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Torrey Pines a good gauge for Tiger

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Torrey Pines a good gauge for Tiger

SAN DIEGO (AP) Based on his record alone, there could be cause for alarm the way Tiger Woods started his season.

Woods never finished out of the top 10 in his season opener until his 13th season, when he was coming off reconstructive surgery on his left knee and was eliminated in the second round of the Match Play Championship.

He was eliminated on the second day of the Abu Dhabi Championship in memorable fashion - a late rally to seemingly make the cut with one shot to spare, only to be informed that he was not supposed to get relief from an imbedded lie in sandy soil on the fifth hole. Two shots were added to his score, and Woods was on his way back with only the 10th missed cut of his career, his first outside the PGA Tour and a bad start to the year.

The more important measure, however, is this week at Torrey Pines.

Woods has won seven times as a pro on this track along the Pacific bluffs. It's a public course, but it feels as if he owns it. Such is his dominance at Torrey Pines that after the first round of the 2008 Buick Invitational, when Woods opened with a 67 on the South Course, a caddie standing behind the 18th green said, ``He just won two tournaments with one round.'' Sure enough, Woods won that week by eight shots, and then won the U.S. Open that summer on a mangled knee in a playoff.

That was his 14th - and at the moment, his last - major championship.

That also was his last win at Torrey Pines.

He didn't play in 2009 because he was still recovering from knee surgery. He didn't play in 2010 because he was recovering from the humiliating collapse in his personal life. The last time he played Torrey Pines was in 2011, which turned out to be the worst season of his career. He was embarking on a brand new swing, his game was a wreck and it showed. Woods went 74-75 on the weekend and tied for 44th.

Where is he now?

``It's nice to be healthy, to be able to train and practice and do all of the things that I know I can do,'' Woods said Tuesday after playing the back nine on the South Course. ``It's definitely a very different feeling, so it's nice to be back. It's nice to get out there and play a course that I know.''

When it comes to horses for courses, Woods is a thoroughbred at Torrey Pines. The only course comparable to his success level at Torrey would be Firestone, where he also has won seven times and never finished out of the top 10 until 2010 and 2011, both times when his game was a mess. He has won seven times at Bay Hill, but that's different from the other two because Woods has seven finishes out of the top 10. Bay Hill always has been feast or famine.

``This has always been a pretty good benchmark, hasn't it?'' Geoff Ogilvy said.

If he doesn't win this week, it certainly wouldn't be a disaster. Woods is getting older, and the competition is getting deeper every year. Winning is not as easy as it was.

But how he plays this week could be a fair measure of his game going into a pivotal year when the balance of power has shifted to 23-year-old Rory McIlroy. Woods talks a lot about the courses where he feels most comfortable, with Torrey Pines and Firestone at the top of his list. He also includes Augusta National and St. Andrews.

Most telling was his last win at Torrey Pines.

He was runner-up at the Masters that year, and then had arthroscopic surgery to repair some cartilage damage in his left knee that caused him to miss Quail Hollow and The Players Championship. He was getting ready for the U.S. Open when doctors found two stress fractures of the left tibia and recommended six weeks off, which he ignored.

So when he showed up at Torrey Pines, the opening round was the first time he had walked 18 holes since the final at the Masters.

Of his 14 majors, this was among the most remarkable, foremost because of the injury.

``Here I am just talking about it and my hands are sweating just thinking about the feeling I had to get through each and every day,'' Woods said Tuesday. ``Just trying to get up and having to warm up again and go to the gym. I just don't want to move. Then having to get out here and warm up and trying not to show you guys and any of my competitors what I was feeling. It was a very difficult week.''

But it was at Torrey Pines.

Could he have won the U.S. Open in that kind of physical shape had it been played anywhere else?

``Yeah,'' he said.

But did it help that it was Torrey Pines?

``Yeah, definitely. Probably those three courses I just mentioned,'' he said, referring to Torrey, Firestone and Augusta.

Woods won a Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines as a teenager. He first came to the course with his father for the Andy Williams Invitational, spending most of his time watching the California players - Mark O'Meara, John Cook, Corey Pavin. He recalled seeing Andy Bean reach the par-5 18th in two shots.

It's different now. The world watches him. That much was evident when he finished the 18th hole of a practice round on a cool, quiet morning. The golf course, which had been so quiet, came to life with a few hundred rushing over to a walkway with hopes of an autograph, and the pounding of steps heard on a bridge as two dozen photographers trampled behind him.

McIlroy is taking the next month off. The field at Torrey Pines includes Dustin Johnson, Masters champion Bubba Watson, defending champion Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson. But it's still Torrey Pines. This is where a healthy and happy Woods is usually at his best.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game against Michael Jordan, Wizards

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch. He internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started and clocked 36 minutes in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, while Jordan scored 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 record head-to-head against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example than this March night in 2003.

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Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Rui Hachimura says, 'Kobe was a hero for me'

Kobe Bryant's popularity stretched far beyond the United States. He was a global icon and especially loved in Asia. 

Following the NBA star's shocking death on Sunday, the entire sports world grieved and shared fond memories of Bryant all over social media. 

Rui Hachimura grew up in Japan idolizing Bryant, so he took to Twitter a day after the accident to share his thoughts on his hero.  

"I was very shocked to hear of this incident," Hachimura said. "I really can't believe it. I can't speak. Kobe is also a hero to me, and I've seen [him] a lot since I was little. I have met him only once.

"Three years ago, during [the] Final 4, [Bryant gave] a special pair of shoes as a surprise to the team," he said. "Not only that, he talked about what Mamba Mentality is and what people should be before basketball players. 

"He was more than just a basketball player," he said. "It is really sad that this accident was like this. I wish good luck to his family and those who have been involved in this accident. Thanks, Kobe."

After Michael Jordan retired, Bryant became the most popular player in Japan. Along with Hachimura, he inspired players like Grizzlies forward Yuta Watanabe to play the game of basketball in the first place. 

Similar to what made Bryant so popular in the United States, Japan loved him for his tireless work ethic and killer instinct on the court. That's what earned him 15 All-NBA selections and five NBA titles, and along with his efforts off the court post-retirement, earned him the love and respect of so many people around the world. 

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