With dramatic win at the Memorial, is Tiger back?


With dramatic win at the Memorial, is Tiger back?

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) -- For those who thought Tiger Woods' run as the world's best golfer was over, the 747-sized roar that emanated from the 16th green at Muirfield Village likely shocked them to their senses. With one flick of his wrists, Woods reminded everyone of who he was and what he has done. Woods slid a 60-degree sand wedge under a ball hidden by tall grass behind the 16th green, popped the ball straight up into the air where it seemed to hang for an instant, and then watched as it rolled ever so slowly toward the cup before dropping in for a 50-foot birdie that tied him for the lead at the Memorial Tournament on Sunday. If that birdie served notice, then another on a sneaky-fast 10-foot downhill putt at the 18th assured him of his fifth victory at the tournament that Jack Nicklaus built. So, Tiger was asked, do you think you're back? "I won," he joked with a wide smile. "I'm sure by Tuesday I'll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the U.S. Open (at Olympic Club in San Francisco in 11 days) it might be something different. But I'll let you guys figure that out." Adding to the weight of the moment, the win tied Woods with Nicklaus -- the tournament founder and host who handed him the crystal trophy on the 18th green -- with 73 tour wins for second behind Sam Snead's record 82. Woods said it was "awfully special" to tie Nicklaus at the Golden Bear's own tournament. "Well, he had to rub it in my face right here, didn't he?" Nicklaus cracked. Then he added, "The last time he won here three years ago, he came here struggling a little bit and just absolutely blitzed it. And he did it again this week." Woods, four shots back and in fourth place at the start of the final round, closed with a 67 to match the best round of the day. He also saved his best for last, birdieing three of the final four holes under pressure conditions to make up a two-shot deficit as he teed off on the 15th hole. After a big drive, he hit a 3-iron second shot on the par-5 15th to 40 feet past the flag. He two-putted for birdie. At the 16th, he hit an 8-iron that rode the wind and bounced off the green and about 15 feet into deep grass. A little too soft a shot and he would be left with a treacherous, twisting putt for par. Catch it a little thin and the ball could easily run all the way through the green and into a pond. The sonic boom that erupted when the ball fell shook the whole course. The rest of the field, those who didn't already know anyway, were reminded that Woods still can summon the thunder. "Well, obviously, I knew something was going on up in front," said Rory Sabbatini, who held a one-shot lead until Woods' chip-in. Rickie Fowler, one of the game's most popular young players, was paired with Woods in a grouping that drew thousands of spectators. Fowler suffered through a miserable day that would end with him shooting a career-worst 84. But at the 16th, he knew he was witnessing some magic he'd seen before from Woods. "It came out perfect," Fowler said of the shot. "It landed right on the crown of that ridge there -- and the rest is history." Nicklaus called it a shot for the ages. "I've seen a lot of shots in golf," he said during the presentation ceremony. "I don't think I've ever seen a better one." Woods sounded as if even he didn't expect it to fall. "The shot was obviously difficult, but it wouldn't have been so bad if I had a good lie," Woods said. "The lie was just a little marginal where it brought the water into play. That's the reason I took such a big cut at it. I went for it, I pulled it off and for it to land as soft as it did was kind of a surprise." Still, he was only tied. While he was parring the 17th hole, Sabbatini bogeyed the 16th. Woods striped a 3 wood off the tee at the testy, uphill, par-4 closing hole. Then he carved an iron to the back of the green and watched it follow the contour of the green back to almost pin high. He slid the ball in on the high side for a 9-under 279. Andres Romero also had a 67 to pull into a tie with Sabbatini (72) for second, two shots back. Daniel Summerhays shot a 69 and was tied for fourth at 283 with 54-hole leader Spencer Levin. Levin, just as he had in losing a six-stroke lead heading into the final round at Phoenix, closed with a disappointing 75. Woods hadn't won a full-field event since 2009 before taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational in late March. He had missed a cut and finished tied for 40th in his only two tournaments after that, including the Masters. The whispers about his professional demise were growing louder. But then came the shot at 16, with Woods orchestrating the cheers with several of his trademark fist pumps. After he had accepted the trophy from Nicklaus and the 1.1 million that went with it, and after he had moved to No. 4 in the world rankings, Woods was asked if at 36 he still has enough to play at the same level of excellence from his earlier days. "Uh-huh," he said. What he had just done did all the speaking for him.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”