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Rory McIlroy facing his biggest change

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Rory McIlroy facing his biggest change

Rory McIlroy's decision to pursue a lucrative equipment deal was in place long before he grabbed a Nike golf club from Tiger Woods during their exhibition match in China and took a few practice swings.

Changing equipment was inevitable. Boy Wonder is simply too big now.

The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland is no longer a U.S. Open champion with a massive upside. He fulfilled a big chunk of that potential this year with four wins, including an eight-shot win at the PGA Championship and back-to-back wins in the FedEx Cup playoffs against two of the strongest fields of the year. He is a lock for PGA Tour player of the year and the Vardon Trophy, all the awards Woods used to win.

McIlroy is a marketing dream, which made him worth too much to stay with Titleist.

Acushnet, the parent company, has a history of promoting its brand through numbers instead of a name. That's why it didn't stand in the way when Woods switched to the Swoosh, why it didn't put up a fight to keep Sergio Garcia a decade ago, and why it let Phil Mickelson out of his contract just four months after Lefty's popularity soared with his first major win at the 2004 Masters. And why it announced Tuesday that its relationship with McIlroy will end this year.

Golfers go through change all the time - agents, caddies, coaches. Switching equipment can be a tricky transition, and there is a long list of players who have struggled with it over the years. What makes McIlroy's next move so interesting is that no other player who was No. 1 in the world made such a wholesale change so early in his career.

``I call it dangerous,'' six-time major champion Nick Faldo said Tuesday morning on Golf Channel. ``I've changed clubs and changed equipment, and every manufacturer will say, `We can copy your clubs, we can tweak the golf ball so it fits you.' But there's feel and sound as well, and there's confidence. You can't put a real value on that.''

All signs point to McIlroy signing with Nike, with one industry observer saying the deal could be worth upward of $20 million a year.

Adding to the speculation is whether Woods helped to recruit the kid. They have been extraordinarily chummy since August, and Woods raves about McIlroy. That's not unusual. McIlroy is well-mannered, respectful and doesn't take himself too seriously. He's fun to be around.

Woods and David Duval also became close toward the end of 2000, when they played together in the World Cup in Argentina and then flew together on Woods' private jet to start the year at Kapalua. It wasn't long before Duval, in a legal dispute with Titleist, signed on with Nike.

A Nike official said it would not comment on ``rumors and speculation,'' not even when it would announce its roster for the 2013 season. Nike has money to spend, and McIlroy won't be the only player added to the Swoosh stable next year. Two people with knowledge of his plans say Nick Watney is headed from Titleist to Nike.

It might look as if McIlroy is headed down the same path as Woods, but the difference is in how they change equipment.

Woods spent five years switching out his equipment from Titleist to Nike, with an additional five years to leave his old Scotty Cameron putter.

McIlroy would have only two months.

When he turned pro in 1996, Woods had a five-year deal with Nike that was mainly about brand and apparel. He also had a five-year deal with Titleist for equipment. The long-term deal with Nike (renewals of five years and seven years, with the stakes going up each time), allowed Woods to change equipment at his own pace.

He went to the Nike golf ball at a European Tour event in Germany in 2000, and then went on to win the next four majors. He didn't go to the Nike driver until February 2002 at Pebble Beach, and then he won the first two majors that year (though he briefly went back to the Titleist driver in the summer).

Woods went to the Nike irons at a World Golf Championship in Ireland in 2002, one week before the Ryder Cup, which led to a memorable exchange. Asked why he would switch irons a week before such a big event like the Ryder Cup, Woods said to a reporter, ``Off the record? Because the majors are over.'' When asked for a comment on the record, Woods paused and said, ``Because the majors are over.''

He won that WGC event and contributed 2 1/2 points in a losing cause at The Ryder Cup.

Woods went another year before adding Nike's 56-degree wedge, and three weeks later he went to the lob wedge. The 3-wood was added at Doral in 2005 and the 5-wood came into play at the Tour Championship seven months later. The last change was the putter, first used at St. Andrews in 2010.

Before leaving Malaysia, Woods reflected on his process of change, noting the ball was the ``huge switch'' because he went from a wound ball to solid construction, which is the model everyone now uses. Yes, there are players whose game suffers after an equipment change. Woods was quick to point out guys like Ernie Els, who has won majors with three brands of equipment (Lynx, TaylorMade and Callaway).

Is it better to change slowly or all at once?

``Whatever is best for them,'' he said. ``It's all dependent on what they want to accomplish and what do they feel like they can play their best in. Granted, I know sometimes the (financial) numbers may persuade it, but also some of the guys that I've known over the years have turned it down because they know that they can play better in certain equipment.''

Change for McIlroy comes at a crucial time in his burgeoning career. Along with new clubs, there will be more scrutiny.

And if success doesn't come right away, Faldo said there could be doubt.

``It's the feel and confidence of knowing that your equipment will perform how you want it to perform on Sunday afternoon,'' Faldo said. ``You can't mess with that at such a young age.''

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What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

What exactly was Alex Smith thinking when he went out of bounds on the last drive?

FEDEX FIELD -- Late in the Redskins win over the Cowboys, when the contest was still very much in question, Alex Smith made an incredibly poor decision. 

It was situational football at its peak. The Redskins had the ball with under 90 seconds left and a three point lead while Dallas had just one timeout left. A first down would end the game, but beyond getting a new set of downs, forcing Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to use his final timeout was the next highest priority. 

Somehow, Smith achieved neither. 

On third-and-9 from his own 36-yard-line, Smith took the snap and worked left on a play-action bootleg. There was room to run for a modest gain, but it seemed obvious Smith would not pick up the first down. 

Only Smith didn't see it that way. 

"I knew a first down would end the game and I did have glimpses of myself getting the first down whatever it took," the quarterback said. 

Instead of getting the first down, Smith got dragged out of bounds by Dallas LB Sean Lee. That stopped the clock for the Cowboys, and allowed Garrett to save his final timeout. 

Barring a turnover, it was the worst possible outcome on the play. 

What makes the situation so strange is that Smith is a very smart player. A 14-year veteran, Smith is known as a guy that won't make mistakes to hurt his team and gives his squad a chance for a win every week. Only late in the game, Smith tried to make the play to go for the win, and made a huge mistake instead. 

"I all of a sudden found myself pretty awkward on the sidelines there and can’t have it," Smith said. "[I] could have obviously cost us the game in hindsight at that point, I think kinda abandon ship and go down there on the sideline.”

The good news for Smith, and for the 4-2 Redskins, is that Cowboys kicker Brett Maher plunked the upright on his game-tying field goal attempt. An attempt that might not have happened if Smith stayed in bounds. 

In the end, it didn't cost the Redskins. 

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Capitals vs. Canucks: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

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Capitals vs. Canucks: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals (3-2-2) head to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada after an overtime/shootout loss against the Florida Panthers last Friday. 

The Caps are determined to avoid the devastation they felt in the first period when they gave away four goals to the Panthers. They will need to focus in the power plays and avoid penalties at all costs.

Many fans were looking forward to the reunion with former player Jay Beagle, who is now centerman for the Canucks, but he is unfortunately out on injury. However you can look out for Caps Nic Dowd, who will have his own homecoming game against his former team. 

Here is everything you need to know about Capitals vs. Canucks which takes place at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.
 

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Vancouver Canucks, Game 8 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

When: Monday, October 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs. Canucks game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Canucks on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS SCHEDULE

9:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
9:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
10:00 PM: Capitals vs. Canucks
12:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

CAPITALS vs. CANUCKS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Lars Eller, F, Capitals: In his last game, he had a three-point night with three assists. He is a messaive help and shined within the trio of Vrana and Connoly on Friday.

Tim Schaller, F, Canucks: He was struggling in the preseason but came back with a vengeance. He assisted with a penatly kill and is a key component in fourth line. 

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