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A solid and sour year for Jim Furyk

A solid and sour year for Jim Furyk

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) Jim Furyk is playing his final official tournament of the year at the McGladrey Classic, and even a win at Sea Island might not be enough to chase away such a sour taste from an otherwise solid year.

There are enough indications to give him plenty of confidence going forward.

Furyk started the year at No. 50 in the world ranking and has gone up to No. 23. His adjusted scoring average is 68.41, second only to Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, and nearly a half-stroke better than his average in 2010 when he won three times, captured the FedEx Cup and was voted PGA Tour player of the year.

Therein lies the difference. And it's a big difference.

The trophy case is empty this year, matching the feeling he has inside him.

``I can't deny the fact that I played well,'' Furyk said Wednesday. ``I can't deny the fact that I have a lot of confidence in my game and the direction that it's going. But it's still disappointing when I look back at what could have been instead of what happened.''

Furyk lost on the first extra hole at Innisbrook when he faced an awkward lie for his second shot, did well to find the back of the green and didn't get another chance when Luke Donald made birdie to win a four-man playoff. He was tied for the lead on the 16th tee at the U.S. Open - the first of consecutive par 5s at Olympic Club - when he hooked his tee shot into the woods, made bogey and never recovered. The worst of it came at Firestone, one of his favorite courses, when he took double bogey on the last hole and lost by one to Keegan Bradley in the Bridgestone Invitational.

``My game was very consistent. My game was good,'' Furyk said. ``But the goal is to try to win golf tournaments. And to get so close - especially in big events - and not be able to close the door leaves a sour taste.''

He would have settled for a U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup, except that went about like the rest of his year.

Furyk was among three Americans who were all square going to the 18th hole at Medinah and ended up losing, which enabled Europe to stage a stunning comeback. Furyk was 1-up over Sergio Garcia when he pulled his tee shot into the bunker on the 17th and made bogey, and then went long from a fairway bunker on the closing hole and three-putted from off the green to lose the match. The image of Furyk in a moment of despair, bent over with hands on his knees, made the cover of one golf magazine.

To win this week would essentially be light dressing on a deep wound.

``It would be positive,'' Furyk said. ``But still, when anyone talks about the year, you're going to talk about two events. It would be a positive end. I was hoping that's what the Ryder Cup would be. We would thump them on Sunday, and that would be a good, positive end of the year for me.''

Sea Island is only about 90 miles from Furyk's home in Florida, and the field is not as strong as it was last year. It features Ryder Cup teammate Zach Johnson, Ryder Cup captain and tournament host Davis Love III, along with Jason Day. The McGladrey Classic was hurt by the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, which has a Monday pro-am next week in Bermuda and includes Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson. Matt Kuchar, who lives at Sea Island, is playing an exhibition in China.

Furyk also plans to play the World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts in California the week after Thanksgiving. Barring a win this week that would get Furyk into Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions, he won't play again until Pebble Beach.

At some point in the next month, he will reflect on the year to figure out what he has to do to get better - what has to change for him to be a better closer. Love already has encouraged Furyk to look at the opportunities instead of the failures, a conversation that took place when Love made him a captain's pick in September.

``He was three swings away from probably being a player of the year candidate,'' Love said. ``He hits the fairway at the U.S. Open. His ball stays in the trees maybe in Akron and he chips out and hits a wedge on the green and he wins that tournament. And then he hits the green at 17 in the Ryder Cup, and we win the Ryder Cup. He would have had a hell of a year given three swings over again.

``As competitors, we see how close it was to great more than we see how everybody else sees it - `Well, he screwed those three tournaments up, didn't he?' Well, no, Jim Furyk got picked for the Ryder Cup because he was two swings away from winning two big tournaments.''

Furyk's match didn't determine the outcome of the Ryder Cup. Europe picked up additional points on the 18th hole when Justin Rose finished birdie-birdie to beat Phil Mickelson, and when Steve Stricker fell behind on the 17th by failing to get up-and-down with a routine chip. Kaymer's 6-foot par putt on the last hole clinched in for Europe.

Oddly enough, Furyk spoke in the days before the Ryder Cup of being in position to win or lose the Ryder Cup. He spoke then of having to accept ``that sometimes it turns out good, and sometimes it doesn't.''

This year, it hasn't turned out well at all.

Love has a PGA Championship among his 20 PGA Tour titles, and he holed the winning putt in his first Ryder Cup in 1993 at The Belfry. Even so, Love still remembers finishing with back-to-back bogeys, including a three-putt on the 18th at Oakland Hills, to lose the 1996 U.S. Open.

``We get remembered for a lot of things,'' Love said. ``Jim has done a lot of great stuff, as well, and played a lot of great golf. Just like the Ryder Cup, or just like him at the U.S. Open, you don't get to enjoy the good times unless you screw it up every once in a while in front of everybody.

``Jim loves being there, and I think he'll continue to be there for quite a while.''

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

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MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

LAS VEGAS—One of the more intriguing storylines of this year’s Stanley Cup Final centers on a couple of men who make their living behind the scenes: Brian MacLellan of the Caps and his counterpart with the Golden Knights, George McPhee.

They’ve known each other for 40-plus years, dating back to their time as bantam teammates in Canada. And, starting Monday, they’ll be on opposing sides, with hockey’s Holy Grail at stake.  

Caps fans, of course, are familiar with McPhee’s work. He served as GM in Washington from 1997-2014 and drafted 13 players who are currently on the Caps’ roster. McPhee was also the Caps’ rookie GM the last time the franchise appeared in the Final 20 years ago.

But here’s what Caps fans might not know about the connection that MacLellan and McPhee share:

  • They were born in a few months apart in 1958 in Ontario.
  • They captured the Canadian Jr. A championship as members of the 1977-78 Guelph Platers.
  • Both were on scholarship at Bowling Green from 1978-1982.
  • They played together with the New York Rangers in 1985-86.
  • And, finally, they worked side-by-side in Washington from 2000-2014. After working his way up from the scouting ranks, MacLellan replaced his managerial mentor, who had been let go following a disappointing season.

 

“It's kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. “We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

At one point, MacLellan got choked up when talking about his relationship with McPhee, who’ll become the first GM in the expansion era to face a former team of which he served as GM.

“We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together,” he said, fighting back tears. “It was fun.”

MacLellan also acknowledged that the two weren’t as tight—for a time, at least—after he replaced McPhee four years ago. McPhee also hinted at some strain, though he said the two men had dinner at the most recent GM’s meetings.

“Not as close, I don't think,” MacLellan said of his relationship with McPhee following McPhee’s dismissal. “A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

When the two negotiated during last year’s expansion draft, which saw McPhee pluck promising you blueliner Nate Schmidt from Washington’s roster, MacLellan said the two old friends keep things “businesslike.”

“He was all business,” MacLellan said. “He wasn’t giving in on anything.”

Although McPhee drafted most of the core players who delivered the Caps to this year’s Final, MacLellan also deserves credit for getting this team over the second round hump. Among his first acquisitions were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, a pair of vets that helped shore up a shaky defense. MacLellan also added forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller via trade in recent seasons and, this year, added defenseman Michal Kempny, a particularly shrewd move that bolstered a blue line that needed a little tightening.

As weird as the next few days will be for MacLellan as he faces his old friend, it figures to even more strange for McPhee, who will look down from the GM’s suite on Monday and see not one, but two teams that he built on the ice. McPhee also pilfered a handful of current and former front office employees from Caps, including Goalie Coach Dave Prior, while building the Golden Knights.

Indeed, the history between MacLellan and McPhee runs deep. But for the next couple of weeks, they’ll put aside their decades-old friendship as their clubs battle for the NHL’s ultimate prize.
 

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