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McIlroy voted PGA Tour player of the year

McIlroy voted PGA Tour player of the year

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) Rory McIlroy sure didn't feel like the PGA Tour player of the year when he arrived at Kiawah Island for the final major of the year. He had missed three cuts, had not contended in a major and had only one win.

The last two months changed everything.

McIlroy was announced Tuesday as player of the year, and while the tour does not disclose the vote of its players, this was the equivalent of a tap-in. McIlroy wound up with four wins, including his eight-shot victory in the PGA Championship, and made a clean sweep of the biggest awards by winning the money title and having the lowest adjusted scoring average.

``It's just a great way to end what has been a great year, my best season so far,'' McIlroy said.

The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland became the youngest player to win PGA Tour player of the year since Tiger Woods at age 21 in 1997. He also was the third European to win in the last five years, joining Padraig Harrington on Ireland in 2008 and Luke Donald of England last year.

John Huh, who earned his card through Q-school, was voted PGA Tour rookie of the year in another race that was easy to predict. Huh won an opposite-field event in Mexico, but perhaps his greater achievement was becoming the only rookie to make it to the Tour Championship, a measure of good play all year. That gets Huh into the Masters next year for the first time.

He beat out Jonas Blixt and Charlie Beljan, who won in the Fall Series, Greenbrier winner Ted Potter Jr. and Bud Cauley, the only rookie who didn't win this year.

Also on the ballot for player of the year were Tiger Woods with three wins, Jason Dufner and his two wins in the spring, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Brandt Snedeker, whose second win this year at the Tour Championship allowed him to capture the FedEx Cup.

None compared with McIlroy, who pulled away from every over the final two months of the season.

After his eight-shot win at Kiawah, he won the Deutsche Bank Championship after a duel with Louis Oosthuizen, and then won the next playoff event in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick against a leaderboard that included Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Woods.

McIlroy's other win came earlier in the year, when he held off Woods to win the Honda Classic and go to No. 1 in the world for the first time. McIlroy went to No. 1 three more times during an inconsistent summer until he established himself as the best in golf at the PGA Championship.

``I think everyone knows that my game wasn't where I wanted it to be through the start of the summer and leading up to the PGA,'' McIlroy said on a conference call.

He tied for fifth at Firestone the week before the final major to gain a little more confidence, though he said his expectations were lower than usual for a major considering his summer doldrums. He turned a two-shot deficit into an eight-shot win with a 67-66 weekend at Kiawah, and off he went.

``I didn't want to let this opportunity pass me because it was a great opportunity to win my second major,'' McIlroy said. ``And from that I gained a lot of confidence, knowing that I could win my second major. And I went on from there.''

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who introduced McIlroy, was as impressed with his behavior off the course as his skill level inside the ropes.

``He has handled himself in terrific fashion,'' Finchem said. ``He has been very direct with the media and entertaining to the fans inside and outside the ropes. He is at a very young age already making a very solid contribution to what is the most important asset of the PGA Tour, and that is the image of its players. For that, I thank him.''

The one question McIlroy has fielded since closing out his year with a win in Dubai - giving him money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour - is what he will do for an encore. He is about to change equipment from Titleist to Nike. McIlroy starts his season Jan. 17 in Abu Dhabi against a strong field.

``What would be a success next season compared to this one? I guess it's just trying to become a better golfer, maybe add more variety to my game,'' he said. ``But you know, we're judged on wins, ultimately. ... I won my first major in `11, I backed it up this season with another one, and I'd love to go into `13 with that same goal of trying to win another major.

``I think really what was disappointing this year for me - if there was a disappointment - that I was only in contention once in the majors, and luckily I was able to win it,'' he said. ``But next year I'd love to be in contention in all four of them.''

McIlroy has never played at three of the four majors in the rotation next year - Merion, Muirfield or Oak Hill.

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How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

How does Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov get ready for a Game 7? He watches TV

Everyone remembers Evgeny Kuznetsov's series-clinching overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018. That goal now overshadows another series-clinching goal Kuznetsov had in 2015. In Game 7 against the New York Islanders, Kuznetsov scored what would prove to be the winning goal to break up a 1-1 tie. Clearly he knows how to get ready for a big game. His secret? Television.

Kuznetsov appeared on NBC Sports Washington's Capitals Greatest Hits show on Monday to talk about his 2015 performance and the topic of the locker room came up. Both teams went into that game knowing their season was on the line and Kuznetsov was asked if the feeling was any different in the locker room before the game, a question he did not know exactly how to answer.

"I'm never in the locker room," Kuznetsov said. "I'm always by the TV watching TV shows."

Yes, when Kuznetsov arrives at the arena, he apparently likes to watch TV before the game and said he is not in the locker room until only about 30 minutes before warmups. He enjoys watching soccer, but also likes a good movie.

"It's usually soccer games," Kuznetsov said. "If it's not the soccer game, it's whatever the movie's going."

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He went on to say he was thankful for the team subscribing to whatever channel it was that he watches movies on.

If this seems odd to you, there is a method to the madness.

"Usually it's movie because that way I'm not thinking about hockey," Kuznetsov said. "I like to be loose before games."

Hey, if that's what he was doing before Game 7 in 2015 and before Game 6 in 2018, it's hard to argue against it.

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Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

Where does a healthy John Wall rank among NBA's top 10 point guards?

John Wall last played in an NBA game on December 26, 2018. He's expected to come back at the beginning of the 2020-21 season, and once he makes his long-awaited return to the Wizards' starting lineup, he'll find himself in a much different point guard landscape than the one he left. 

The position has changed, traditional point guards are mostly a thing of the past. NBA offenses are either run through multiple ball-handlers who can score and facilitate, or they're one-man shows centered around highly skilled individuals such as James Harden and Luka Doncic. 

Wall has consistently been one of the best in the league at his position, but after missing a year to an Achilles injury, it's hard to forecast where his game will be come next season. With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 point guards in the game (all presumed healthy), and see where Wall falls on the list. 

1. James Harden
2. Luka Doncic
3. Damian Lillard
4. Steph Curry
5. Chris Paul
6. Kyrie Irving
7. John Wall
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Kemba Walker
10. Kyle Lowry

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Wall has the talent to be in the top three of this list for sure, though it's difficult to put him anywhere but No. 7 right now. He's probably a tier above Walker and Lowry, while Wall and Westbrook are more comparable players. 

Irving, Curry and Lillard are too good and have been consistently great enough to where you can't put them below Wall, while Paul might be a great inspiration for players like Wall. Paul keeps getting older and keeps getting hurt but he's still so, so good. 

Then you have the two walking offensive systems in Doncic and Harden. Their production and what they do for their teams as primary ball-handlers is mostly unmatched across the eight players listed below them. 

Wall could rise all the way to the top of this list if he plays to his full abilities. The speed, perimeter defense, passing and dribble penetration made him an All-NBA level player. If Wall can improve his accuracy from beyond the arc, take more threes and fewer mid-range jumpers, I don't see why he can't see an uptick in efficiency even if his athleticism isn't what it used to be.

It's not a reach to say the Wizards' contention hopes depend heavily on whether Wall plays back to All-Star form or not. An Achilles injury is incredibly challenging to bounce back from, especially for a player like Wall whose game has had so much to do with speed and explosion in the past. 

The good news is he's had a chance to digest the game from a different perspective and time to fine-tune his jumper, while his Wizards teammates, especially Bradley Beal, are better than when he last suited up. 

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