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Rookies are all the rage at PGA Tour opener

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Rookies are all the rage at PGA Tour opener

HONOLULU (AP) Tim Clark's timing could not have been worse.

He played in the last group, closed with a 63 and still finished four shots behind. He made seven birdies over the last 11 holes - including four straight at the end - and made up only one shot on the leader. The 72-hole record at the Sony Open had stood for 12 years. Clark beat it by one shot and still had to settle for second place.

All because of a rookie.

``Yeah, I'm thinking about that,'' Clark with a grin. ``They should maybe make these guys play somewhere else for a little bit more.''

Rookies were all the rage in the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour, starting with Russell Henley, who made a rookie debut like no other. The 23-year-old from Georgia set or tied four records at the Sony Open, and when he closed the victory with a fifth straight birdie on the 18th, his 24-under 256 was the second-lowest score at a 72-hole tournament in PGA Tour history.

It even impressed Johnny Miller, who called it ``a performance that makes you think this guy might be the next really, really top player.''

Henley had some company along the shores of Oahu.

Scott Langley began his rookie season on tour by making more than 190 feet of putts in the first round for a 62, which tied the tournament record. There had not been an opening round that low at Waialae since 1997. Langley also shares the 54-hole record at the Sony Open (17-under 193) with Henley.

And if not for Clark making a 7-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday, another rookie - Scott Gardiner of Australia - would have joined them in the final group.

Langley fell back with a bogey on the opening hole and three birdie chances from 5 feet that he failed to convert on the front nine. The left-hander from St. Louis kept within two shots at the turn, and even after he fell back with three bogeys late in the round, he finished with two birdies that earned him a tie for third with Charles Howell III.

``The more and more you can put yourself in this position, the better off you're going to be,'' said Langley, who won an NCAA title at Illinois. ``I've never been in the final group, and I got to play in it on Saturday and Sunday. That experience is invaluable, and the fact that I got in my first event is just awesome.''

It's even better for Henley.

He now is exempt on tour through the 2015 season. His play on the Web.com Tour last year - two wins, No. 3 on the money list - allowed him to move to No. 50 in the world ranking. After one week in his rookie season, he is likely to get into all four World Golf Championships, the PGA Championship, The Players Championship and the one tournament that he tried not to think about Sunday - the Masters.

``It's been my goal to make it to the Masters my whole life,'' he said.

Henley is from Macon, Ga., and used to go to the Masters each April with the twin sons of a man who had tickets.

``I remember we would walk up to the ropes and we'd touch the grass with our hands,'' Henley said. ``I remember seeing these rolling hills of green and seeing the guys hit the shots and just being so amazed at the whole experience. The smell, the environment. And being so close to home, it was just the biggest deal for me to get to go.''

It's easy to get caught up in the rookies after just one week, and Henley knows that from experience.

He remembers waking up in Bogota, Colombia, for the opening event of the Web.com Tour, ready to rush into the first of 26 tournaments over eight months, looking at that first round in February like the last round in October. He shot 79-71 and missed the cut, and it wasn't long before he realized golf really is a marathon.

That much hasn't changed.

J.B. Holmes won the Phoenix Open four tournaments into his rookie season, and while Henley turned heads in Hawaii with his putting, Holmes overwhelmed them in the desert with his sheer power. Six years later, he has two PGA Tour wins (both in the Phoenix Open) and has yet to record a top 10 in a major.

The last PGA Tour rookie to play in the Masters was Jhonattan Vegas, who won the Bob Hope Classic two years ago with flair and passion. He tied for third the next week at Torrey Pines, and has had only four top 10s on tour since.

This was only one week for Henley, as astounding as it was. He showed up in Waikiki Beach expecting good things to happen because of how he had been playing, not knowing it would come so quickly. He left for the airport in a limousine with a tweet that started, ``In complete shock.''

Even so, rookies are on the rise. It was only a few years ago that Rickie Fowler made the Ryder Cup team as a PGA Tour rookie, and then won the last three holes to win his singles match and give the Americans momentary hope.

Not only are they good players, they handle themselves well.

``Two very nice guys that I played with. Scott, too, had a great week, and I just enjoyed their company,'' Clark said. ``I think the tour can be proud that these are the young people that are coming out here now.''

It might have helped that Henley and Langley played all four rounds together. They are close friends, dating to when they shared low amateur honors at Pebble Beach in the 2010 U.S. Open and then flew next to each to Northern Ireland the next day for the Palmer Cup. They took a golfing trip with friends to Sea Island a year later.

There was a light moment Saturday night when they were tied for the lead. Langley was the first to the press room, and when Henley sat in the chair, he realized that Langley had left his credentials and sunglasses. Langley came back into the group to get his clubs - he forgot those, too - when Henley looked across the room and smiled, holding up the other items.

``What a rookie,'' he called out to them, and both of them smiled.

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One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is struggling, and it's not the one you expected

One side of the Redskins' offensive line is made up of a 36-year-old tackle who showed up on July 31 and a guard who's played a grand total of two games at the position. The other side, meanwhile, features a third-round pick who signed a pricey extension in 2017 at tackle and a two-time Pro Bowler at guard.

The first pair, somehow, is holding up OK through two contests this year. It's the second pair that's having trouble. And no one really expected that to be the case.

In Washington's Week 1 loss against Philadelphia, Morgan Moses — the one with the hefty contract — committed two penalties, a holding and a false start. Another holding call was declined.

In the team's Week 2 loss to Dallas, meanwhile, Brandon Scherff — the one with the Pro Bowls — was whistled for holding twice.

Beyond the penalties, though, Moses and Scherff haven't helped out the running backs. At all.

So far, according to the NFL's logs, the Burgundy and Gold have had 11 runs to the left for 46 yards, which comes out to an average of 4.18 yards per carry. There have been 14 carries to the right, on the other hand, for just 27 yards, which comes out to an average of 1.92 yards per carry.

To be fair, it's not like Donald Penn and Ereck Flowers are totally tearing it up at left tackle and left guard. But those stats show they've been surprisingly effective as run blockers and, overall, they're giving the Redskins all they could've hoped for. Moses and Scherff simply aren't.

Now, on the list of problems Jay Gruden's squad is facing, the defense's discouraging start is at the top, while injuries and poor adjustments follow. They need to seriously evaluate how they're trying to stop opposing offenses and what they are (or aren't) doing at halftime.

But Moses and Scherff's slumps are high up on that list of problems as well, because they were supposed to be two reliable veterans and pave the way when they were asked to.

Instead, they're holding the offense back, sometimes literally, sometimes because of sloppy play. The right side of the O-line is currently on the wrong side of things, which wasn't supposed to be the story up front.

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Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

Talent, scheme or coaching, something needs to change for Redskins defense

After two games, the Redskins defense clearly does not appear ready for some of the expectations that arrived before the season. That's obvious. What isn't is why. 

In consecutive losses, Washington's defense has given up more than 30 points-per-game and more than 400 yards-per-game. With just two sacks, the defensive front hasn't generated much pressure at all. The sack numbers are low, but opposing quarterbacks aren't taking many hits or pressures either. Heck, on Sunday against Dallas, Dak Prescott completed every pass he threw during the second half. 

Before the year started, the Redskins defense looked poised for a breakout. The team had strong young talent up front with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, Matt Ioannidis. The edge rushers were a pair of first-round picks in veteran Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Montez Sweat. Landon Collins was supposed to provide Pro Bowl play at safety. 

It just hasn't worked. 

The biggest Redskins struggles have come on third down. The defense just can't get on the field. In a Week 1 loss, the Eagles converted 11 of 17 third downs and went on long drives throughout the second half. Against the Cowboys in a Week 2 loss, Dallas never punted in the second half.

Against Philly, the Redskins gave up 4 yards-per-carry, which is usually a losing formula. Against Dallas, the Redskins gave up more than 6-yards-per-carry, which is definitely a losing formula. 

There are plenty of stats to show how bad the Redskins defense has been. These are just a sample. The bigger issue, however, is why it's happening.

And there aren't easy answers.

Injuries are a part of the equation. Losing Allen hurts a lot, as does losing cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau for the Dallas game. But still, injuries aren't a full explanation. 

Scheme is part of the problem. The Redskins tend to play conservative defense, without much blitzing or disguised looks. And if the defensive front isn't getting home, it's big trouble for the secondary when the quarterback has plenty of time. 

Coaching is a problem too. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is in charge of the conservative scheme. He could change that, and maybe should change that, but so far he has not. In his post-game comments, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said his staff isn't "reaching" the defensive players yet. That doesn't sound like a vote of confidence. 

Players also need to play better. Sweat, Ioannidis and Kerrigan aren't generating much pass rush, and that's a major problem. Josh Norman needs to be better too. 

There are no easy fixes here. There's no silver bullet, no singular answer. 

Gruden said there would be no coaching changes because it's so early in the season. That doesn't mean the questions won't keep coming. 

"There are no excuses to be had. We have to look at ourselves, and we have to play better," the coach said of his defense after the 31-21 loss to Dallas.

"We’re minus a couple pieces in the secondary, that has an issue. But really, we should be better than this."

Through two games, the Redskins defense should be much better than it has been. Gruden knows it. Fans do too. 

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