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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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The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

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NBC Sports

The Dougie Hamilton-Alex Ovechkin drama continued in Game 6 and the internet has thoughts

Alex Ovechkin's assist to Brett Connolly in Game 5 started when Carolina Hurricanes defender Dougie Hamilton shied away from Ovechkin's imminent check.

To start Game 6, Ovechkin tried to ram Hamilton along the boards again, but Hamilton sidestepped him to get the puck to safety.

After Ovechkin tumbled to the ice when he missed the hit, he made his way back to the bench, when he appeared to, well, you decide.

Ovechkin's mocking did not go unnoticed by the broadcast crew on NBC Sports Network or by fans on Twitter. "And there it is, that's what Eddie was talking about," chuckled Pierre McGuire as Ovechkin appeared to raise his arms like a clucking chicken.

The Hurricanes would respond with a goal to even the game 1-1, but Ovechkin answered back at 15:12 of the first period on an assist from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen to make it 2-1 Capitals.

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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

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USA TODAY Sports

The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.

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