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Same questions, but for a different player

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Same questions, but for a different player

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) A little more than three months ago, Tiger Woods was on his way back to the top of golf with only time in his way.

He already had won three times on the PGA Tour, moving past Jack Nicklaus in career victories. He still had not won a major, though there were indications he was closing in. He had a share of the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open before throwing away his chances with a sloppy weekend. He was in the second-to-last group going into the final round of the British Open and tied for third. And when he showed up at the PGA Championship on Saturday morning, he again was tied for the lead halfway through the final major.

Rory McIlroy? He had reached No. 1 on three occasions, never longer than three weeks at a time. He only had one win, and that was in March at the Honda Classic.

That now seems so long ago.

The rest of the weekend at Kiawah Island belonged to McIlroy.

So did the rest of the year. And maybe the future.

McIlroy finished off a long, wild and exhilarating season last week when he birdied the last five holes to win the European Tour's final event in Dubai and head home with all the spoils.

He won five times this year, the most of anyone around the world. He captured the money titles on the European Tour and PGA Tour. He won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour. He won the PGA of America player of the year and is a lock to win every other honor that measures the best in golf.

The questions going into 2013 should sound familiar.

It's not whether he will in a major, but how many? I's not about who's No. 1, but how much more can he separated himself from everyone else?

That's what used to be asked about Woods. Now those questions are directed toward McIlroy.

``I think he'll be around for a long time,'' Luke Donald said.

Suddenly, a lot more than just time is standing in the way of Woods getting back to the top. There's this 23-year-old from Northern Ireland who looks as if he's just getting warmed up.

Is he the next Tiger? Not yet. Maybe not ever. McIlroy had a banner year by winning five times around the world, including a major. That used to be a normal season for Woods. McIlroy missed five cuts this year. It took Woods 13 years on the PGA Tour before he missed his fifth cut.

McIlroy has all the tools of greatness, and a refreshing outlook. One of the understated qualities about Woods is that for the richest guy in golf, he worked as if he didn't have two nickels to rub together. McIlroy is coming off an amazing season and only wants to get better.

``I had a few goals starting off this year,'' he said in Dubai. ``Obviously, I wanted to win a major. I think I wanted to win four times around the world - five. The Race to Dubai - I won. I guess getting to world No. 1, which I achieved earlier in the year. But I guess every goal that I set for myself at the start of 2012, I've achieved this year. So it doesn't really get much better than that.''

What's next?

``I guess the same,'' McIlroy said. ``To be focused on the majors, try to win more of those. I've won one in `11, one in `12. It would be nice to keep that run going next year.''

If he were to win a major next year, McIlroy would join Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players since 1960 to win a major championship in three successive years.

``I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still,'' McIlroy said. ``I guess that's the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.''

Sound familiar?

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was learning to win without his best stuff, another trait that defines Woods' greatness. McIlroy at least was savvy enough not to say that he won with his ``C'' game. Woods stopped grading himself after catching grief for saying that in Dallas in 1997.

It's tempting to compare McIlroy with Woods because of their talent, and because Woods is the standard for this generation, and perhaps many more to come.

That would make 2013 a chance for McIlroy to pull away from his peers, as Woods once did.

The 1999 season was similar to this year when it came to a potential rivalry. Going into the final major of that season, Woods was No. 2 in the world behind David Duval. Woods had won three times that year, second in tour victories to Duval. Woods wound up winning the PGA Championship at Medinah, and then he closed out the season by winning four straight tournaments - Firestone, Disney, the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship in Spain.

Duval was a forgotten figure by the end of the season.

Woods found another gear - closer to warp speed - in 2000 by winning 10 times around the world, including three straight majors. There hasn't been another season like that since then, and there might not be. But imagine how McIlroy will be looked upon if he were to win multiple majors next year. If he wins both money titles again. If he builds such a gap at No. 1 in the world ranking that players can only hope he decides to change his swing.

Perhaps the more intriguing aspect is how Woods responds.

Woods can measure progress this year not only by three wins, but by playing his biggest schedule since 2009. The World Challenge, which he has won five times as the tournament host, is his 24th week of competition (including the Ryder Cup and the exhibition in Turkey).

And as much as Woods likes McIlroy as a person - who doesn't? - and talks about the importance of at least being in the conversation when it comes to the best in golf, he has never faced a challenge like this. Vijay Singh had a better season than McIlroy in 2004 when the Fijian won nine times, but he was in his early 40s then.

``I think anything other guys do motivates Tiger,'' Steve Stricker said. ``He's so competitive, and he's been in that position over the years where he's been No. 1 in the world, and him not being there has surely got to be motivation for him.''

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NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: With Kawhi Leonard, Raptors shined most in Atlantic Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Atlantic Division...

Toronto Raptors, B+

2017-18 finish: 59-23, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Kawhi Leonard, G Danny Green, C Greg Monroe
Out: G DeMar DeRozan, C Jakub Poeltl, C Lucas Nogueira

The Raptors had one of the more consequential offseasons of any NBA team this year. First, they fired Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 NBA Coach of the Year, following a season in which they won 59 games. Then, they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer, a deal that featured two perennial All-NBA players. They let go of DeRozan and brought in Leonard in return. If they hadn't parted with DeRozan and Casey, they may have gotten an A. But it's hard to tell how much better they will be following the deal and Leonard does bring with him some concerns based on his quadriceps injury and the fact he has only one year left on his contract. The Raptors do, however, also get points for re-signing point guard Fred VanVleet.

Boston Celtics, C

2017-18 finish: 55-27, conference finals
In: C Robert Williams, G Brad Wanamaker
Out: C Greg Monroe

One year ago, the Celtics flipped nearly their entire roster and brought in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. This year, they mostly stood pat and didn't add much of anything in free agency or trades. Their biggest acquisition was Williams, who they took 27th overall in the first round of the draft. The Celtics will hope they improve from within. They re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, and should get Irving and Hayward back from injuries. They should have plenty of talent to compete for an NBA Finals berth, but as far as this offseason goes, they didn't do much.

Philadelphia 76ers, D+

2017-18 finish: 52-30, 2nd round of playoffs
In: F Wilson Chandler, C Mike Muscala, G Zhaire Smith, G Landry Shamet
Out: G Marco Belinelli, F Ersan Ilyasova

Where do we begin? This summer was about as dramatic and bad as it could get for the Sixers. First, they had to fire their general manager because of a burner Twitter account scandal. Then, they struck out miserably in free agency with LeBron James and Paul George, and in trade talks for Leonard. After that, Smith - their first round pick - hurt his foot. And along the way, Ben Simmons has been dating a Kardashian, flirting with the curse that has claimed many pro athletes before him. Philly did re-sign J.J. Redick and Johnson, and the Chandler trade was nice, but all in all it was an offseason that fell way short of the Sixers' expectations. That said, they can still get way better next season based solely on their young players taking another step.

New York Knicks, B

2017-18 finish: 29-53, missed playoffs
In: F Mario Hezonja, F Kevin Knox, F Noah Vonleh, C Mitchell Robinson
Out: F Michael Beasley, G Jarrett Jack, F Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a while since the Knicks had an offseason to write home about and this one is no exception. There was nothing they did that would flirt with an A-grade. However, the early returns on their draft are excellent. Knox and Robinson were both standouts in the Summer League and offer fans a little bit more hope about the team's future. As long as Kristaps Porzingis can return this season safe and sound from his ACL tear, the Knicks could take a step forward in 2018-19.

Brooklyn Nets, C+

2017-18 finish: 28-54, missed playoffs
In: F Ed Davis, F Kenneth Faried, F Jared Dudley, 
Out: F Dante Cunningham, G Nik Stauskas, C Jahlil Okafor

The best news about the Nets' offseason is that their trade with the Celtics, the one that stripped them of years of first round picks, is finally over. Next year, the Nets will have a first round pick. This summer, they once again didn't add any major pieces in the draft, but seemed to make some smart moves in free agency. The Davis deal is solid and Faried may benefit from a change of scenery. More baby steps for Brooklyn.

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Jamaal Charles headlines a group of Redskins running back tryouts

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USA Today Sports

Jamaal Charles headlines a group of Redskins running back tryouts

Jamaal Charles used to be among the best running backs in the NFL, and maybe the Redskins hope to turn back the clock. 

Washington is dealing with a number of injuries at the running back spot, and to get through two more preseason games, the team is bringing in a number of veteran runners for tryouts. Charles is the biggest name coming in for a test drive with the Redskins, as ESPN reported. Former Giants RB Orleans Darkwa is also getting a tryout, per multiple reports. 

How did Washington get to the point where the team needs to add more backfield options in mid-August?

First, Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason opener. He will miss the season. 

In the second preseason game, Samaje Perine, Byron Marshall and rookie Martez Carter got hurt. Perine should be back in a week or as he suffered only a sprained ankle. Marshall could miss a month, making a roster spot flimsy, and Carter was waived due to his injury. 

That means the Burgundy and Gold only have Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs and Chris Thompson active for practice, and remember, Thompson is working back from a broken leg last November. He hasn't played yet in the preseason, and might not go at all until Week 1 in Arizona.

Add all of that together and the team was forced to bring in veteran options, if for nothing else than to get through the remaining two preseason games.

Back to Charles.

From 2009 to 2014, Charles put up absurd numbers. He approached 2,000 total yards from scrimmage in both 2013 and 2010, and put up more than 1,700 total yards in 2012. It's worth adding that Charles found great success with Alex Smith when both were playing in Kansas City. Just saying. He was undeniably great, and probably won thousands of people thousands of dollars as a fantasy football MVP.

That time appears to be over though.

In the last three seasons, injuries have robbed Charles of his burst and elusiveness. Last year, he couldn't break through in the Denver backfield despite being healthy for 14 games. He rushed for just under 300 yards. 

Redskins fans will have unfortunate memories of Darkwa.

In an ugly Week 17 loss last season in New York, he busted a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and finished the game with 154 yards. Last season was the best of his career for Darkwa, he ran for more than 750 yards and averaged 4.4 yards-per-carry. He's only 26 years old and, coincidentally, played college football at Tulane with Rob Kelley

By adding Guice in the second round of the NFL Draft this spring, the Redskins thought they addressed their need for a talent boost at the RB position. With Guice out for the year, the position looks about the same as it did in 2017. 

Adding Charles and Darkwa seem unlikely to change that, at least significantly. And that's if either of the veteran runners even make the 90-man roster. 

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