Tiger, Mickelson both need this U.S. Open


Tiger, Mickelson both need this U.S. Open

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- There's a 14-year-old playing in the U.S. Open, as if Phil Mickelson needs a reminder about youth, time and wasted chances. He's had more than his share of the latter in the 21 times he has played this tournament, and all he can hope when he turns 42 on Saturday is that his birthday present is a late tee time among the leaders. It's not that Mickelson hasn't won major championships. He's got three green jackets and his name on the PGA Championship trophy, enough bling to satisfy most golfers in an era dominated by one golfer. He's done having to explain why he was the best player never to win a major, something that to Mickelson seemed harder than talking about how he was going to save the Social Security system. No longer does he have to wonder privately if he was ever going to get his breakthrough win in one of the tournaments that matter most. That unpleasant task now belongs to guys like No. 1-ranked Luke Donald or Lee Westwood, who once held that ranking himself. Both great players, both short of the one win that will stamp them forever as great players. "Maybe I'll never win one. Maybe I will," Westwood said. "I've got no answer to that. Keep working hard and trying to get myself into the position. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't." Winning majors is never easy, if only because there are only four of them a year and they tend to bring out a strong field. Winning the brutal test that is the U.S. Open is even harder. Someone will emerge Sunday with the trophy, though getting there may not be pretty. The Lake course at Olympic Club, with its sloping fairways, slippery greens and thick rough, penalizes every wayward shot, every mistake. Perched on the side of a sand dune, it might be called a thinking man's course, though some of the thoughts won't necessarily be for public consumption. History suggests almost anyone -- save for the qualifiers like teenager Andy Zhang or club pro Dennis Miller -- can win the Open here. Jack Fleck did it in 1955, beating the great Ben Hogan, and Scott Simpson beat Tom Watson to win his only major championship at Olympic in 1987. Whether for career or psychological reasons, though, some need a win this week more than others. Mickelson would be near the top of that list, simply because he's getting to an age where winning such a penal tournament becomes problematic. Unlike the last time the Open was played on the West Coast, Lefty brought his driver along this time, proof that for once he may not be overthinking this one. Not that he would entertain the idea that he's a favorite. He's been down that path too many times, at too many majors where he was supposed to win. He might have won the Masters this year if he hadn't aimed for a bunker instead of the green on the fourth hole of the final round. He could have won a few Opens by now had he not missed some short putts or pulled out his driver at the wrong time, most notably on the 18th hole of his epic collapse in 2006 at Winged Foot. So many near misses, so few Opens left to finally correct them. "I feel like I've developed a good game plan as to how I want to play the golf course," Mickelson said. "I feel that I should be able to play to that game plan and post a number that I feel will be competitive. I don't know if it will win." Perhaps no one needs this Open more than Tiger Woods. He's coming in off a high, winning the Memorial two weeks ago with a chip-in that took its rightful place among his more iconic shots. After a debacle at the Masters, where he screamed at shots, kicked clubs and generally acted like a spoiled brat, he seems to have gotten his game and his act together in time for the official start of the summer major season. He was once thought of as a lock to break the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, but he's been stuck at 14 since winning the Open four years ago at Torrey Pines in what now seems like a lifetime ago. But he's yet to prove he can win again in the only place it has ever mattered for Woods -- in the majors. "I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, You're not to 18 yet' or When will you get to 19?' " Woods said. "It's always something with you guys." As if Woods needed a reminder, Nicklaus was in the media room Wednesday reminiscing about his four Open titles and how he won them. He was introduced as the greatest player of all time and he will always be, until someone wins more of the tournaments that really count than he did. Woods once talked about finishing his career early and moving on, but the harder winning has become for him, the longer his sights are set. "Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I've got 10 (years)," Woods said. "Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time." With each passing major, though, that time becomes shorter. There have been 15 majors since Woods last won at Torrey Pines, and he's no closer to his career goal of passing Nicklaus than he was the day he beat Rocco Mediate on one leg in a playoff. Unlike Mickelson, Donald and Westwood he's got three Open titles in the record books. That doesn't mean he's not just as desperate to win this one as he was his first.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.