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Ryo Ishikawa gets another Masters invitation

Ryo Ishikawa gets another Masters invitation

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) Ryo Ishikawa of Japan is headed back to the Masters with another special invitation.

Augusta National Golf Club said Friday that Ishikawa and Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand have accepted the invitations, which are reserved for international players. It will be the fifth straight year the 21-year-old Ishikawa is playing the Masters. This is his third special exemption.

Thaworn is No. 68 in the world and won the Asian Tour money title last year. He also holds the Asian Tour record for most career victories, winning the Hero India Open last year for his 15th title.

Ishikawa dropped as low as No. 91 in the world late last year before his game picked up. He won the Taiheiyo Masters for his 10th career title on the Japan Golf Tour, part of seven top-10 finishes in his last 10 tournaments of the year. He is No. 75 in the world.

``Through our established qualifications, and invitations to select international players not otherwise qualified, we historically bring together a collection of the world's top players, and this year is no different,'' Masters chairman Billy Payne said. ``The Masters has long established a tradition of supporting the global game, and we were excited to extend invitations to Thaworn Wiratchant and Ryo Ishikawa, who we hope will provide added interest and enthusiasm for golf in Asia through their participation in the tournament.''

Ishikawa is sure to get attention because no other player has received more exemptions over the last 10 years. Ishikawa is a rock star in Japan, however, having won his first tournament as a 15-year-old amateur. But his game went into a deep slump last year, when he missed the cut in the first three majors before a tie for 59th in the PGA Championship.

Ishikawa came under more scrutiny last year when he received an invitation ahead of Ernie Els, who had fallen out of the top 50. Els went on to win the British Open for his fourth major championship.

The special exemptions, however, typically go to players who are not PGA Tour members, and the Masters looks mainly at Asian players because of its television contracts and the rapid growth and interest in golf in the region. That's why it helped to create the Asia Pacific Amateur, with the winner getting a spot in the Masters. This year, the winner was Guan Tianlang, a 14-year-old from China, who will be the youngest player in Masters history.

PGA Tour members have several different categories through which they can qualify, such as winning a tournament, finishing in the top 30 on the money list or reaching the final event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

This might be the last year of an exemption for Ishikawa. The Japanese star has joined the PGA Tour for the first time.

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Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

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USA TODAY Sports

Who are the Caps' award winners this season?

There won't be any suspense for the Capitals on Wednesday night during the NHL Awards show (8 p.m., NBCSN). Alex Ovechkin will receive the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, but no other Caps are up for any other hardware.

Instead, let's give out some of our own.

If the NHL awards were reserved just for the Capitals, here's who would be getting each trophy for the 2017-18 season:

Calder Memorial Trophy (best rookie): Jakub Vrana

The Caps had nine players play for the team this season who qualified as rookies according to the NHL: Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek, Nathan Walker, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd and Liam O'Brien. Each of the first four were certainly worthy of consideration.

Vrana gets the nod with his 13 goals and 27 points. His game did suffer some inconsistencies throughout the season, but each rookie experienced that as well. Djoos and Bowey played major roles for the Caps this season as both were called upon to be regular blue liners, but they were largely protected by how they were utilized by Barry Trotz.

The deciding factor for me was this: Who was a better fit this season, Vrana when he played in the top six or Djoos when he played in the top four? The answer for me was Vrana.

Lady Byng  Memorial Trophy (sportsmanship combined with high standard of play): Chandler Stephenson

Stephenson recorded 18 points and proved to be a valuable member of the bottom six, but what really stood out was how clean his game was.

Here's a look at the players with the fewest PIM for the Caps this season: Jerabek (0 PIM), Gersich (0), Boyd (2), Tyler Graovac (2), Walker (4), Anthony Peluso (4), O'Brien (5), Stephenson (8), Taylor Chorney (8), Aaron Ness (8).

Excluding Stephenson, Chorney played the most with 24 games. Everyone else played in 11 games or fewer. Stephenson played in 67.

Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy (perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey): Devante Smith-Pelly

This award is unique in that every team gets a nominee as voted on by each local chapter of the Pro Hockey Writer's Association (of which I am a member). All 31 candidates are then voted on by the PHWA at large. I will go with the Capitals' nominee from this season, Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly was bought out of his contract last season by the New Jersey Devils and came to the Caps on a two-way contract. He filled a key role for the Caps on the bottom-six all season despite a shaky training camp and played in 75 games with 16 points.

When faced with racial taunts from fans in Chicago, Smith-Pelly reacted with class and grace in the wake of the incident. The way he handled the situation allowed for a negative to turn into a positive as Chicago fans raised and donated $23,000 to Fort Dupont.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Jay Beagle

No Caps forward had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts than Beagle. His 58.5-percent faceoff win percentage was among the league's best. He also blocked 44 shots per game over the course of the season, sixth among the team's forwards, but he had less ice time than all but one of the five forwards ahead of him.

James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman): John Carlson

This one's a slam dunk. Before Michal Kempny was brought on, defensive depth was the obvious weakness of the Caps even before an injury forced Matt Niskanen out of the lineup for 14 games. Carlson was called upon to play nearly 30 minutes a night and he proved himself capable of playing strong, hard minutes on both ends of the ice.

Carlson's 68 points led all defensemen in the league. In a contract year, he earned himself a lot of money with how he played this season.

Vezina Trophy (best goalie): Philipp Grubauer

This one was tough, but considering this is a regular season award, the nod has to go to Grubauer.

Yes, Braden Holtby played in 54 games, 19 more than Grubauer, and he earned 34 wins, 19 more than Grubauer managed. But Grubauer's superiority when it comes to the stats is undeniable.

Holtby: 54 GP, 34-16-4, .907 save percentage, 2.99 GAA, 0 shutouts
Grubauer: 35 GP, 15-10-3, .923 save percentage, 2.35 GAA, 3 shutouts

From Nov. 1 through the rest of the regular season, no goalie who appeared in at least 20 games had a better GAA than Grubauer and only two netminders recorded a better save percentage.

Grubauer stepped in to stabilize the Caps in net when Holtby was in the midst of the worst slump of his career and he helped Washington win the Metropolitan Division with a strong finish to the season, especially in a brilliant performance in Pittsburgh.

There is no doubt Holtby remains the Caps' No. 1 given what he did in the postseason and revisionist history will have many questioning why Grubauer started for the Caps at the beginning of the postseason. If you followed the team all year, however, there was no question who the stronger netminder was at the end of the regular season.

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin

Who else?

Carlson comes in at a close second because of what he was tasked to do on defense, but Ovechkin was the MVP for this team.

Not only did he lead the team in points with 87, the Great 8 once again found the fountain of youth scoring 49 goals to lead the NHL after tallying just 33 the season before. His 49 goals accounted for over 19-percent of the Caps' goals this season. Had Ovechkin scored the same number of goals as he did last season, that would have knocked the Caps from 9th in goals all the way down to 15th. That's how important his resurgent offensive performance was to the team.

MORE CAPITALS COVERAGE:

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The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

Every offseason the NFL Network polls a number of current players to determine the Top 100 stars in the league.

It's a fun discussion topic during an otherwise slow time in the football calendar, and while the rankings carry no official meaning, it would be silly to dismiss the process altogether. After all, these are players voting for their fellow players. 

Over the last few seasons, the Redskins have seen a various number of their players make the list. Trent Williams is a mainstay, Jordan Reed made an appearance, and while he was playing in Washington, QB Kirk Cousins made the list. 

For example, in 2017, Cousins ranked 70th on the NFL Top 100. That same season, while quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith came in at 81 on the list. 

Now Redskins QB, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding Smith.

The NFL has revealed numbers 100 to 11, and Smith hasn't made the list. Cousins, now a Viking, landed 94th, the first QB on the list.

Another 10 QBs have been named to the Top 100: Jimmy Garoppolo (90), Derek Carr (60), Philip Rivers (56), Case Keenum (51), Deshaun Watson (50), Jared Goff (38), Matt Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (29), Ben Roethlisberger (18) and Russell Wilson (11).

Smith had the best statistical season of his career in 2017, and he led the NFL in passer rating. He certainly belongs higher on the Top 100 than a number of the quarterbacks listed above, particularly young players without his track record of success like Keenum, Watson or Goff. 

But does Smith deserve a Top 10 ranking in the NFL?

For Smith to make the list, it will mean a Top 10 ranking. Consider too that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have not yet landed on the Top 100. All four of those players seem like locks for the Top 10, which will be revealed next Monday night on NFL Network. 

It might seem surprising for Smith to land in the Top 10 of the NFL Top 100, but it would make zero sense for him to be left off the list altogether. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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