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Watson was an elementary choice for Ryder Cup

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Watson was an elementary choice for Ryder Cup

Remember this before saluting PGA of America officials for going ``outside the box'' when they selected Tom Watson as the next Ryder Cup captain.

They're the ones who built the box in the first place.

With due respect to Larry Nelson, who has more reason than ever to believe he will never be a captain, and David Toms, who looked to be the best option inside the box, it's tough to argue against Watson as the perfect pick for the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland.

This is not so much a risk as a break from tradition. If there's a complaint, it might be what took the PGA of America so long.

``I was waiting about 20 years to get the call,'' Watson said.

It came at the right time. The 2014 matches will be played in Scotland, which treats Watson as one of its own. That's where he won four of his five British Open titles, and he embraced everything about the home of golf. And even as the captain of the enemy team, Watson has a short history of playing well before a crowd that wanted the other guys to win - the ``Duel in the Sun'' against Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977, and his chip-in on the 17th at Pebble Beach that denied Nicklaus a record fifth U.S. Open.

Once the PGA of America finally got out of its box, Watson was the logical choice.

For too many years, there was a feeling that a Ryder Cup captain had to be a major champion in his late 40s - old enough that he probably wouldn't qualify for the team, young enough to still be playing on the PGA Tour so that he would have a pulse on the players, their skills and their personalities.

Watson will be 65 when the 2014 matches are played in Scotland, making him the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history.

Is he still in touch with today's game?

One answer came Sunday in Sydney when Watson had the lowest score of the final round (69) in the Australian Open. He offered an even stronger answer Thursday in the Empire State Building without even being asked.

``The idea of being captain for a team of youngsters will be questioned,'' Watson said. ``I deflect that very simply by saying we play the same game. I play against these kids at the Masters. I play against them at the British Open, the Greenbrier Classic. We play the same game, and they understand that. I understand that.''

The other question about the selection was his relationship with Tiger Woods, which shouldn't be a factor and won't be.

In the months after Woods was caught having extramarital affairs, Watson didn't mince words when he said it was time for Woods to show a little more humility and ``clean up his act.'' Privately, Watson had been on Woods for his language on the golf course, even before Woods' personal life came undone.

Woods might hold grudges over little things, but he tends to take the high road on weightier matters. It was not surprising to see him issue a statement, just minutes after Watson was introduced on the ``Today'' show, to congratulate Watson and say that ``I think he's a really good choice.''

``Tom knows what it takes to win, and that's our ultimate goal,'' Woods said, adding that he hoped to have the ``privilege'' of playing for him.

Watson returned praise to Woods that was even more effusive.

``He's the best player maybe in the history of the game,'' Watson said. ``He brings a stature to the team that is unlike any other player on the team. And if he's not on the team for any unforeseen reason ... you can bet that he's going to be No. 1 on my pick list. My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge. No issues.''

Any American team is better off when Woods' presence is minimized. Through no fault of his own, his stature is such that every U.S. team tends to be looked upon as Tiger Woods and 11 other guys. In Scotland, this will be Watson's team.

One overrated aspect of having Watson as captain is that he is far enough removed from these players that he won't coddle them, allowing them to dictate who they want as partners and when they want to play. That's easy to identify as a problem in defeat. It worked just fine for Davis Love III when the Americans had a 10-6 lead going into the last day at Medinah. If not for Ian Poulter's five straight birdies or Justin Rose making a 35-foot putt, that's not even an issue.

You want a captain who calls all the shots? That didn't work out very well for Hal Sutton, who was saddled with a team in poor form.

No matter who is captain, the players still decide who gets the gold trophy.

``The most important thing is for me as a captain is to get lucky,'' Watson said. ``I just hope I get lucky and that happens, that the players that are coming there are all playing well, and that we're playing as a team, it will put us in a good chance of winning the tournament.''

Most fascinating is the man indirectly responsible for Watson being considered - the late Jim Huber, a respected, cheerful television commentator and essayist with a passion for golf and a good story. Huber, who died in January of leukemia, wrote a book called, ``Four Days in July,'' about Watson coming within an 8-foot putt of winning the 2009 British Open at Turnberry when he was 59.

Huber's last golf assignment was the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda. He gave PGA of America officers a copy of his book before he left. Ted Bishop, appointed last month as PGA president, knew he was going to be in charge of picking next the captain. He read the book on the flight from Bermuda, and he called Huber with a question when he got home.

``What would you think of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain in Scotland in 2014?''

For all the fuss over Nelson and Toms not getting a call about the selection of a captain, turns out they were never under serious consideration. The PGA of America was looking for the right man for the right time. And once it stepped outside its box, the choice was obvious.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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