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Progress for Tiger, but still a long way to go

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Progress for Tiger, but still a long way to go

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Ian Poulter finished his final round at the World Challenge and was chatting next to the clubhouse at Sherwood when he stopped in the middle of a sentence and changed his tone to one of grave concern.

``What is Tiger doing in a buggy?'' he said.

His eyes were fixed on a large video board down the hill and across the 18th fairway that showed Tiger Woods being driven away from the green in the back of a golf cart. The scene was eerily reminiscent to the start of the season at Doral, when Woods withdrew in the middle of the final round because of swelling to his left Achilles tendon.

Moments later, Poulter realized this merely was the shuttle that took players to the 14th tee at the top of a steep hill.

Exhale.

``I was like, `Hang on a minute.' I thought he might have slipped down a bank and done himself in,'' Poulter said.

All things considered, it was a reasonable rush to judgment.

Woods has endured some strange seasons during the last few years, and this would qualify as one of them.

Go back to that Sunday afternoon at Doral when Woods was taken off the course in a cart, and the TV shot from a helicopter that showed him driving away in what might as well have been a white Bronco. It raised questions about whether he could ever be the dominant player he once had been.

And then he won his very next tournament at Bay Hill, his first PGA Tour title in more than two years.

Woods' mystique looked as if it might be returning when, at one tournament (Memorial), he faced an impossible shot and chipped in for birdie that carried him to victory. In another, he was on the ropes late in the final round until his challenger threw away a chance to beat him (Bo Van Pelt at the AT&T National).

Then there were the majors.

Woods had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Not only did he fail to win, he didn't even finish in the top 10.

For years, Woods said it could not be a great year without winning a major, and he still believes that. Throw in some extenuating circumstances, such as his physical health, and he considers 2012 to be a ``pretty good accomplishment.''

He won three times, which would have been considered a down year against his old standard.

So where is he now?

In about the same spot he was in this time a year ago, only for different reasons.

Going into 2012, what appeared to be holding him back from being the dominant player was his own game. Going into 2013, he doesn't look like the dominant player because of someone else - Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy was voted PGA Tour player of the year Tuesday, presumably by the kind of margin that routinely once belonged to Woods. McIlroy won a tour-high four tournaments, including a major, the money list and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. That's a dominant year.

There have been 11 changes among four players at No. 1 in the world since Woods abandoned the spot toward the end of the 2010 season, and it has looked like a game of musical chairs. That's no longer the case. McIlroy found another gear in August, and he now has the largest margin in the ranking since the glory days of Woods.

The player Woods is trying to beat has that beautiful blend of balance and power, and he can putt. That's tough to beat. Plus, McIlroy is still only 23 and doesn't have four knee surgeries behind him.

Then again, there has never been another player like Woods in the modern game, so he can't be ruled out.

Jack Nicklaus set the standard with 18 majors, the record Woods is trying to catch. Not even Nicklaus won as prolifically as Woods at this stage in their careers, however, which is why it's foolish to write off Woods - not only in his pursuit of Nicklaus in the record book, but of McIlroy on the golf course.

Woods still points to his health, and he is quick to note that this was his first full season since 2009 (even that one didn't start until Match Play in late February because he was coming off major knee surgery).

``I still feel I have some of my best golf to play, and in order to do that, I had to be healthy, and this year is headed in the right direction,'' Woods said. ``I'm very excited about next year. Rory is ranked No.1. He deserves it. He's won tournaments all around the world. He's had high finishes on top of that, and that's how you do it. ... He should be very proud of the season he's had, and I'm sure he's excited about what next year holds for him, as well.''

Woods finished his season with five straight finishes in the top 10, his longest streak since the spring of 2009, though he didn't win. He planned to put the golf clubs away until after Christmas, except for messing around with his son, Charlie.

The list of improvements is a lot shorter than it was at this time a year ago.

``It's not a laundry list like it was the last couple years,'' Woods said. ``I've already made the big changes. They're already in. It's the little tweaks here and there.''

But the question remains:

If Woods and McIlroy face each other down the stretch, where is your money? That used to be easy to answer no matter who was challenging Woods.

It's a question U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson wasn't willing to tackle.

``I'm not going to pick because obviously you've got the greatest player of all time versus the guy who's playing better than anybody in our sport,'' Simpson said. ``What Rory has done this year is remarkable. ... But again, to choose a player over Tiger would be tough given what he's done.''

Perhaps a clearer answer will be revealed in 2013. Woods and McIlroy both start the new season Jan. 17 in Abu Dhabi.

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Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Tight end Vernon Davis has seen the Washington Redskins go through many ups and downs since becoming a part of the organization in 2016, but the 2018 season brought a new set of challenges.

Two injured quarterbacks headlined the Redskins' 7-9 season and fans were once again calling for team president Bruce Allen's job.

In a rare media availability during Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, Allen noted how "close" he felt the Redskins were to reaching the postseason but his continued lack of transparency is something that does not sit well with Redskins fans.

Davis, speaking Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, is standing by the team's president.

"I strongly believe, like I said before, we have the pieces to win games."

"Bruce and Dan [Snyder], those guys are constantly sitting in their office trying to find ways to win. It's not like they're not doing a great job with it. I believe in them. I believe that they're going to make the right decision to do the best they can do to help us win football games around here because that's what they're there for. Bruce is there to make sure that we're a championship team. Make sure that we're winning. Making sure that we have all the pieces when it comes to different positions on the football field. So, they're doing just that.

Allen has continued to praise the Redskins fans for their passion throughout the offseason. But if you know the Redskins, don't expect many changes to take place. 

And if it's hard for you to hang on to the little insight Allen provides Redskins fans with in regards to the future of the organization, Davis urges fans to keep holding on. 

"I wouldn't quite count him out. I just say have patience and continue to support the Washington Redskins." 

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

News that the “grit ‘n grind” era is apparently ending in Memphis effectively tips off the NBA trade deadline rumors.

No shock if the John Wall and Dwight Howard-less Washington Wizards receive a mention or two for deals involving Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Mention and final destination are different worlds, of course.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Grizzlies are finally open to hearing trade offers for their two franchise stalwarts. They never reached the level of other famed big man/guard tandems, but Gasol and Conley were at the center of a seven-year run of playoff appearances peaking with the 2013 Western Conference finals.

With age and injuries striking the duo, Memphis slipped in recent years. The postseason streak ended last season. After a hot start to the 2018-19 campaign including an early-season win over the Wizards, the Grizzlies have lost 12 of 13, falling to 19-28 overall. While that record would not automatically end playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference, it slots Memphis 14th out of 15 teams in the West.

As NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman noted, finding a trade partner will not come easy for the Grizzlies.

Gasol, 33, has a player option next season for $25.6 million. That’s a huge number for a center in this perimeter-oriented era on top of the $24.1 million the three-time All-Star is earning this campaign. Gasol’s highly skilled game is showing signs of decline, though his basic statistical numbers (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks) remain helpful.

Conley, one of the NBA’s most underrated talents of his generation, offers lead guard, leadership skills – and a financial challenge. From Feldman:

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

As Memphis’ season turned south, Washington surged, winning seven of its last 10 games to move into a ninth-place tie with Detroit. Still two games back of the eighth and final playoff berth, the Wizards could use general depth if not actual star power with Wall sidelined for the season. Howard (back surgery) and forward Markieff Morris (neck) face uncertain recovery timelines.

No disrespect to the Wall and Howard replacements, Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant, but Gasol and Conley would upgrade Washington at those positions. The cost, however, keeps such grandiose thoughts on the shelf. 

During the team’s recent London trip, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis emphatically stated the team would not consider throwing in the towel despite injuries and a losing record. That is not the same as stating the luxury-tax paying team would take on significant salary or trade coveted assets for help.

Washington’s 2019 first-round selection takes on additional importance because the team already exceeds next season’s salary cap with only five players under contract.

Now, if some creative mind conjures a trade that removes the final year of Ian Mahinmi’s four-year, $64 million contract from the books without sending Washington dramatically further into the tax or deals with Wall's trade kicker, hmmm.

If the Wizards decide the overall roster needs a dramatic shake-up, perhaps a deal centered on Wall and Conley gets interesting (Thanks, NBA trade machine, though maybe include draft picks already).

Wall’s run of recent surgeries combined with his four-year, $170 supermax contract kicking in next season and that substantial kicker may end all discussion. However, he is three years younger than Conley. Memphis, set to build around 19-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., could find that age factor appealing or use Wall/Conley to fascilitate a larger trade.

Other teams will offer more future-friendly deals for Gasol and Conley. The Wizards appear set in their belief the current roster, even with the injuries, can reach the playoffs. Therefore, it's wise setting aside the notion of a major move from Washington involving the Grizzlies’ stars or any other high profile/big salary players. Bookmark the trade machine page regardless. 

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