Lytham Holds Great Memories For Woods


Lytham Holds Great Memories For Woods

By Leonard Shapiro

There was a time, before the 14 major championships, before the 74 PGA Tour wins, before the knee and Achilles injuries, before the changes in swing coaches, before the scandal and the divorce, when Tiger Woods needed a boost in confidence.

This was 1996, and Woods was in the process of deciding whether and when to turn professional. Then along came the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annesthe same venue for the 2012 Openand Woods got his answer.

It came first in the second round, when he fired a superb 66 on his way to a tie for 22nd in the tournament, tying the low score ever posted in the event by an amateur golfer.
That gave me so much confidence, Woods told reporters last week. At the time, it gave me the confidence I could do it at a high level. The fact that I shot that low I had seven birdies in a 12-hole stretchI thought for an amateur in a major championship, that was a big step.

Woods would go on to turn pro later that summer, and of course, the rest is truly golf history as he set off on a journey that now leads him back to England and the same brutally difficult Lytham links off the Irish Sea.

Woods seems to be moving in all the right directions these days, despite several missed cuts this season, the latest at the Greenbrier when he insisted he wasnt playing all that badly. Hes now the leading money-winner on the PGA Tour with 4.2 million in earnings. He leads the FedEx Cup standings and is a shoo-in to make the 2012 American Ryder Cup team on points in a season when his three victories are also the most wins on the tour.

But once again, Royal Lytham could very well be shaping up as the venue that provides that one more added boost of confidence that gets Woods back to winning major championships. He hasnt done that since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. And over those four years, 15 different players have won the 16 majors contested over that time span.

There is no question that Woods is no longer the player who once dominated the game like few if any others in the long and storied history of the sport. But he is certainly showing signs that the latest set of swing changes designed to take the pressure off his aching knee are starting to kick in and become just as natural as the old swings.

If hes playing well, hes better than anyone else in the field, Curtis Strange, now an ESPN commentator, said in a conference call last week. If hes not, hes average. It depends on which Tiger shows up. When Tiger is near on his game, he has more strengths than anybody else.

In addition to the possibility of getting closer to Jack Nicklauss record 18 major titles, Woods has another delectable incentive this week. If he prevails at Lytham, he almost certainly will be the player of the year and perhaps even more significant, he will return to the No. 1 position in the world rankings, a spot hes became so accustomed to occupying for so long.

Hes now No. 4, behind No. 1 Luke Donald, No. 2 Rory McIlory and No. 3 Lee Westwood. All three of those players will be among the rooting favorites of the English crowds, particularly 44-year-old Westwood who now holds the dubious distinction of being the best player in the world never to win a major.

Westwood has been bothered in recent weeks by a nagging groin injury. McIlroy keeps missing cuts, and Donald didnt sound like a man who fancies his chances last week when he spoke to reporters at the Scottish Open.

Ive realized that I do get a bit more anxious, a bit more uptight (at major championships) and Ive got to try and control that, he said. Thats going to be the prioritygo out there and try to play with a bit more fun and hopefully thats the key to getting off to a better start. And once I get off to a better start, I feel like Im going to be there and have a better chance.

Donald and everyone else will have to do it on a difficult course protected by 205 nasty bunkers, the most of any venue on the Open rotation. A wet summer has also made the rough brutally difficult, so much so that Woods said last week that bottom six inches, in some places its almost unplayable. Ive never seen the rough this thick and dense.

Defending Open champion Darren Clarke, also offered an ominous warning about all those bunkers.

Its just a nightmare, he said. They are very penal. Theres going to be occasions here this week when I think youre going to see guys taking penalty drops out of them because they wont be able to move their ball anywhere. Accuracy is going to be key this week. Its not really length off the tee. Its keeping it on the fairways and keeping out of those bunkers.
Woods says he likes the layout.

Its fair, he said recently. They dont have to trick it up. They dont have to do anything with it. They can play it as the members play it and it would still be difficult.

How much pressure Woods puts on himself will also be a major factor, according to Paul Azinger.

Its gotten to the point where he was so good, you didnt even look at Tiger as human anymore, he said. But he still feels the pressure like everyone else. He got more comfortable with it because hes in contention more often, but its real pressure, and he feels it. Hes human. He feels it like everybody else; he just dealt with it better.

Stay tuned.

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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

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Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuna.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuna, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of.. 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuna is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuna has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuna has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuna is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuna’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history in Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuna’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuna is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, voters love a narrative though, and if Acuna comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.


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Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Here is what you need to know on Friday, August 16, seven days before the Washington Redskins host the Broncos in their third preseason game. 

Talking points

Here are some players who saw their stock go up during tonight’s preseason game against the Jets and others who experienced a stock drop

Up—Rookie nose tackle Tim Settle had himself another big game. The difference this time was that most of his snaps came against the Jets starting offensive line as opposed to the Patriots’ backups he saw last week. He mauled ex-Redskins center Spencer Long a few times and he moved over to tackle in a four-man front to generate some pass pressure. He is still learning. 

Down—Backup center Tony Bergstrom was physically manhandled a couple of times, making things difficult for Colt McCoy, some running backs, and Kevin Hogan. He also committed a flagrant holding penalty that negated a good Hogan run for the first down. His roster spot does not appear to be in any danger, but he has to do better.

Up—Cornerback Danny Johnson had some pressure dropped on him when the team cut Orlando Scandrick, moving Johnson from roster long shot to a player who may have to be counted on. He played well, making a key play in the second quarter. On third down, he made a good tackle to stop a third-down play short of the sticks. He knocked the ball out of the runner’s hands, but a quick whistle negated the turnover. 

Up/Down—Wide receiver Cam Sims had some wild swings. In the second quarter, he was open in the red zone and McCoy put a perfect pass into his arms. But the ball popped out and was intercepted. Turnovers will get rookie free agents cut. Sims made up for it later in the game with a key third-down catch later in the second quarter. Later, in the last seconds of the game, he pulled in a 20-yard pass to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal. In between, he grabbed a touchdown pass between two defenders, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. 

Down—You hate to see a player’s stock go down due in part to an injury but that’s what happened with Byron Marshall. Even though he is OK, he left the game early, opening the door for Kapri Bibbs, his main competition for the fourth roster spot at running back, to have a good night. Bibbs caught seven passes for 47 yards. Before he left the game, Marshall put the ball on the ground on a kickoff return. Although replay showed that he was down by contact before fumbling it was close enough to cause concern. The competition for the fourth running back spot is tighter now than it was before the game. 

Up—Rookie safety Troy Apke had three tackles and he picked off a fourth-down Sam Darnold pass. Deshazor Everett gets an assist on the pick as he batted the pass up in the air. Apke is still has a lot to learn before he makes the transition from being a fast guy to being a good NFL player. 

Down—Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had a chance to make a key third-down sack of Teddy Bridgewater that would have killed a fourth-quarter drive. But he went to the ground and missed the sack and Bridgewater made the completion to keep the drive alive. Hamilton gets credit for getting into the backfield, but he didn’t seal the deal. 

Bureau of statistics

Here are two preseason stats with the caveat that they are preseason stats. 1). In the first halves of their two preseason games with both sides playing mostly their first- and second-team players, the Redskins have outscored the opposition 26-6. 2). The Redskins have 216 rushing yards through two games. Last year they rushed for 103 yards in their first two preseason games. 

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The agenda

Today: Off day

Upcoming: Preseason Broncos @ Redskins (Aug. 24) 7 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 15 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 23 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler