...as Adam Scott collpases down the stretch

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...as Adam Scott collpases down the stretch

From Comcast SportsNet
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) -- Adam Scott, meet Jean Van de Velde. And Ed Sneed. And Phil Mickelson. With a stunning meltdown, Scott gave away the claret jug Sunday and joined an infamous list of the greatest collapses in golf history. The Aussie bogeyed the final four holes of the British Open to finish one stroke behind Ernie Els, who was almost apologetic about the way he won. "I'm still numb," Els said. "Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy. It's a crazy game." Scott missed a 7-footer at the final hole that would have forced a playoff, his knees buckling as the ball slid by the left edge of the cup. Then, after somehow composing himself and signing his scorecard, he had to return to the same green where his hopes were crushed to accept the runner-up prize. "I know I let a really great chance slip through my fingers," Scott said. Indeed, this was a blow to gut that will certainly take a while to get over, and it's unlikely that Scott will ever be able to put it totally out of his mind. He played brilliantly for three straight days, building a four-shot advantage heading to the final round, and he was still up by four after what seemed a clinching birdie at the 14TH. Then he knocked one in a bunker on 15. Bogey. Then he missed a 3-footer at the next hole. Another bogey. Then he hit his worst shot of the whole tournament, an iron from the middle of the fairway that missed left and rolled into some tall grass, leading to a third straight bogey. Up ahead, Els was already done, having birdied the 18th with a clutch 15-footer. As Scott stepped to the final tee, his lead was gone. Not surprisingly, he drove it in a bunker, leaving himself no other option except to punch out into the fairway. A brilliant shot from 150 yards gave him a chance, but the tall putter that served him so well all week petered out at the end. Els celebrated on the practice green but wasn't real sure how to rect. "I've got to figure it out still," he said. "Obviously, I'm happy to have won. But I've been on the other end more than the winning end. It's not a good feeling." There's plenty of guys who know how that feels: -- In a historical context, Scott's flop ranks alongside Sneed's loss at the 1979 Masters. Sneed began the final round with a five-stroke lead and, despite a few wobbles along the way, was still in good position to win coming down the stretch. Three shots ahead. Three holes to play. But, suddenly, his game fell apart. Or, more specifically his putter. Sneed bogeyed the last three holes and lost to Fuzzy Zoeller in a sudden-death playoff. Sneed never came so close again to capturing a major title. -- Jason Dufner also knows how Scott feels. In the final round of last year's PGA Championship, Dufner stepped to the 15th tee with a four-stroke lead on the field and a five-shot edge on Keegan Bradley. But three straight bogeys by Dufner -- hmmm, that sounds familiar -- and two straight birdies by Bradley forced a three-hole playoff. Bradley won by a stroke. "Maybe looking back in 10 or 15 years, I'll be disappointed if I never get another chance," Dufner said, in words that are fitting for the 32-year-old Scott. "But I have a feeling I'll have more chances in a major to close one out." -- Of course, Van de Velde's collapse on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open is one all others are measured by. The Frenchman had the claret jug in the bag, going to the 72nd hole with a three-shot lead. Instead of playing it safe, he pulled out the driver and knocked his tee shot into the thick rough at Carnoustie. Then he hit it off a grandstand. Then a burn. After briefly considering a whack out of the creek, he took a drop. His now-fifth shot went in a bunker, and he needed a testy up-and-down for triple-bogey just to get in a playoff. Alas, he was defeated by Paul Lawrie. Like Sneed, Van de Velde never came close again. -- For pure shock value, it's hard to beat Arnold Palmer throwing away the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club. The game's most popular player started the final round with a three-shot lead, and had stretched it to seven at the turn. Billy Casper played brilliantly on the back nine, but Palmer was still up ahead by five going to the 15th. That's when it all fell apart. Casper birdied the next two holes. Palmer bogeyed them. Palmer made his third straight bogey at the 17th, and the lead was gone. Even though he made par at 18 to force a playoff, Casper prevailed the following day. Palmer would never get his eighth major title. -- Then there's the Mickelson stunner at the 2006 U.S. Open. Lefty threw away a chance to win his third straight major with a staggering display of errant swings and ditzy decisions. He struggled all day to control his driver, but kept pulling it out of the bag. He did it again at the 18th, needing a par to win or just a bogey to force a playoff. His drive struck a hospitality tent. He attempted to slice the next one under some trees, but caught a branch. Then he plugged one in a back bunker, leading to a double-bogey that gave the championship to Geoff Ogilvy. Lefty's assessment afterward was priceless: "I am such an idiot." -- Greg Norman was feeling the same way after his performance on the final day of the 1996 Masters, and there's certainly a kinship between the Shark and Scott, who grew up idolizing his countryman. But Norman's dismal showing in the final round at Augusta was an 18-hole effort in futility, not just a late choke job. Starting with a six-shot lead on Nick Faldo, he had thrown it away the time he made a third straight bogey at the 11th. When his tee shot at the 12th caught the bank and rolled back into Rae's Creek, it was effectively over. The remaining holes were a coronation for Faldo, a death march for Norman. He finished with a 78, losing to Faldo by five strokes. "I let it slip away," Norman moaned. Words that Scott essentially repeated on Sunday. -- Finally, let's give a nod to Sam Snead, one of the game's all-time greats but also remembered for squandering his two best chances to win the U.S, Open. In 1939, he could've won with a par on the 72nd hole but thought he needed a birdie (hey, give him a break, the scoreboard technology wasn't what it is today). Playing aggressively, Snead made a mess of things for a triple-bogey. But 1947 might have been even worse: Snead built a two-stroke lead on Lew Worsham with three holes left in a playoff. Worsham birdied the 16th and Snead bogeyed the 17th to even things up. Then, after Worsham suddenly called for a ruling on who was away at the 18th, Snead missed a 2 1-2-foot putt. Worsham rolled in a slightly shorter one to take the victory. And, now, Scott joins the list.

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

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USA TODAY

The consummate pro: How Taj Gibson has become the Bulls' version of Udonis Haslem

The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.

But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.

“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”

Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.

It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.

“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”

And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.

He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.

But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.

“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”

Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.

Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.

“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”

Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”

Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.

“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).

“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Bulls take down Heat for second time this season

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