just wasn’t our best night defensively. We just didn’t play very well. So we just chalk this up, try to put this one behind us.”

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Brent Johnson calls for rookie Vitek Vanecek to replace Braden Holtby in goal for struggling Capitals

Brent Johnson calls for rookie Vitek Vanecek to replace Braden Holtby in goal for struggling Capitals

After the 5-2 Game 2 loss to the New York Islanders Friday night in a Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series, Rob Carlin asked the Caps Postgame Live crew how they would fix Washington's error-ridden performances seen in the first round so far. 

Brent Johnson knows the pressures that comes with playing in net during the Stanley Cup playoffs, but that doesn't mean he'll sympathize with the end results. As a goaltender for the Capitals for four seasons in the mid-2000s, Johnson has vast experience with the ups and downs that come with the position. But he had a pretty radical answer to Carlin's question: Bench veteran goalie Braden Holtby, the man who helped Washington win a Stanley Cup in 2018, for a rookie who has never played in a regular-season NHL game: Vitek Vanecek. 

"I know how they can shake it up. I know how they can shake it up. Right?" Johnson said. "Vitek Vanecek. Right there. That’s it. Hey. You know what? Bold decision. Bold decision. Do something bold. You never know. I’ve seen it happen in the playoffs thus far."

To call for Washington's veteran netminder to take a seat on the bench for a rookie who hasn't even played in the NHL yet is more than bold. Johnson's proclamation left Carlin yelling "Whoa!" and fellow panelist Al Koken saying he didn't know how to top that one. Alan May simply smiled and shook his head. 

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The Capitals wouldn't be in this position at all had rookie Ilya Samsonov never gotten injured during the long NHL break back home in Russia in an off-ice incident. The 23-year-old had a breakout season for Washington to get in the rotation in what's been an up-and-down year for Holtby. Samsonov had a .913 save percentage and won 16 of his 26 games in net this season. Vanecek, on the other hand, just got called up for the postseason after playing all season for the AHL's Hersey Bears.  

Nonetheless, the Caps have to figure out something to get a spark going for Game 3 against the Isles at noon Sunday. Johnson's solution was by far the most radical suggested, but everyone agreed changes needed to be made or the season could end far sooner than anyone anticipated. 

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