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We review the highlinghts of the day with the “Roundup”!! Covering all sports: MLB, NBA, NFL, College Basketball, College Football, Hockey, Tennis, Horse Racing, NASCAR, UFC/MMA, Poker, Soccer, MLS, WNBA, Rugby and more…

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NBA Roundup: Hornets rout Grizzlies 140-79 behind Kemba Walker’s 46 points

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   CHARLOTTE, N.C.– Kemba Walker scored 46 points and made 10 3-pointers, and the Charlotte Hornets rolled to the most lopsided victory in franchise history by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 140-79 on Thursday night.

Walker had the ninth 40-point game of his career as the Hornets easily overcame the absence of the suspended Dwight Howard. The All-Star guard hit 13 of 18 shots overall, including 10 of 14 on 3-pointers, and was 10 of 10 on free throws in 28 minutes.

He scored 17 points in the first quarter, 18 in the second quarter and 11 in the third before he was replaced for the final time with 1:48 left in the period.

It came one night after Howard’s 32-point, 30-rebound performance that helped Charlotte rally from a 23-point deficit for a 111-105 victory at Brooklyn. But in the process, Howard was whistled for his 16th technical foul of the season, meaning he had to serve a one-game suspension on Thursday night.

Pelicans 128, Lakers 125

NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis capped a 33-point performance with two clutch free throws and a game-sealing steal in the final seconds, Rajon Rondo had 24 points and 10 assists, and New Orleans erased an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat Los Angeles.

Rondo scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, when the Pelicans could not have been blamed if they had faded, giving they were playing for the fifth time in six nights.

Instead, they produced a riveting rally that pulled them into fourth place in the Western Conference with nine games left in the regular season.

New Orleans, which had a game against Indiana rescheduled this week because of a roof leak that postponed a game in February, became the first team since Seattle in 1979 to win three home games on consecutive nights. New Orleans has won four straight since beating Boston on Sunday and 15 of 19 since Feb. 10.

Rockets 100, Pistons 96 (OT)

HOUSTON – James Harden scored 21 points, including 10 of Houston’s 12 points in overtime, to shake off a tough four quarters and lift the Rockets over Detroit.

After going 2 of 16 in regulation, including missing a shot that would have won it, Harden warmed up in overtime. He put Houston up with a basket early in the period before making it 93-90 on a three-point play after a basket by Andre Drummond. He added three free throws with about a minute left before P.J. Tucker’s tip-in made it 98-90 with 21 seconds to play.

It was an ugly game which featured 71 missed 3-pointers combined. Houston was 12 of 51 and Detroit made just 6 of 38.

Eric Gordon added 22 points for Houston on a night Chris Paul sat out with a sore left hamstring.

Blake Griffin had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 20 rebounds.

76ers 118, Magic 98

ORLANDO, Fla. – Joel Embiid had 17 points and nine rebounds in just 20 minutes and surging Philadelphia moved closer to a playoff berth with a victory over Orlando.

Ersan Ilyasova scored 18 points, leading six Philadelphia players in double figures as the 76ers (41-30) won their fifth straight and clinched their first non-losing season in six years. Robert Covington and Marco Belinelli added 15 points.

Rodney Purvis came off the bench to score 19 points for the Magic, who have lost eight of nine. Aaron Gordon, the only Orlando starter to score in double figures, had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Jazz 119, Mavericks 112

DALLAS – Donovan Mitchell scored 26 points and Utah got back on the winning track by beating Dallas.

Two nights after a loss to Atlanta ended a nine-game winning streak, Utah moved into a tie with Minnesota for seventh place in the Western Conference playoff race. The Jazz have won 22 of their last 25 games.

Joe Ingles had 18 points and 10 assists, equaling his career high. Ricky Rubio scored 22 points, Derrick Favors had 19 and Rudy Gobert added 11.

J.J. Barea had a season-high 23 points for the Mavericks with 20 in the first half. Harrison Barnes added 21 points and Yogi Ferrell scored 20 in a reserve role.

Kings 105, Hawks 90

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Justin Jackson scored 11 of his season-high 20 points in the third quarter and Sacramento beat Atlanta in a game that was delayed due to protesters who were locked arm-in-arm surrounding entrances to Golden1 Center.

Jackson shot 7 of 8 and was perfect on four shots beyond the arc to help the Kings split the season series with the Hawks while avenging their worst loss of the season. Atlanta beat Sacramento 126-80 in November.

Buddy Hield and Frank Mason scored 16 points apiece, while Kosta Koufos added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Kings.

A massive crowd shut down nearby freeways and gathered in the surrounding streets to protest the police shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was in the backyard of his grandparents’ house Sunday night. According to reports, Clark was shot 20 times.

NHL Roundup: Anze Kopitar scores 4 goals, Kings beat Avalanche 7-1

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   DENVER – Anze Kopitar became the first Kings player with a four-goal game since 1993, Jonathan Quick stopped 29 shots and Los Angeles beat the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 on Thursday night.

Kopitar was so efficient that he picked up his fourth career hat trick with 7:33 remaining in the second period. He added another goal early in the third. This was the first four-goal game by a Kings player since Luc Robitaille on Nov. 25, 1993, at Quebec.

Tobias Rieder had two goals and Jake Muzzin scored his first goal since Feb. 3. Los Angeles improved to 6-0-2 in its last eight roads games and passed Anaheim for the third spot in the Pacific Division.

Mikko Rantanen scored for Colorado.

Lightning 7, Islanders 6

NEW YORK – J.T. Miller scored twice, Brayden Point had a goal and two assists, and high-scoring Tampa Bay held off New York.

Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Victor Hedman each added a goal and an assist, Tyler Johnson also scored, and Braydon Coburn and Yanni Gourde each had two assists.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots for his NHL-leading 42nd victory, extending Tampa Bay’s franchise record. The Lightning improved to 12-2-1 in their last 15 games, extending their Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division leads to six points over idle Boston.

Anders Lee, Ryan Pulock and Anthony Beauvillier each scored twice for the Islanders. They lost for the 12th time in 14 games (2-8-4).

Sharks 2, Golden Knights 1 (OT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Logan Couture scored 39 seconds into overtime to send San Jose to its season-high sixth straight victory.

Brent Burns also scored and Martin Jones made 24 saves to help the Sharks move within seven points of first-place Vegas with eight games remaining in the regular season. San Jose also opened a four-point lead over third-place Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with a game in hand as the Sharks close in on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Tomas Tatar scored the lone goal for the Golden Knights, who were kept in the game by a sterling performance by goalie Malcolm Subban. He stopped 42 shots but it wasn’t enough for Vegas to come up with the win.

Blue Jackets 4, Panthers 0

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and Columbus beat Florida for its 10th straight victory.

Sonny Milano, Seth Jones and Thomas Vanek also scored. The Blue Jackets joined Philadelphia (1984-86) and Pittsburgh (2010-13) as the only teams with 10-game winning streaks in consecutive seasons.

Capitals 1, Red Wings 0

DETROIT – Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored on a third-period breakaway to lift Washington past Detroit Red.

The Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down. Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn’t available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining in the game after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn’t control the puck near Washington’s blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway, and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side.

Maple Leafs 5, Predators 2

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Auston Matthews had a goal in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games and Toronto beat Nashville.

The Predators had been 14-0-1 since their previous regulation loss on Feb. 17.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander and Jake Gardiner also scored for Toronto. The Maple Leafs have won five of six.

Morgan Rielly had three assists for the Maple Leafs, and Tyler Bozak had two. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 shots. Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell scored for Nashville.

Hurricanes 6, Coyotes 5

RALEIGH, N.C. – Jeff Skinner scored his second goal with 1:58 left, and Carolina beat Arizonadespite giving up a weird goal when the puck stuck in goalie Cam Ward’s skate.

Skinner added an assist, and Valentin Zykov scored two goals, the second tying it at 5 with 10:14 remaining. Phil Di Giuseppe had a goal and two assists, and Jaccob Slavin had three assists. Teuvo Teravainen also scored, and Ward made 28 saves.

Alex Goligoski scored twice, including arguably the most bizarre goal of the season when Ward unknowingly skated across the red line with the puck lodged in his right skate.

Rookie Clayton Keller had a goal and an assist, Josh Archibald and Nick Cousins also scored and Darcy Kuemper stopped 24 shots for Arizona.

Oilers 6, Senators 2

OTTAWA, Ontario – Connor McDavid had two goals and two assists and Edmonton eliminated Ottawa from playoff contention.

Drake Caggiula also had two goals, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie scored and Cam Talbot stopped 33 shots for the Oilers. They were 3-1-0 on a four-game trip.

Matt Duchene and Filip Chlapik replied for Ottawa, and Craig Anderson made 32 saves.

Flyers 4, Rangers 3

PHILADELPHIA – Travis Konecny scored twice, Claude Giroux had three assists and Philadelphia Flyers beat New York.

Jakub Voracek had a goal and an assist, and Oskar Lindblom also scored for the Flyers. Jesper Fast had two goals and an assist and Mika Zibanejad also scored for the Rangers.

Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

CHICAGO – Alexander Edler scored twice, Jacob Markstrom made 39 saves and Vancouver beat Chicago to stop a seven-game slide.

Henrik Sedin and Bo Horvat each had a goal and an assist, and Brent Sutter also scored.

Nick Schmaltz and Matthew Highmore scored for Chicago.

Golf Roundup: Spieth, Reed to face each other in Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed play some of their most spirited golf against one another in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, remarkable only because they’re on the same team.

Now they’re opponents. And the stakes in the Dell Technologies Match Play are personal.

The loser goes home.

The most intriguing match that came out of the draw at the start of the week was packed with significance Thursday when Spieth and Reed won matches for the second straight day to set up a showdown on the skirts of Hill Country in Texas.

They play Friday, one of four matches between players who have yet to lose this week at Austin Country Club.

Reed fired the first shot when asked what made Spieth a good opponent in match play.

“I don’t know. My back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” he said with a laugh, alluding to the way he carried Spieth in their partnership at Hazeltine to a 2-1-1 record in team play during a rare American victory.

Spieth dodged trouble early against Li Haotong, who missed putts inside 8 feet on two of the opening three holes, won the second hole when Spieth hit into the hazard and thought he won the fourth hole until Spieth matched his birdie by chipping in from short of the green.

Spieth never trailed and pulled away with a savvy play on the par-4 13th over the water and into the wind. He hit driver well to the right toward the gallery, which gave him a clear look at the green without having to hit over any of the lake. His pitch-and-run settled a foot away for birdie and a 2-up lead, and Spieth closed him out, 4 and 2.

Right behind was Reed in his match against Charl Schwartzel, and the South African was 2 up at the turn until Reed won the next two holes to set up a tight finish. Schwartzel stayed 1 down when he missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th. Needing a birdie on the 18th to halve, Schwartzel could only watch as Reed hit a wedge that nearly went in and stopped a few inches away.

Reed and Spieth are 8-1-3 as partners in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. They are 1-1 in PGA Tour playoffs, with Reed hitting through the greens to short birdie range when he won the Wyndham Championship in 2013, and Spieth returning the favor in 2015 at Innisbrook by winning a playoff with a 30-foot putt.

They don’t have much of a relationship except in team competitions, and even then it’s unusual.

“Because we’re so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That’s what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it’s a phenomenon. It’s not something that he’s used to seeing in those team events. Normally you’re working together. But we want to beat each other every time. In alternate shot, if we don’t win a hole, I want it to be his fault and he wants it to be my fault.

“We’ve almost played every single match we’ve been involved in together against each other,” he said. “We just happen to be wearing the same colors.”

The other three matches involving players with 2-0 record: Sergio Garcia vs. Xander Schauffele; Alex Noren vs. Tony Finau; and Justin Thomas vs. Francesco Molinari. Noren, who has played only 30 holes, has won six of his last seven matches.

Thomas can reach No. 1 by winning this World Golf Championship because Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, was among 20 players already mathematically eliminated. Johnson won seven matches last year. He has lost both his matches this year.

Others eliminated were Jon Rahm, last year’s runner-up; Zach Johnson; ex-Texas Longhorns Jhonattan Vegas and Dylan Frittelli; and Daniel Berger.

Still alive, but still needing some help, were Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson.

McIlroy had an easy time beating Vegas, while Brian Harman knocked out Peter Uihlein in the other match in their group. Harman will win the group if he beats McIlroy on Friday; McIlroy has to win to have any chance of making it to the weekend, and it likely would involve a playoff.

“At least I’ve given myself a chance to progress,” he said.

Mickelson, who lost to Charles Howell III in the opening round, rallied from 4 down after eight holes and won the last three holes to beat Satoshi Kodaira, who missed putts in the 10-foot range on all of them.

Mickelson is coming off a victory in the last World Golf Championship in Mexico City, and found himself lacking energy and enthusiasm in his loss to Howell, and in fall behind to Kodaira. He attributed it to a bad attitude.

“And you know what happens when you walk with your head down — animals, they get eaten,” Mickelson said.

His only hope is to beat Rafa Cabrera Bello and for Howell to lose to Kodaira. Head-to-head matches are not used for tiebreakers, so if that were to happen, Mickelson and Howell would go to a sudden-death playoff.

It might feel like that to Spieth and Reed when they get to the first tee.

“He’s not going to give you holes,” Reed said. “You have to go and play some good golf. And that’s what it’s going to down to. Because I plan on not giving him any holes.”


Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship

PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic (AP) — Tony Romo settled down after a nervous start, only to come undone on the back nine in his PGA Tour debut.

The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback played a four-hole stretch in a 5 over on the back nine that led to a 5-over 77 in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He was 14 shots behind Brice Garnett, who had a 63 to lead by one shot.

“Over 18 holes and 72, your flaws start to show at some point,” Romo said. “I really hit some good shots close and I had a chance to be under par pretty easily. Then two or three shots on the back nine cost me. But that’s golf.”

Romo, who now works as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, received a sponsor’s exemption to the tournament, which has one of the weaker fields of the year because it is held opposite the World Golf Championships event in Texas. He is playing as an amateur.

Garnett played bogey-free, opening with a 30 on the back nine and building a one-shot lead over Corey Conners of Canada.

Romo played with Denny McCarthy, who was among those at 66, and Dru Love. The son of Davis Love III shot a 73.

“I was nervous,” said Romo, who opened with two bogeys before getting back to even par on the front nine. “I think I knew going in that I was going to be trying to rely on the mechanics and the fundamentals of the swing. I hit it fine, but three-putted three times, twice early in the round. That’s just nerves, and hopefully you can get that out of the way and get a couple of swings that you aren’t used to doing and come back and play better tomorrow.”

Friday most likely will be his last day.

Only two players had a higher score than Romo — D.A. Points and Guy Boros at 79. The 53-year-old Boros was playing on the PGA Tour for the first time in three years.

Romo joined a short list of athletes who have tried to compete against those who play for a living.

Mark Rypien, the former Washington Redskins quarterback, played the Kemper Open in 1992. He shot rounds of 80-91 and missed the cut by 27 shots.

Ken Harrelson, an All-Star outfielder for the Boston Red Sox in 1968, qualified for the 1972 British Open at Muirfield and missed the cut by one shot. John Brodie qualified for the U.S. Open while playing for the San Francisco 49ers and later won on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.

Most recently, Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry played a Web.com Tour event outside San Francisco. He shot 74-74 and missed the cut by 11 shots.

“I had it going for a little bit,” Romo said. “I had it close.”

Garnett was 10 shots better than his opening round at Punta Cana last year, when it was a Web.com Tour event. He shot 73-67 and missed the cut.

“I think last year I just kind of approached the golf course wrong,” Garnett said of the generous fairways on the resort course. “To me, this is a second shot golf course. Everybody’s in play off the tee and it comes down to a putting competition.”

Jonathan Byrd was in a large group at 66, while former Puerto Rico Open winner George McNeill was among those at 67.


TIGER WOODS: Tiger Woods is no longer the most dominant golfer in the world, but after enduring four years of painful back and nerve problems, he seems to have resumed his place among the elite.

After consecutive top-five finishes in his last two PGA Tour events, there’s unexpected optimism the four-time Masters champion could make a run at his fifth Green Jacket in two weeks — something that might have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago.

In an interview with ESPN, Woods says he’s had to change his game considerably, but back surgery has finally enabled him to play pain-free.

“I am pretty close to putting it together,” he says. “It’s like riding a bike. But it’s a new bike.”

Woods tells ESPN he’s still figuring out his body’s limitations, but once he does, that’s when he’ll start winning tournaments again.

The recovery is a huge step forward from the low periods he had because of constant back pain.

“For the better part of 4-6 months, I had to be helped out of bed every day,” he says. “There were some days where I just, even if you helped me, I couldn’t stand up. I’d fall to the floor or just stay in bed.”

With his revamped swing, Woods finished tied for fifth last week at Bay Hill and tied for second at Innisbrook the week before.

“I am just solid as a rock back there,” Woods says. “The difference is I don’t have the same range of motion. I’m stiffer there. It takes me a little longer to warm up.

“The angles I used to create with my body, I can’t do that anymore.”

Another improvement in Woods’ quality of life is he can now enjoy being a better father to his two children. He says golf has now “taken a back seat” to that.

“My health has been the No. 1 thing that’s guided me toward where I’m at because I want to be healthy for my kids.”

For fans looking forward to seeing Woods compete on golf’s grandest stage at the Masters, the timing couldn’t be any better.

Kyle Busch has learned to handle Martinsville’s short track and is among STP 500 favorites

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   Kyle Busch usually isn’t the first name to spring to mind when NASCAR aficionados discuss the masters of Martinsville Speedway.

He doesn’t get name-dropped like Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip or future Hall inductees and longtime Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – each with at least nine victories on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ shortest track. Yet no driver has had a better handle recently on the paper clip-shaped track than Busch.

It wasn’t always the case.

Busch, who has won at least one Cup race on every active track except for Charlotte Motor Speedway, did not immediately take to the close confines and bump-and-run racing at Martinsville. In his first 15 races at the .526-mile Virginia track, Busch finished 20th or worse seven times, and it took until his 22nd race there to reach victory lane.

But beginning with the 2015 fall race, something seemed to click for Busch at Martinsville. He came home fifth and three races later scored his first Cup Series championship. The next time Busch visited Martinsville, in April 2016, he won. He followed that up with another fifth-place result and a second-place finish before storming to his second Martinsville victory last fall after leading a race-high 184 laps.

“We’ve run well the last two years at Martinsville, and we’re definitely pumped about getting back there,” Busch said. “I’m hoping we can have a really good car there again this time around, like we did the last two years, especially. We led a lot of laps and we were really fast.

It’s not just the last two years, though. In the last 10 races at Martinsville, Busch has earned seven top-fives and has an average finish of 6.1. In the same time span, no other active driver has an average finish better than 12, and no one has led more laps than Busch’s 903.

While he has yet to win this season, Busch was in top form in the just-completed western swing, with two runnerup finishes (at Las Vegas and Phoenix) and third-place result at Fontana, Calif. He ranks second in the standings through five races behind reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., who won his first race of the year last weekend.

But Busch wants to turn that momentum into a win, and Martinsville could provide the occasion. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has a comfort factor there now, which is good news for Busch and bad news for the rest of the field.

“I think just being able to get comfortable, get settled, and make sure that you’re good to go for those long hauls,” Busch said about the key to victory in the 263-mile, 500-lap race. “You just keep battling, keep driving, keep your focus forward on what you’re doing. That’s the best way to go about those long, long races.”


The last few months of Jimmie Johnson’s racing career haven’t been the best — or fastest — of times.

He continues to wrestle a winless streak that now extends to 28 races, and another low point was reached with the recent announcement that Lowe’s, Johnson’s ultra-loyal sponsor, would leave auto racing at the end of this season.

The seven-time champion, whose numbers clearly make him one of the best drivers in the sport’s history, was reduced to listening to suggestions that it might be time to retire.

No way, Johnson said.

And this week might be the one in which he derails the negativity.

It’s Martinsville week.

The STP 500, the sixth race of the season and the first on a short track, is scheduled for Sunday (2 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1), though a wintry mix of snow and rain is in the forecast for Saturday and could impact racing conditions the next day.

Martinsville will present Johnson with his best chance at victory. He has won nine times at the half-mile flat track and once won five races in a six-race stretch there.

How much does Johnson like Martinsville? Consider:

–His average finish at one of the sport’s most physically demanding tracks is a remarkable 7.7.

–He has won nine times at a track that has befuddled some of the sport’s best. Among drivers who have never won at Martinsville are Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte, Joey Logano and defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.

–On the Martinsville victory list, the closest active driver to Johnson is Denny Hamlin, with five wins.

–Only two drivers — Richard Petty with 15 and Darrell Waltrip with 11 — have won more Martinsville races than Johnson. His former Hendrick Motorsports teammate and current NASCAR on Fox analyst Jeff Gordon also has nine.

–Johnson has led 20% of the nearly 16,000 laps he’s run at the track. His record there includes 17 top-10 finishes in a row.

–In a total of 32 Cup races at Martinsville, Johnson has failed to finish only one — his very first race at the track in the spring of 2002.

Johnson’s 2018 started with thumps and bumps, but he ran well last week at Auto Club Speedway, finishing ninth, his first top-10 run since last October.

Johnson has pushed back against suggestions that his age (42) is contributing to his slowdown, instead saying changes at Hendrick Motorsports and the team’s adjustment to the new Camaro model have limited progress.

“We’re working hard,” he said. “I think there will still be a month or two before we can really see the fruit that this is going to provide for us and see what we can produce working even closer together. I still see a lot of growth for Hendrick Motorsports this first half of the year.

“We do have a better product with the Camaro body. We just haven’t maximized it yet. The No. 9 (Chase Elliott) and the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) Chevrolets have clearly been way closer to the front than we have. So we need to look at ourselves until we’re the lead Chevy and start looking elsewhere.”

A win Sunday would be the 84th of Johnson’s Cup career and would tie him for fourth all-time with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

2018 Major League Soccer all-name team: Featuring Bastian Schweinsteiger, Shaft Brewer / World Scores

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —-   To quote famous football player/coach/pundit — and interim coach for the Tigers youth soccer team in Kicking & Screaming — Mike Ditka: “We became a team today!”

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Football Club acquired Shaft Brewer Jr., and the final piece of the 2018 edition of the Major League Soccer all-name team was in place.

Here is the squad:


Quincy Amarikwa (San Jose Earthquakes)

When Amarikwa puts the ball into the back of the ol’ onion bag, you know there are fans out there that want to yell something NSFW.

Maximiliano Urruti (FC Dallas)

Urruti developed his skills as a youth with all-name team name candidate Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina.

Also considered: Latif Blessing (LAFC), Magnus Eriksson (San Jose Earthquakes), Shkëlzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids), Jack McBean (Colorado Rapids), Andy Polo (Portland Timbers)


Artur (Columbus Crew)

Yes, he’s Brazilian, and like all good Brazilian soccer players, Artur goes by one name only.

Shaft Brewer (LAFC)

Possibly the greatest name in league history.

Handwalla Bwana (Seattle Sounders)

Like Brewer, Bwana is another first-year MLS player with an all-time great name.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Chicago Fire)

The German fußball legend certainly is the most famous player on this list.

Also considered: Romain Alessandrini (L.A. Galaxy), Magnus Wolff Eikrem (Seattle Sounders), Anthony Fontana (Philadelphia Union), Ebenezer Ofori (NYCFC), Dillon Powers (Orlando City), Yordy Reyna (Vancouver Whitecaps), Zoltan Stieber (D.C. United), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Charlie Ward (Houston Dynamo), Yoshi Yotun (Orlando City)


Lalas Abubakar (Columbus Crew)

Abubakar also is a strong candidate for the MLS all-hair team.

Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew)

His last name is pronounced as you would think: Aww-full. That’s unfortunate, which might explain why he has Harrison on his jersey nameplate.

PC (Orlando City)

This is an unusual name, even by Brazilian standards.

Ben Sweat (NYCFC)

There’s no need to sweat it out with Sweat playing on the backline.

Also considered: Mo Adams (Chicago Fire), Frederic Brillant (D.C. United), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Omar Gaber (LAFC), Larrys Mabiala (Portland Timbers), Carter Manley (Minnesota United), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids), Nouhou Tolo (Seattle Sounders), Vytas (Portland Timbers)


Zac MacMath (Colorado Rapids)

MacMath is here because alliteration is fun.

Also considered: Alex Bono (Toronto FC), Bobby Shuttleworth (Minnesota United)


Juventus will play in Major League Soccer’s All-Star Game in Atlanta on Aug. 1.

Leading the Italian League as it pursues a seventh straight Serie A title, the Bianconeri will be the latest high-profile European club to face the top MLS players in the annual showcase . Real Madrid won last year’s game in Chicago on penalty kicks.

Led by forwards Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain, Juventus is Italy’s most successful club with 33 league championships.

Juventus is the second Serie A team to play in the All-Star Game, following Roma in 2013. The European opponent has won the past two All-Star games since MLS beat Tottenham in 2015.

“It will be a pleasure for us to play in this game and feel the energy of MLS, an ever-growing league attracting more and more passionate fans,” Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri said in a statement. “It will also be a great chance for the many Juventus supporters in North America to see their team and favorite players.”

NYCFC star David Villa, the league’s 2016 MVP, has made the last three All-Star games.

“It’s a great tool for the MLS to get more fans around the world because the All-Star team plays against some of the best teams in the world,” Villa told The Associated Press. “The fans of those clubs get to know the league and start to follow it closer.”

Neither Italy nor the United States made the field for this year’s World Cup in Russia, making it more likely players from those countries will appear in the game, said Atlanta United President Darren Eales.

“We couldn’t be happier to be hosting it,” Eales said. “It was amazing how the city got behind Atlanta United last year and it continues this year. We had nearly 73,000 for our first home game, which set a new record. So this is a city that’s hungry for soccer. I think that we’re going to be great hosts.”

Atlanta saw incredible success as an expansion team last year, setting a league attendance record with an average of 48,200 fans.

This season’s home opener against D.C. United drew an MLS-record 72,035. That bested the previous record of 71,974 set by Atlanta at last season’s home opener.

United has drawn three crowds of more than 70,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, also home to the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.



Spennymoor Town FC
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NFL free agency winners, losers: 49ers, Seahawks headed in opposite directions

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —    The NFL’s first wave of free agency is over. Signings will continue to trickle in over the next few weeks, but the majority of high-impact moves are already on the books.

Many team officials and coaches will say they’re happy with how it all played out, but there often is a sharp separation when evaluating which teams capitalized on the market and which didn’t.

The true fallout from these moves won’t become fully clear until teams take the field. But here’s a look at what appears to be some of the biggest winners and losers of free agency a week after the market opened.


San Francisco 49ers: Continuing the momentum gained as they closed out the season on a 5-0 swing, general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan further upgraded their roster in the last two months.

First came the five-year deal for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, followed by a three-year extension for wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who is coming off of a career year. They then added four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman following his release by the Seahawks. San Francisco also upgraded at running back, replacing Carlos Hyde with Jerrick McKinnon, who will fit perfectly into Shanahan’s system both as a ball carrier and pass catcher. Center Weston Richburg and linebackers Brock Coyle and Jeremiah Attaochu further strengthen the team’s core.

It’s realistic to believe the 49ers will have a legitimate chance to leap-frog the re-tooling Seahawks in the NFC West, and they could even threaten the division-champion Rams.

Cleveland Browns: New general manager John Dorsey and third-year coach Hue Jackson aren’t messing around. Before free agency even started, they took drastic steps to upgrade the roster, trading for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and defensive back Damarious Randall. Then came the signings of running back Carlos Hyde, tight end Darren Fells, and offensive tackles Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, among others.

Taylor is an underappreciated passer who seldom commits turnovers. Armed with weapons like Landry, Josh Gordon and Hyde, he has a chance to significantly improve the offense. And his presence means coaches don’t have to play a rookie quarterback before he’s ready.

Meanwhile, despite their many trades, the Browns still own five of the first 64 picks in the draft.

Minnesota Vikings: Despite reaching the NFC Championship Game, they decided to move on from Case Keenum and go all in on Kirk Cousins, whom they landed him on a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract. Minnesota then addressed the other side of the ball by signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

The Vikings believe they now have a roster fit to contend for a Super Bowl with a top-rated defense, a three-time 4,000-yard passer and a diverse collection of weapons.

Tennessee Titans: General manager Jon Robinson and first-year coach Mike Vrabel deepened their ties to the Patriots by bringing on cornerback Malcolm Butler (five years, $61.24 million) and running back Dion Lewis (four years, $20 million).

Lewis gives quarterback Marcus Mariota and new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur a versatile piece, while Butler at times has been one of the better corners in the league. Just as importantly, the two bring a winning mentality.

Los Angeles Rams: Their changes were more fueled by trades than signings, but the Rams still look like winners. Los Angeles loaded up at cornerback, acquiring Marcus Peters from the Chiefs and Aqib Talib from the Broncos while also signing Sam Shields and re-upping Nickell Robey-Coleman. General manager Les Snead said his team would be aggressive this offseason, and he has certainly backed up those words in reshaping the defense.


Seattle Seahawks: They released Sherman, telling him they wanted to create greater financial flexibility. Additionally, they lost key pieces in tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Paul Richardson, and defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Michael Bennett. Team officials understood the need to reshape the roster in hopes of staving off a full-blown rebuild, but Seattle still looks poised to take a step back.

New England Patriots: They already find themselves in an offseason of change with former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia now the head coach of the Lions. But they’ve got more work ahead of them as they try to rebound from the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. Butler, Lewis, wide receiver Danny Amendola and left tackle Nate Solder all signed elsewhere. Solder’s departure to the Giants could be the biggest loss of all, as Tom Brady now needs a new blindside protector.

Miami Dolphins: The cap-strapped team still managed to sign Amendola away from the Patriots and acquired pass rusher Robert Quinn from the Rams. But Miami traded Landry and released star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and three-time Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey.


The modern NFL quarterback has evolved over the past 35 years, beginning with Joe Montana, Dan Marino and John Elway, continuing into the 2000s with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and then entering the new era with Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Andrew Luck. As QBs figure to dominate the draft-day discussion in the upcoming NFL draft, For The Win looks back at the last 35 drafts to pick the best classes of the era.

(Click here for the worst QB classes.)

But first, a look at some numbers. Starting with the 1983 draft, there have been 453 quarterbacks selected by NFL teams. They’ve run the gamut from Hall of Famers to players who never stepped on the field for a preseason game. A look at those 453 reveals:

The good:

• Six are in the Hall of Fame (five more aren’t yet eligible but figure to be locks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger)
• 38 played at least 10 seasons as an NFL starter
• 48 had a winning record (minimum: 50 starts)
• 72 were elected to a Pro Bowl
• 169 were the primary starter for a team for at least one season

The bad:

• 175 never started a game in the NFL
• 190 never threw a touchdown pass
• 263 threw at least one touchdown pass (but 124 of them threw more interceptions)

The ugly:

• 128 never threw a single pass in the NFL
• 318 were taken with a pick higher than Tom Brady’s No. 199
• More than half of the drafted quarterbacks (248 of 453) haven’t combined to throw as many touchdown passes as Peyton Manning.

And now, the 10 best QB draft classes of the last 35 years.

Some things to remember: The draft was 12 rounds through 1992 and eight rounds in 1993 before adopting the current seven-round format in 1994. Also, our selection of the worst QB drafted takes into account draft position, expectations and (lack of) NFL success. If you were a first-round pick who started a season and flamed out of the league, that’s considered worse than a sixth-round QB who never played a game.


The best: John Elway (1st round, No. 1 overall)
Others: Dan Marino, Jim Kelly
The worst: Todd Blackledge (1st round, No. 7)
1st round QBs: 6
QBs drafted: 16

The Class of ’83 isn’t just hype; it’s by far the greatest collection of quarterbacks ever to be taken in a single draft. You could throw out dozens of statistics to prove why, but one is all you need: Three quarterbacks were elected to the Hall of Fame from the ’83 draft (Elway, Kelly and Marino). That’s the only draft of the Super Bowl era in which more than one QB went to Canton, let alone three. The six QBs taken in the first round is also a modern draft record.


The best: Philip Rivers (1st round, No. 4)
Others: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick
The worst: J.P. Losman (1st round, No. 22)
1st round QBs: 4
QBs drafted: 17

The top three picks in ’04 were Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger. That’s two Super Bowl winners and a Pro Bowl stalwart who may be the best pure quarterback of the draft, albeit one drafted to a team that didn’t have as much success.

(You can debate why. Is it the chicken or the egg? Were the Chargers mediocre because Rivers couldn’t lead them to bigger things or was Rivers placed in an impossible situation with an owner whose main concern was leaving San Diego? Whatever the answer, Manning seemed to make the right choice in refusing to play for the Chargers.)

Not even the ’83 draft can boast such quality with its top three picks, as Todd Blackledge was the second quarterback selected that year, in between Elway and Kelly. And, quite famously, Kelly and Marino didn’t win Super Bowls, leaving Elway as the only one from his class to win a ring. That leaves just one other QB draft class of the past 35 years that can boast multiple Super Bowl winners from the same draft. That class came in …


The best: Russell Wilson (3rd round, No. 75)
Others: Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill
The worst: Brandon Weeden (1st round, No. 22)
1st round QBs: 4
QBs drafted: 11

Who’d have guessed? Thanks to Nick Foles’ surprising Super Bowl win with the Eagles, he joins Russell Wilson as a 2012 draftee with a championship.

Back then – heck, even a few months ago – that would have been impossible to predict. If you’d have been told another quarterback from 2012 would have won a ring already, there was a bevy of options from which to choose.

Andrew Luck would have been the natural choice before injuries derailed him promising career. He could either return to form or fade away, like too many NFL players before him. Then there was Griffin (the No. 2 pick) and Russell Wilson, leading their teams to the playoffs in their rookie seasons.

When, the next year, Foles was in the midst of an 27 TD, 2 INT season with the Eagles, there appeared the chance that the class of 2012 could just maybe – possibly – challenge the class of 1983 one day. Then RG3 fizzled, Luck got hurt and Foles was pushed out of Philly.

Now, with Luck and Tannehill on the road to recovery, Kirk Cousins (who the Redskins drafted after Griffin) becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL and Foles having a Super Bowl MVP to his name, maybe the class of ’12 can at least get within shouting distance of ’83.

Interestingly, the most successful quarterback of the draft (Wilson) is perhaps the biggest question mark headed into 2018, with his successful Seahawks stripped for parts in free agency.


The best: Aaron Rodgers (1st round, No. 24)
Others: Alex Smith, Jason Campbell, Kyle Orton
The worst: David Greene (3rd round, No. 85)
1st round QBs: 3
QBs drafted: 14

The 49ers wouldn’t mind having that No. 1 pick back.

While Alex Smith turned into an above-average QB in San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers, who went 23 picks later, is a Super Bowl champ, MVP winner and future Hall of Famer. The rest of the draft class sounds nondescript – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jason Campbell, Matt Cassel, Kyle Orton, Derek Anderson – but they’ve combined to have the most 20-win careers of any QB class in our time span.

That sounds like a low bar to clear, sure, but compare that to the next year when just two quarterbacks have 20 wins or the year after that when none reached that mark.


The best: Drew Bledsoe (1st round, No. 1)
Others: Mark Brunell, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green
The worst: Rick Mirer (1st round, No. 2)
1st round QBs: 2
QBs drafted: 8

The 10th anniversary of the ’83 draft didn’t bring any Hall of Famers into the NFL, but Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell and Trent Green all had solid NFL career with each posting 50+ wins. Bledsoe was a worthy No. 1 but the run of success didn’t last long – Mirer was one of the biggest busts of all time at No. 2. Brunell and Green were steals in the fifth and eighth rounds, respectively.


The best: Peyton Manning (1st round, No. 1)
Others: Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Batch, Brian Griese
The worst: Ryan Leaf (1st round, No. 2)
1st round QBs: 2
QBs drafted: 8

Peyton Manning ended up going at No. 1, where he belonged, but the fact that it wasn’t even a debate is as preposterous now as it was then. Manning was a textbook example of NFL front offices overthinking decisions.

No quarterback was ever more hyped, or more scrutinized, as Manning was in high school and at Tennessee. Despite living up to those expectations, Peyton still got picked apart both in college (when he lost the Heisman to Charles Woodson in the greatest robbery in the award’s history) and before the draft when Ryan Leaf – RYAN LEAF – was seriously considered as an alternative.

But Indy got it right and the rest is history. Matt Hasselbeck was the second-winningest quarterback selected that year (sixth round, pick No. 187) and actually has the 15th most wins of any quarterback selected since 1993.


The best: Drew Brees (2nd round, No. 32)
Others: Michael Vick
The worst: Chris Weinke (4th round, No. 106)
1st round QBs: 1
QBs drafted: 11

At the top, the 2001 QB class is better than almost any. Vick was taken with the No. 1 overall pick and Brees was No. 1 in the second round. Few other drafts can claim such star power, even if Vick’s star burned too bright, too quick.

Brees is likely to retire as the NFL leader in most major passing categories and is a surefire Hall of Famer. The reason the draft ranks doesn’t rank as high as its top two? No one else had more than 20 career wins, not Quincy Carter, not Mike McMahon, not Josh Booty, not Marques Tuiasosopo and certainly not Chris Weinke, whose 2-18 record stands as one of the worst in NFL history.


The best: Matt Ryan (1st round, No. 3)
Others: Joe Flacco, Chad Henne
The worst: Brian Brohm (2nd round, No. 56)
1st round QBs: 2
QBs drafted: 13

Joe Flacco has never made a Pro Bowl in his career, which isn’t a stunner until you consider how injuries, apathy and the movement of the game to before Super Bowl have made Pro Bowl bids about as hard to score as Valentines cards in elementary school. But Flacco is 92-62 in his career, won a Super Bowl, signed a $100 million deal and consistently has his Ravens in playoff contention.

Matt Ryan’s record is only slightly better than Flacco’s (95-63) and he doesn’t have the ring (he came close though) but he’s thought of as one of the game’s top QBs. The only other draft classes to produce two quarterbacks with 90+ wins are the two at the top of our list – 1983 and 2004.


The best: Tom Brady (6th round, No. 199)
Others: Chad Pennington, Marc Bulger
The worst: Giovanni Carmazzi (3rd round, No. 65)
1st round QBs: 1
QBs drafted: 12

Brady alone isn’t enough to propel this class into the top 10. (Consider: Brett Favre’s 1991 class is closer to the bottom of the list than the top, as no one else who was taken that year had more than 15 career wins.) So, in addition to Brady, there was Chad Pennington and Marc Bulger. Neither were NFL stars (they had two Pro Bowls between them) but they played a combined 13 seasons and each won more than 40 games. Touting the win total of the class of 2000 is kind of like saying that between Hank and Tommie, the Aaron brothers hit 768 home runs, but it’s impressive nonetheless.


The best: Vinny Testaverde (1st round, No. 1)
Others: Rich Gannon, Steve Beuerlein, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Miller
The worst: Kelly Stouffer (1st round, No. 6)
1st round QBs: 4
QBs drafted: 19

A prime example of more being more, the ’87 draft didn’t produce a major superstar (Rich Gannon’s MVP season excepted) but between Testaverde, Gannon, Beurelein, Chris Miller and Don Majkowski, there were six legitimate NFL starters taken over the 12-round draft. They stayed around a while too; Testaverde played 21 seasons, Gannon played 18 and Beuerlein was in uniform for 17.

NBA Roundup: LeBron scores 35, carries Cavaliers past Raptors 132-129

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —    CLEVELAND – LeBron James scored 35 points and added 17 assists, his last setting up a late a 3-pointer by Kevin Love, and the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers ended Toronto’s nine-game road winning streak with a 132-129 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors on Wednesday night.

The Cavs were missing five rotational players and coach Tyronn Lue, who missed his second straight game because of health reasons.

But they had James, who earlier in the day said, “I’ll be available, so we got a chance.”

James didn’t have a turnover in 40 minutes and he made three free throws in the final 7.8 seconds. He missed one with 3.9 seconds left, giving Toronto a final shot, but DeMar DeRozan’s 3-pointer – contested by James – was wide left. DeRozan and Toronto coaches complained the All-Star was fouled to no avail.

Hornets 111, Nets 105

NEW YORK – Dwight Howard had 32 points and a franchise-record 30 rebounds, becoming the first player with a 30-30 game against the Nets since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1978.

Kemba Walker scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for the Hornets, who trailed by as many 23 points in the second half but won in front of an announced crowd of 10,231 at Barclay Center while a heavy snowfall outside blanketed the New York City area.

Trailing 105-102 with 2:14 left in regulation, the Hornets went on a 9-0 run to pull off the impressive comeback. Jeremy Lamb, who had 17 points to help end Charlotte’s two-game losing streak, made a layup to cut the deficit to 105-104. The Hornets then called a timeout after a miss by Caris LeVert with 23 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Walker spun around Quincy Acy and capped a three-point play to put Charlotte up 107-105, the Hornets’ first lead of the night since a 16-15 advantage with 5:46 in the opening quarter.

D’Angelo Russell scored 19 points and LeVert added 11 for the Nets.

Clippers 127, Bucks 120

MILWAUKEE – DeAndre Jordan had 25 points and 22 rebounds to lead Los Angeles past Milwaukee.

Austin Rivers added 22 points and Lou Williams scored 19 for Los Angeles, which bounced back after a deflating loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night.

The Bucks lost All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to a right ankle sprain late in the first half. Antetokounmpo appeared to get hurt when he tripped over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under Milwaukee’s basket. He stayed in the game for a brief period, but hobbled around the court while grimacing. He went to the locker room with about four minutes remaining in the second quarter and did not return.

76ers 119, Grizzlies 105

PHILADELPHIA – Robert Covington, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric each had 15 points to pace all five Philadelphia starters in double-figures, and the 76ers continued their push for home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Joel Embiid added 14 points and Ben Simmons had 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the 76ers (40-30), who won their fourth straight to improve to a season-best 10 games over .500. None of the starters played in the fourth quarter.

Wayne Selden Jr. had 18 points to lead Memphis (19-52), which has lost 21 of 22 overall and 16 in a row on the road.

Spurs 98, Wizards 90

SAN ANTONIO – LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and nine rebounds, and San Antonio won its fifth straight game.

San Antonio remained in sixth place in the Western Conference, one-half game behind fourth-place Oklahoma City. The Spurs close out a six-game homestand Friday against Utah, which is 1 1/2 games behind San Antonio in eighth place.

Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. each had 21 points to lead the Wizards, who dropped into sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Pelicans 96, Pacers 92

NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis capped a 28-point, 13-rebound, five-block performance with a 15-foot baseline fade, a gritty put-back and two free throws in the final minute, and New Orleans outlasted Indiana.

E’Twaun Moore scored 23 points for New Orleans, which had to overcome a scrappy defensive effort by Indiana to win its third straight.

The Pacers shot only 36.6 percent (34 of 93), but kept the game close with 15 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points.

Nuggets 135, Bulls 102

CHICAGO – Nikola Jokic had 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists on “Serbian Heritage Night,” and Denver routed Chicago.

Denver shot 61.4 percent (51 for 83) from the field and had seven players score in double figures. Paul Millsap had 22 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, and Wilson Chandler made five of the Nuggets’ 20 3-pointers on his way to 19 points.

The Nuggets (39-33) improved to 1-2 on a seven-game trip and pulled within 1 1/2 games of idle Utah for eighth in the Western Conference playoff race.

Heat 119, Knicks 98

MIAMI – Kelly Olynyk scored 22 points and handed out a career-high 10 assists, Tyler Johnson added 22 points and Miami had little trouble on the way to beating New York.

Wayne Ellington scored 16, Justise Winslow added 15, Goran Dragic had 14 and Josh Richardson finished with 12 for the Heat, who remained seventh in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Enes Kanter scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for the Knicks. Michael Beasley added 22 points on 10 for 15 shooting for New York, and Trey Burke scored 16 off the bench.

NHL Roundup: Sidney Crosby has highlight goal, milestone 700th assist

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby ignited a rally with a highlight-reel goal and became the third active player with 700 assists in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Crosby scored his 24th goal when he knocked a pass from Jake Guentzel out of the air, deflected it toward the front of his stick and smacked it by Carey Price to tie it at 3 late in the second period.

Derick Brassard put the Penguins in front to stay, beating Price early in the third.

Guentzel had a goal and two assists. His 21st goal of the season came off an assist from Crosby, the 700th of Crosby’s career. Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist also scored, and Casey DeSmith made 27 saves.

Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Scherbak and Jacob de la Rose scored for the Canadiens. They have lost nine of their last 10 games. Price made 34 stops in his first start in a month due to a concussion.

Blues 2, Bruins 1, OT

ST. LOUIS – Jaden Schwartz scored his second goal of the game 30 seconds into overtime to lift St. Louis past Boston.

Schwartz skated up the middle and fired a shot past Anton Khudobin. The Blues won for the fifth time in six games to move within a point of the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

Jake Allen made 21 saves to improve to 24-21-2.

Ryan Donato scored for Boston. The Bruins clinched a playoff spot and moved within four points of Tampa Bay for the Eastern lead.

Coyotes 4, Sabres 1

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Clayton Keller had two assists to break the Arizona record for points by a rookie in the Coyotes’ victory over Buffalo in a matchup of the NHL’s two worst teams.

Rookie Dylan Strome scored in his first game after being called up from the minors. Derek Stepan had a goal and assist, and Richard Panik and Max Domi, with an empty-netter, also scored. Antti Raanta stopped 29 shots to improve to 12-4-4 in his past 20 starts.

Keller, Arizona’s 2016 first-round draft pick, extended his points streak to six games, in which he has two goals and five assists. He has 55 points, one more than Peter Mueller had in setting the rookie team record in 2007-08. And Keller has 35 assists, one more than teammate Max Domi had in his rookie season two years ago. Arizona improved to 13-5-2 in its past 20, and earned its 61st point in leaving Vancouver alone at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Jordan Nolan scored for Buffalo.

Ducks 4, Flames 0

CALGARY, Alberta – John Gibson stopped 29 shots to lead Anaheim over Calgary.

Gibson earned his fourth shutout of the season and 16th of his career. He is 12-3-1 in his last 16 starts.

Francois Beauchemin had a goal and an assist for Anaheim, and Andrew Cogliano, Ondrej Kase, Hamphus Lindholm also scored for the Ducks, who’ve won four straight and are tied with Colorado for sixth in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings.

Mike Smith started in goal for Calgary but was replaced after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Rookie David Rittich stopped four of the five shots he faced.

NFL competition committee to recommend catch rule changes

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The NFL’s catch rule would get less complicated if team owners approve recommendations from the powerful competition committee.

One of the first orders of business when the league’s annual meetings begin Monday in Orlando, Florida, will be a proposal by the committee to clarify what is a catch. Commissioner Roger Goodell said during the week of the Super Bowl he would urge simplification of the rules.

“Catch/no catch is at the top of everyone’s minds,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s football operations chief, said Wednesday before outlining the committee’s recommendations.

The owners will be asked to vote on clarifications that eliminate parts of the rule involving a receiver going to the ground, and that also eliminate negating a catch for slight movement of the ball while it is in the receiver’s possession. No calls in the last few years – not even pass interference – have caused more consternation than overturned catches in key situations, including those by Dez Bryant, Jesse James and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

“We were at the point as far as players and particularly coaches who asked, `Why is that not a catch?“’ Vincent said. “We talked to fans, coaches and players and we asked the groups, `Would you like this to be a catch?’ It was 100 percent yes.

“Then we began writing rules that actually apply to making these situations catches.”

Here’s what would constitute a catch if the owners approve the competition committee’s alterations:

control of the ball;

getting two feet down;

performing a football act or;

performing a third step.

The stipulation that slight movement of the ball while the receiver still has control no longer would result in an incompletion. Vincent pointed to the touchdown catch by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Corey Clement in the Super Bowl as an example of a player never losing possession of the ball despite slight movement.

“That’s what the fans, coaches and players want,” Vincent said. “They are the magical moments people are looking for, and that includes all of those (plays). It’s the biggest (proposed change). Why we want this is this is one call shaping results across the sport.”

Richard Sherman, the star cornerback who recently was cut by Seattle and signed with San Francisco, approves cleaning up the rules.

“I’m in favor of it because it gives the refs more clarity,” Sherman said. “I think anytime you can give the referees more of a straight line, an edge, to call plays, I think it’s better for the game.

“I think obviously there’s been a lot of scrutiny on the catch rule. Last year, my team was at the wrong end of it. A guy caught the ball and ran three or four steps, put his hand in the ground, fell, fumbled the ball and nobody touched him, and they said it was an incomplete pass. It was the most ridiculous thing I think I’ve ever seen.

“I think that they need to do more rules like that. They need to take the gray area out of a lot more rules because the rule book is getting too crazy. It’s getting too extensive. Every year, the refs are getting scrutinized left and right when it’s a bang-bang play. This game is happening at a million miles an hour and there’s really nothing you can do about it. The rule book is so complex. How many times can you think of 1,500 rules in a second of a play and see which ones apply to that particular play? So, I think any time they can simplify the rule book and simplify the ref’s understanding and the public’s understanding is better for the game.”

Competition committee members are chairman Rich McKay, president of the Falcons; Broncos general manager John Elway; Cowboys COO Stephen Jones; Giants owner John Mara; Packers President Mark Murphy; Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome; Saints coach Sean Payton and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

They also are recommending:

expanding protection of a runner, which also involves quarterbacks when they have given themselves up as a runner. Vincent cited Kiko Alonso’s hit on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco last season, saying the NFL must avoid an “unnecessary shot.”

    • “This is strictly a safety move,” Vincent said.

allowing the officiating staff at NFL headquarters in New York, using video review, to call for an ejection of a player committing an egregious non-football act. That would include throwing punches or being involved in a fight. Vincent pointed to acts by Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans last season.

  • Vincent said there were no discussions within the competition committee regarding protocol for the pregame national anthem. Owners are expected to take up the subject on Monday or Tuesday, but no decisions are likely.


AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

March Madness: What is Thursday’s NCAA tournament Sweet 16 schedule?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —    It’s called March Madness for a reason.

After an upset-filled opening weekend, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament rolls on Thursday, where the first four teams will look to advance to the Elite Eight.

While we won’t be seeing a No. 1 seed play on the opening day of the Sweet 16, Thursday’s action will feature the underdogs: Sister Jean and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, No. 9-seeds Florida State and Kansas State and No. 7-seeds Texas A&M and Nevada.

Here is everything you need to know regarding coverage, along with must-read stories as one of the wildest NCAA tournaments in recent memory continues.

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago

7:07 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Nevada will win: One of the best offensive teams in the country, the Wolf Pack’s ability to score means a game is never over — even if you put them in a 22-point hole, as Cincinnati did in the Round of 32. Four starters average at least 13 points, and they’re all 6-7, which can create matchup issues. Kendall Stephens set the Mountain West record for three-pointers in a season (126) and has made five or more in a game 13 times.

Why Loyola-Chicago will win: The power of Sister Jean is strong, but the real story of the Ramblers’ Sweet 16 run is that they’ve won 19 of their last 20 games. They rank third nationally in field goal percentage (50.6%) and have beaten three Power Five teams this season in Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Tennessee. They’re for real. Guard Clayton Custer, who hit the winner against the Vols, is shooting 46% for the season from three-point range.

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M

7:37 p.m. ET, TBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Michigan will win: The Wolverines, a popular Final Four sleeper pick, know how to play defense. They haven’t shot the ball great in the tournament but held their first two opponents, Montana and Houston, to a combined 34.5% from the field. They also only allow opposing teams to score 63.1 points a game, which makes them the eighth best scoring defense in the country. The hero of the second round, freshman Jordan Poole, averages 6.2 points and 12.8 minutes per game — was Houston merely a breakout game for him? Regardless, Michigan will need Moritz Wagner (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) to play well to advance.

Why Texas A&M will win: They’re huge. Three starters —Tyler Davis, Robert Williams and D.J. Hogg — are taller than 6-9. Davis (6-9, 270 pounds) and Williams (6-10, 241 pounds) in particular take up a lot of space. It’s tough for opposing teams to score just because of A&M’s length. Not to mention five players average double figures, which means they have a balanced attack. The Aggies team everyone was predicting in the preseason to make a deep tourney run seems to have finally showed up; it helps that they’re finally healthy and suspension-free.

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State

Approx. 9:37 p.m. ET, CBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Kentucky will win: No matter what you think of the Wildcats’ inconsistency or how this roster stacks up to previous teams John Calipari has had, they’re the prohibitive favorite to get out of this region because they have lots of five-star talent who are starting to play their best basketball. Freshman point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 23 points and 6.5 assists in the NCAA tournament, lifting a team whose offensive production was in question at various points this season.

Why Kansas State will win: The size, physicality and age of Kansas State’s team could make this a sneaky tough matchup, especially if big man Dean Wade (16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds) is healthy enough to play. He sat out last weekend with a stress fracture in his foot. The Wildcats aren’t pretty on offense, but they were a top-20 defensive team this season and Bruce Weber will have a good scheme to contain penetration and force Kentucky to hit outside shots.

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State

Approx. 10:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Listen: Hear the game via TuneIn

Why Gonzaga will win: The guy who is arguably their best pro prospect, 6-8 sophomore forward Rui Hachimura (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg), comes off the bench. This team might have lost a lot from the Final Four but they also returned some very good — and improved — players, led by 6-10 sophomore forward Killian Tillie (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg). They’re balanced, they know how to score (84.2 ppg, 10th in the country) and won’t be intimidated by the stage. Mobile 6-9 forward/center Johnathan Williams (13.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg) provides matchup problems for pretty much everyone.

Why FSU will win: The Seminoles will hardly be intimidated by Gonzaga’s seed; they got to this point in part by going on a 31-14 run against Xavier in the second round to advance to the Sweet 16. They’re balanced, too, with seven players who average at least seven points, led by 6-8 senior forward Phil Cofer (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg); that means anyone could go off at any time. Against Missouri in the second round, it was 6-9 redshirt freshman Mfiondu Kabengele, who came off the bench to score 14. And while their 9-9 conference record is somewhat underwhelming, they are battle-tested after going through the ACC.

Golf Roundup: McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Mickelson lose early in Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Rory McIlroy put together another flawless back nine, running off five straight birdies.

This time, it wasn’t enough.

Former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein built a 5-up lead against McIlroy and held off his late charge with enough key shots of his own in a 2-and-1 victory, one of several surprises Wednesday in the opening session of the Dell Technologies Match Play.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson hit two shots out-of-bounds on the same hole, another tee shot in the hazard and couldn’t make the putts that he couldn’t afford to miss on the back nine. He wound up losing on the 17th hole to Bernd Wiesberger.

Justin Thomas also got a scare, mainly because his opponent had to putt with a sand wedge over the last 12 holes.

McIlroy was coming off a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational just three days ago, when he birdied five of his last six holes to win by three shots.

“I felt it was going to go two different ways,” Uihlein said. “When a guy comes off a win, next week out they’re either a little flat or still as hot as can be and they’re just going to blitz it.”

McIlroy was a little of both. He had a bogey, a double bogey and no birdies as Uihlein raced out to a 5-up lead through 10 holes. McIlroy began his run of five straight birdies on No. 12, and it might have been enough had Uihlein not matched him with a birdie at the 12th and another one on the 13th, when he laid up into the wind on the short par 4 over water and stuffed a wedge into 5 feet.

“I made him earn it at least,” McIlroy said. “I just came away a little fat. I didn’t really necessarily play badly. He didn’t make a bogey all day, so it was hard to sort of claw my way back.”

McIlroy, along with Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Tommy Fleetwood, now have to do some serious clawing to win their groups. All of them lost the opening match in their four-man groups and will need some help to advance to the weekend.

In the two years this round-robin format has been used, only four players have lost on Wednesday and won their group.

One of them was Johnson two years ago.

The world’s No. 1 player lost his first lead by driving into the hazard, another 1-up lead with he drove out-of-bounds twice on the par-5 sixth hole, and he was in serious trouble when his tee shot on the par-3 11th hit off the rocks guarding the green and into the lake, falling 2 down.

“I thought it was the easiest game I could have,” Wiesberger said. “I’m the underdog playing the defending championship. Just go out there and see what happens.”

Plenty happened on the first day as the 18-hole matches lived up to their fickle reputation.

Thomas, who had his wisdom teeth pulled two weeks ago and now is recovering from strep throat, built a 3-up lead that looked even larger when Luke List, whom Thomas beat in a playoff to win the Honda Classic, swung his putter into the hedges after losing the hole at No. 7.

Except those weren’t hedges.

“Turned out to be a wall,” List said.

It bent the grip of his putter enough that he could no longer use the damaged club in the round. List putted with the leading edge of his sand wedge, and he fought back to take Thomas to the 18th hole.

“When he started putted with the wedge, I knew that it would hopefully make it easier on me,” Thomas said. “But it didn’t.”

Jordan Spieth won his opening match over Charl Schwartzel by winning three straight holes to build a 3-up lead through 14 and holding on for a 2-and-1 victory. Spieth again missed a few short putts early in the round when he could have seized control.

The match ended with a peculiar twist. Schwartzel missed his birdie putt on No. 17, meaning Spieth had two putts from 5 feet to win the match. Schwartzel made him hit both putts, the second one from just over 2 feet.

“I missed some shorties to start the round. I don’t hold that against Charl,” Spieth said. “I didn’t enjoy hitting that second putt, and that’s the point.”

Charles Howell III birdied the 12th and 13th holes to go 3 up on Mickelson, who made only one birdie in 16 holes. Mickelson lost his opening match for the first time since John Cook beat him in 2002 at La Costa.

Mickelson, McIlroy and Johnson can’t afford another loss, and even that might not be enough to reach the knockout stage on the weekend.

Six of the matches were halved, and three of them felt like victories.

— Zach Johnson was 4 down after 14 holes against Matt Kuchar when the two-time major champion birdied the final four holes for a draw.

— Adam Hadwin was 1 down on the 17th green and could only watch as Kisner stood over a 10-foot putt for the win. Kisner missed, then missed the 4-foot par putt to lose the hole, and they each made par on the 18th for the halve.

— Keegan Bradley was 2 up with three to play against 2017 finalist Jon Rahm when he bogeyed two of the last three holes in a match that ended in a tie.

— Pat Perez rallied from 3 down with seven holes remaining to halve with Si Woo Kim.


NASCAR at Martinsville: Snowy forecast could impact STP 500

(PhatzRadio Sports / SportingNews)    —    Bundle up, race fans, it’s set to be a chilly one at Martinsville Speedway this weekend for the STP 500.

As of Thursday morning, weather forecasts predict snowy conditions in Martinsville late Saturday with three to five inches of accumulation. The snow should stop by Sunday morning, but temperatures aren’t expected to top 43 degrees.

Snow began falling Wednesday at the track.

NASCAR is accustomed to dealing with rain or fog, but snow is a rare sight on race day. The last time a NASCAR event was delayed due to flaky white precipitation was in 2008 at Atlanta when a surprise storm in March forced the cancellation of Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series qualifying and delayed the final Sprint (now Monster Energy) Cup practice.

One of the more notable snow delays in NASCAR history came in 2006 when a snowstorm interrupted the Busch Series’ Food City 250. Everyone seemed to have fun with it as crews built snowmen and hurled snowballs in the pits:

Here’s a complete list of NASCAR events that could be impacted by rough weather this weekend in southern Virginia.

Saturday, March 24 
10:05-10:55 a.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series first practice, FS1
11:05 a.m.: Camping World Truck Series qualifying, FS1
12:30-1:20 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice, FS1
2 p.m.: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250 (250 laps, 131.5 miles), FS1
5:10 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Busch Pole Award qualifying, FS1

Sunday, March 25 
2 p.m.: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 (500 laps, 263 miles), FS1


NASCAR Overtime Race Procedure: Rule and notes on the NASCAR Overtime rules/news/stats page.

Wave Around: how the wave around rule works: All vehicles between the leader and the caution vehicle at the start/finish line when the “one to go” signal is given by the starter are considered “Wave Around” eligible. “Wave Around” vehicles will not be permitted to enter pit road at any time during this yellow flag/caution period. “Wave Around” vehicles must receive the green flag on the race track before being permitted to enter pit road without a penalty. Vehicles under a penalty and the “Free Pass” vehicle will not be eligible to receive a “Wave Around”.
Latest / Final Entry List
Preliminary Entry List

See the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race results page


Coverage of Qualifying for the STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, 2018 at 5:10pm/et.
Television (TV): FS1, 5:00pm/et
Radio: Live online at Motor Racing Network (MRN)

Group qualifying under the three-round qualifying format:
• Round 1 — All entries will have 15 minutes to post a qualifying time, after which the 24 registering the fastest laps will advance to the second round. Those failing to advance will be sorted based on first-round times in descending order (from fastest to slowest).
• Round 2 — The 24 fastest from the first round will have 10 minutes to post a second-round qualifying time, with the 12 fastest advancing to a third round. Those not advancing will earn starting positions 13 through 24 based on time, again in descending order.
• Round 3 — The final round will be five minutes in length. The fastest times from this session will determine the first (Coors Light Pole Award) through 12th starting positions.
There will be a seven-minute break between each round; teams may make adjustments to their entries only during the individual breaks. They will not be allowed to jack the vehicle or raise the hood, and once the car or truck enters the garage, it will no longer be permitted to return to the track for additional qualifying attempts.

Entry List for the STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway is posted, 38 teams/drivers [for 40 spots] are listed.
Some of the drivers entered include: #00-Cassill, #15-Chastain, #23-Gaulding, #51-Rhodes, #55-Yeley, #72-Whitt, #96-Kennington.
Since only 38 cars are entered, all drivers will make the race.
See the full entry list on the Entry List (pdf)

For qualifying rules and formats, see the Qualifying Rules page

How to Calculate Track Speeds: use the formula Speed = Distance divided by Time. Distance is Track Length, and Lap Time into Hours. Once hour is 3600 seconds, so the calculation for a 48 second lap at Daytona(2.5 miles) would be: Speed = 2.5 x (3600/48), = 2.5 x 75 = 187.500mph. For a 19 second lap at Martinsville(.533 miles): Speed = .533 x (3600/19), = .533 x 189.474 = a speed of 100.990mph

Soccer Roundup: Is MLS gaining on Liga MX? Tourney results may provide clues / World Scores

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —    So it’s not exactly a paradigm shift, but there are signs that Major League Soccer is catching up to its neighboring league to the south.

The evidence was on display last week, when the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC advanced to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals with two-legged victories over Liga MX teams.

The Red bulls defeated Club Tijuana 3-1 to advance 5-1 on aggregate. It’s the first time the Red Bulls have made the semifinal round. Toronto, the reigning MLS Cup champion, finished 4-4 on aggregate against Tigres UNAL, advancing on away goals.

It is the first time that two MLS clubs have defeated two Liga MX teams in the same tournament.

“We’re not done. It’s only the quarterfinals. It feels like a big victory and a big moment,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said after he was reminded that his team was the first to win against a Mexican opponent both at home and away.

“It’s big for our club and our league to be able to go through the Mexican champions,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said.

The only disappointing part is that there might have been three MLS teams in the semis, but the Seattle Sounders fell 3-1 on aggregate in their two-legged quarterfinal to Chivas de Guadalajara.

Early next month, Club America (3-1-0) will host the return leg of the series with Toronto FC (2-1-1), while the Red Bulls (3-1-0) host the return leg of the other semifinal against Chivas de Guadalajara (3-0-1).

Of course, the CCL championship could be the best indicator of the strides MLS has made in recent years when it comes to quality.

The rival leagues are certainly getting closer in other ways. MLS and Liga MX recently joined forces on a long-term partnership that will launch later this year when Toronto hosts the champion from Liga MX.

The match, dubbed the Campeones Cup, is set for Sept. 19 in Toronto. The Liga MX opponent will be the winner of July’s Campeon de Campeones match between the Apertura champion Tigres and the Clausura champion determined in May.

The last MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League was the LA Galaxy 17 years ago. Since then, just two MLS teams have reached the finals. The winner of the event advances to the Club World Cup.

Mexico has dominated the tournament. The last time a Mexican club lost in the final was 2005, when Costa Rica’s Saprissa beat the Pumas.

“I think the MLS is evolving and evolving pretty quickly. It’s a league that’s still maturing,” Vanney said. “The league itself is giving (teams) mechanisms to be able to go out and bring in more experienced players and spend a little bit more money on rosters, which gives us more depth and sometimes more quality. I think from the perspective of our league, teams are getting tactically more savvy, more aware.”

But the public has yet to really catch on in the United States: The Red Bulls match in Harrison drew 6,393 fans. To be fair it was a winter weeknight match.

“We’re hopeful as an organization that as we move forward here in this tournament that word gets out that yeah, this is a big deal,” Jesse Marsch said.

MATCH OF THE WEEK: Can NYCFC keep winning? The league’s only perfect team (3-0-0) goes on the road to play the New England Revolution (1-1-0) in Foxborough on Saturday.

NYCFC is coming off a 2-0 victory over Orlando City last Saturday, opening the season with three wins for the first time. And the team did it without star David Villa, who is nursing an injury. Anton Tinnerholm was also out.

“Of course when you’re missing David, you’re missing Anton, it’s not easy. But I think we showed we have a good squad of good players,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said following the victory over Orlando. “I’m really glad because it shows that we are working well, and that everybody is aware about what we need to do when we are on the field.”

BEST OF THE REST: On the other side of the spectrum are the Portland Timbers, who finished atop the Western Conference last season but opened this year with two straight losses. The Timbers are adjusting to a new system under coach Giovanni Savarese, who was hired after Portland parted ways with Caleb Porter in the offseason.

Portland, on an extended season-opening road trip because of construction at Providence Park, visits FC Dallas on Saturday. Dallas is 1-0-1 to open the season.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez was named the league’s Player of the Week after a hat trick in Atlanta’s 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday.

Martinez has four hat tricks in just 23 regular-season MLS games, one shy of the league record. The Venezuelan forward averages a goal a game for his MLS career.

NFL mock draft 2018: Jets’ trade ramps up QB bidding war in first round

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)    —-    With little more than a month remaining until the first pick, the NFL draft remains in flux.

The New York Jets’ trade with Indianapolis for the No. 3 pick (in exchange for the sixth selection and three second rounders) was a harbinger of a potential bidding war for quarterbacks. Even if the deal doesn’t precipitate another major move, it is indicative of the mindset many teams might employ now that the initial wave of free agency has defined their most glaring needs.

1. Browns — Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Don’t be swayed by Hue Jackson’s declaration that Tyrod Taylor is his 2018 starter. In reality, the ex-Bills passer is at best a bridge and shouldn’t dissuade the team from taking a quarterback here. While Saquon Barkley should warrant serious consideration, waiting to take a franchise QB until the fourth pick (or later) is a dangerous game given how many other clubs look ready to pounce. With Darnold, Cleveland could finally secure its long-needed centerpiece.

2. Giants — Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: The Jets’ trade set the G-Men up to take home a potential king’s ransom if they can find their own QB-hungry trade partner. But if Barkley’s on the board, this might be a no-brainer for new GM Dave Gettleman. Barkley is poised to become the highest running back drafted since Reggie Bush went No. 2 in 2006, and with good reason. Capable of reshaping an offense, the do-everything back might be just what first-year coach Pat Shurmur needs to launch his attack. Yet if Darnold is available, New York needs to at least listen to trade offers — as well as consider taking him as Eli Manning’s potential successor.

3. Jets (from Colts) — Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: GM Mike Maccagnan swung the deal to move up after attending pro days for Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, but the timing likely isn’t indicative of his intent. Though taking Allen might be seen as Maccagnan failing to learn from the Christian Hackenberg debacle, the raw but strong-armed passer would represent the high-upside investment of the trade. Allen still needs to sort out accuracy, touch and decision-making issues that limited him to a 56% completion rate in college, but he could sit behind Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater as he develops.

4. Browns (from Texans) — Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State: An all-QB top three might be the Browns’ dream, as it would pave the way for them to grab the signal-caller of their choice and then get Barkley here. In lieu of that, a defensive prospect seems like the natural fit at this slot. A true No. 1 outside corner is Cleveland’s top need, and homegrown Ward might be best equipped to address that role. His all-around athleticism and ball skills would immediately boost a defense that was systematically sliced for a league-worst 68.6% completion rate and recorded just seven interceptions.

5. Broncos — Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: John Elway touted new signee Case Keenum as “our guy” last week, but that didn’t stop him from delaying the veteran’s introduction while he and the rest of Denver’s cavalry attended pro days for Mayfield and Rosen. Even with Keenum on board, Elway looks poised to make good on his combine pledge to keep swinging at the position. Rosen is the most polished and technically sound of this year’s passers and could finally break Denver’s cycle of uncertainty behind center.

6. Colts (from Jets) — Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State: Trading back three spots telegraphed GM Chris Ballard’s commitment to taking a long-term approach to Indianapolis’ rebuild after spending free agency mostly on the sidelines. Chubb is the pre-eminent pass rusher in this class and would lift a defense that ranked 31st with just 25 sacks last season.

7. Buccaneers — Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama: Tampa Bay’s defense is still short on pass rushing talent even after adding DE Vinny Curry, but a shortage of options beyond Chubb might make the Buccaneers look to their secondary instead. Though Fitzpatrick likely will play primarily at safety, he’s a versatile piece who could also be utilized in the slot or to match up with tight ends.

8. Bears — Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: Chicago’s offseason has been all about aiding second-year QB Mitchell Trubisky, with WRs Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and TE Trey Burton providing a much-improved arsenal of targets. Nelson would continue that theme. He could open big holes for RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen as a replacement for Josh Sitton.

9. 49ers — Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: Still in need of a talent upgrade at almost every level, San Francisco’s defense could also use someone to set the right example for a young unit. Smith’s leadership would provide the right tone, though his greatest immediate value would be his relentless style and range against the pass and run.

10. Raiders — Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech: The 6-5, 253-pounder is the kind of singular physical prospect that Al Davis would have coveted. Oakland needs all the defensive help it can find, and Edmunds brings a rare physical makeup, albeit one kept in check by instincts that are still under development.

11. Dolphins — Vita Vea, DT, Washington: The release of Ndamukong Suh leaves a massive hole in the middle of Miami’s defense. Enter Vea, a 6-4, 347-pound punisher who will command double teams and stonewall opposing running backs.

12. Bills (from Bengals) — Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: GM Brandon Beane claimed Buffalo might not move up farther or draft a quarterback despite trading up to No. 12, but it feels as though he’s bluffing with his cards facing outward to the rest of the table. Even if the Jets’ jump has made such a maneuver more difficult, the Bills look like a team ready to make a similar all-in push for a passer — especially if it becomes apparent Mayfield won’t last this long. Buffalo badly needs someone to create for an attack lacking weapons outside of aging RB LeSean McCoy.

13. Redskins — Derwin James, S, Florida State: He predicted at the combine that some team will take him in the top 10 and might not be off base. Washington would be wise to scoop up the versatile defensive back if he lasts this long as James boasts impressively well-rounded athleticism befitting his outsized swagger.

14. Packers — Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida: An unsuccessful bid to pry Kyle Fuller from the rival Bears highlighted Green Bay’s desire to repair a precarious outlook at cornerback. At 5-11, 191, Hughes just barely clears the minimum size requirements the Packers have typically demanded at the position, but he thrives with a physical approach.

15. Cardinals — Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Signing QBs Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon makes for a tenuous outlook in Arizona. While Jackson might need time to address his erratic ball placement, the long-term payoff of a backfield featuring the Heisman Trophy winner and David Johnson might be too tantalizing to pass up.

16. Ravens — Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Michael Crabtree’s signing aside, Baltimore’s receiving corps is still in shambles. Ridley would provide QB Joe Flacco an immediate deep threat who’s also capable of creating separation with his fine-tuned route running.

17. Chargers — Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: The Bolts largely stood pat in free agency, which spells trouble for a run defense that gave up a league-worst 4.9 yards a carry last season. Payne creates a serious push in the middle and would be an upgrade over DT Brandon Mebane, who’s in decline.

18. Seahawks — Marcus Davenport, DE, Texas-San Antonio: Pete Carroll’s defense is officially in rebuild mode after casting off CB Richard Sherman and DE Michael Bennett. Davenport (6-6, 264 pounds) offers long-term upside for a D-line that also lost Sheldon Richardson.

19. Cowboys — DJ Moore, WR, Maryland: A failed pursuit of Sammy Watkins, per multiple reports, reflects an uneasiness with Dak Prescott’s weapons — though it seems WR Dez Bryant will return. A dynamic threat after the catch, Moore could make life easier for the third-year quarterback as a trusted short-area target.

20. Lions — Taven Bryan, DT, Florida: Matt Patricia knows the pains of trying to cobble together a pass rush after his last two years with the Patriots, and DE Ziggy Ansah alone won’t suffice in Detroit. Bryan can create havoc all along the line, though he’s still learning to tap into his considerable athletic gifts.

21. Bengals (from Bills) — Will Hernandez, G, Texas-El Paso: Cincinnati seems intent on kick-starting the running game for Joe Mixon. Hernandez (6-2, 348) is one of the draft’s best at opening holes.

22. Bills (from Chiefs) — Connor Williams, OT, Texas: Losing T Cordy Glenn and C Eric Wood leaves plenty of uncertainty up front for Buffalo. Williams could either step in at left tackle or kick inside to guard.

23. Rams — Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State: GM Les Snead hasn’t been shy in remaking his defense, orchestrating four trades to bring on two starters and send out two more. A replacement is still needed for LB Alec Ogletree, however, and the rangy and athletic Vander Esch could ably step into that role.

24. Panthers — Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville: Bashaud Breeland’s failed physical leaves Carolina with a vacancy at corner opposite starter James Bradberry. After showing his quick-twitch ability and impressive ball skills at the scouting combine, Alexander’s stock is ticking up.

25. Titans — Harold Landry, OLB/DE, Boston College: Despite tying for fifth last season with 43 sacks, Tennessee’s pass rush is middling at best off the edge. That won’t stand for new coach Mike Vrabel, especially after Tennessee’s concerted effort to improve the 25th-ranked pass defense by adding CB Malcolm Butler. Landry can bend with the best of them and would increase flexibility with incumbent OLBs Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan entering contract years.

26. Falcons — Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford: With Dontari Poe off to Carolina, DL Grady Jarrett could use a hammer next to him inside. The hard-nosed Phillips can utilize his wrestling background to clog lanes and keep an emerging group of linebackers clean.

27. Saints — Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State: Drew Brees is back, but there will be no reunion with Jimmy Graham after the former Saints standout signed with the Packers. Though Gesicki might be seen as somewhat of a luxury pick, the former volleyball and basketball standout’s prowess on jump balls could help solve the third-down woes that occasionally kept the offense in check last season.

28. Steelers — Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama: Ryan Shazier has already been ruled out for next season, leaving a hole in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense. Evans has demonstrated sideline-to-sideline ability both in coverage and as a tackler and would also bring value as a blitzer.

29. Jaguars — Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Marqise Lee was re-signed, and Donte Moncrief was added. Still, Jacksonville’s receiving corps is somewhat of a hodgepodge after Allen Robinson’s exit. Kirk (5-10, 200) would give QB Blake Bortles a stout, reliable target capable of consistently breaking big gains, especially in play action.

30. Vikings — James Daniels, C/G, Iowa: After landing QB Kirk Cousins and DL Sheldon Richardson, Minnesota doesn’t have many weak points. Daniels, however, would help solidify an interior line that still looks shaky.

31. Patriots — Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: Most of New England’s free agency departures might have been expected, but LT Nate Solder signing with the Giants leaves a worrisome hole. McGlinchey could step in as the replacement.

32. Eagles — Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: With its core maintained after free agency, Philadelphia has flexibility in the draft. Jackson is a ball hawk (eight interceptions in 2017) who would help a so-so secondary.


Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz

NHL Roundup: Lightning erase 3-goal deficit, rally past Maple Leafs 4-3

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —    TAMPA, Fla. – Alex Killorn broke a tie midway through the third period and the Tampa Bay Lightning scored the final four goals to rally past the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Tuesday night.

Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov also scored as Tampa Bay reached 50 wins for the second time in franchise history. Yanni Gourde had two assists for the Atlantic Division leaders, who moved five points ahead of second-place Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves and set a Lightning record with his 41st victory of the season.

James van Riemsdyk scored twice for Toronto, which fell to 28-2-2 when leading after two periods. Fredrik Andersen returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury and stopped 21 shots.

The Lightning played the final two periods without forward Ryan Callahan, who exited at 16:04 of the first favoring his right arm and shoulder area.

Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 1

CHICAGO – Nathan MacKinnon had two assists, extending his point streak to a career high-tying 13 games, and Colorado beat Chicago.

Alexander Kerfoot scored twice and Semyon Varlamov made 44 saves as Colorado won for the fifth time in six games and improved to 8-1-3 in their last 12. Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Barrie each had a goal and an assist, and Erik Johnson added an empty-netter.

The Avalanche (40-25-8) snapped a tie with Anaheim for the top spot in the Western Conference wild-card race and moved within two points of Minnesota for third place in the Central Division.

Chicago (30-35-9) lost for the sixth time in seven games. Defenseman Brent Seabrook scored his fifth goal of the season for the Blackhawks, and Anton Forsberg made 35 stops in his first start since he was pulled in the first period of Thursday night’s 6-2 loss at Winnipeg.

The last-place Blackhawks were eliminated from postseason contention with the loss. They had made the playoffs in nine straight seasons, winning three Stanley Cups.

Capitals 4, Stars 3

WASHINGTON – John Carlson scored with five minutes remaining to help Washington beat Dallas and extend its lead atop the Metropolitan Division.

T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen and Alex Ovechkin also scored for Washington, which leads the tight Metropolitan by four points over Pittsburgh and Columbus. The Capitals are on pace for their third consecutive division title and playoff appearance with nine games remaining.

Carlson’s goal tied him with the Stars’ John Klingberg for the NHL lead among defensemen with 61 points. It was also a dagger to Dallas’ fading playoff hopes. The Stars finished their road trip 0-4-2 and sit outside the final playoff position in the Western Conference and could need 14 of a possible 18 points before the end of the season to get in.

Braden Holtby stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced.

Blue Jackets 5, Rangers 3

NEW YORK – Artemi Panarin had three goals and an assist, Sergei Bobrovsky made 29 saves and Columbus extended its winning streak to nine games with a victory over New York.

Markus Nutivaara and Alexander Wennberg also scored for the Blue Jackets, who have surged into playoff position in the Eastern Conference. It is Columbus’ longest winning streak since its 16-game run last season from Nov. 29, 2016, to Jan. 3, 2017.

Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad scored power-play goals and Kevin Hayes had a short-handed goal for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves in his first start since March 10 against Florida.

Islanders 4, Penguins 1

NEW YORK – Mathew Barzal and Adam Pelech scored in the first period and New York went on to beat Pittsburgh.

Anders Lee had a goal in the third period and Jordan Eberle added an empty-netter to help the Islanders snap a three-game skid with just their second win in 13 games (2-7-4).

Christopher Gibson, pulled in his last start after giving up five goals on 12 shots against Washington last Thursday, stopped 36 shots and has both wins for New York during its recent stretch.

Conor Sheary scored for Pittsburgh, which was 5-1-1 in its previous seven but fell four points behind first-place Washington in the tight Metropolitan Division. Columbus pulled into a tie with the Penguins for second at 87 points – Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker over the Blue Jackets.

Matt Murray, returning after missing nine games due to a concussion, finished with 36 saves for the Penguins.

Red Wings 5, Flyers 4, SO

DETROIT – Frans Nielsen scored his NHL-record 22nd shootout winner and Detroit edged Philadelphia to end its 10-game losing streak.

Dylan Larkin scored twice, Luke Glendending had a goal and Evgeny Svechnikov got his first in the NHL for the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard made 27 saves through overtime and stopped all three attempts he faced in the shootout.

Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny scored for the Flyers. Ex-Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek was pulled after allowing three goals on 19 shots.

Jets 2, Kings 1, OT

WINNIPEG, Manitoba – Kyle Connor scored his second goal of the game 1:37 into overtime to lift Winnipeg over Los Angeles losing Patrik Laine to a lower-body injury.

Connor fired the winner past goalie Jack Campbell to help the Jets set a franchise record for wins at 44 (44-19-10). Winnipeg had 43 wins in 2014-15, and the Atlanta Thrashers hit the same mark in 2006-07 before the franchise relocated in 2011.

Laine was helped down the tunnel to the dressing room about a minute and half into the second period. He wasn’t putting any weight on his left foot after blocking a shot by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez that hit him in the lower leg.

The injury halted the sophomore forward’s 15-game point streak (18 goals, eight assists). That was the longest active streak in the NHL and a record for a teenager.

Panthers 7, Senators 2

OTTAWA, Ontario – Jared McCann had a goal and two assists to lead Florida while Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson sat out following the death of his son.

The team announced the death of Karlsson’s son before the game. Erik and Melinda Karlsson were married last year and announced in November they were expecting their first child in the spring. The team released a statement offering its “collective thoughts and prayers” and requested privacy for the family.

Keith Yandle, Nick Bjugstad, Evgeni Dadonov, Jamie McGinn and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and an assist for Florida. Colton Sceviour had the other goal while James Reimer made 33 saves.

Patrick Sieloff and Marian Gaborik scored for the Senators, who lost their second straight. Craig Anderson started in goal but was replaced by Mike Condon after allowing four goals on 17 shots. Condon made 19 saves.

Oilers 7, Hurricanes 3

RALEIGH, N.C. – Leon Draisaitl had a goal and three assists and Edmonton rode three-goal first period to a victory over Carolina.

Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning and Ryan Strome scored in a span of 4:24 in the opening period after Carolina jumped to a 1-0 lead, and Edmonton led the rest of the way. Pontus Aberg, Yohann Auvitu and Jesse Puljujarvi also scored as the Oilers got six goals on their first 22 shots. Cam Talbot made 30 saves for Edmonton.

Brock McGinn, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen scored for the Hurricanes, who have lost six of eight. Scott Darling allowed three goals on his first nine shots and six on 22 but was left in the game. He finished with 23 saves.

Sharks 6, Devils 2

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Jannik Hansen scored his first goal of the season and fellow fourth-liners Eric Fehr and Barclay Goodrow also scored to help San Jose beat New Jersey for its season-high fifth straight win.

Logan Couture added his 30th goal, and Joe Pavelski and Mikkel Boedker also scored to give the second-place Sharks a four-point lead over Los Angeles in the Pacific Division with one game in hand.

Brent Burns added three assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.

The scoring barrage by San Jose spoiled Cory Schneider’s return to net for the Devils. Schneider allowed four goals on 14 shots before getting pulled midway through the second period of his first start since March 8. Schneider has lost 11 starts in a row since his last win for the Devils on Dec. 27.

Taylor Hall got his 32nd goal and Blake Coleman also scored for the Devils, who lead Florida by one point for the final Eastern Conference wild card. The Panthers have two games in hand.

Golden Knights 4, Canucks 1

LAS VEGAS – Jonathan Marchessault scored his 23rd goal and Vegas defeated Vancouver.

Cody Eakin, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Tatar also scored for the Golden Knights, who rank second in the league with 245 goals.

The Canucks have dropped seven straight since losing 21-year-old rookie star Brock Boeser to a potential season-ending back injury.

Marc-Andre Fleury played just one period but was credited with the victory after making seven saves to improve to 27-11-3. The 14-year veteran took over sole possession of 12th place on the NHL’s career wins list with 402.

Malcolm Subban took over in net at the start of the second, making his first appearance since Feb. 2. It was unclear why Fleury exited the game, although he took a shot from Brandon Sutter off the mask midway through the first. Subban made 22 saves.

The Canucks got a goal from Sutter, and Jacob Markstrom stopped 24 shots while losing his fifth straight start.

NBA Roundup: Celtics end Thunder’s win streak on Morris’ 3-pointer

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —    BOSTON – Marcus Morris made a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left and the Boston Celtics stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-99 on Tuesday night.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Morris added 21 points as Boston snapped the Thunder’s six-game win streak.

Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for Oklahoma City, which fell apart in the closing minute.

Rockets 115, Trail Blazers 111

PORTLAND, Ore. – James Harden scored 42 points and Houston snapped Portland’s 13-game winning streak.

Portland’s winning streak was tied for the second-longest in franchise history. The team also won 13 consecutive games in 2007.

Chris Paul added 22 points for the Rockets, who have won six straight and 23 of their last 24 and have the best record in the NBA.

Al-Farouq Aminu had 22 points, including six 3-pointers, for Portland. The Blazers had also won nine straight at the Moda Center.

Timberwolves 123, Clippers 109

MINNEAPOLIS – Karl-Anthony Towns racked up 30 points and 10 rebounds for his NBA-best 60th double-double and Andrew Wiggins scored 27 points in an all-around performance, leading Minnesota over Los Angeles.

Jeff Teague pitched in 20 points and 12 assists for the Timberwolves, who swept the four-game season series and sent the weary Clippers to their fourth consecutive loss on the commencement of a four-game, six-night trip.

Jamal Crawford scored 20 points and Taj Gibson had 15 points and eight rebounds as the Timberwolves pushed their lead over the Clippers (37-33) to three games. With five losses in their last seven games, the Wolves (41-31) had fallen into eighth place in the Western Conference. Denver (38-33) is in ninth.

DeAndre Jordan led the way for the Clippers with 18 points and 12 rebounds, but Tobias Harris played with flu-like symptoms and finished with only 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting, missing all five of his 3-point tries.

Hawks 99, Jazz 94

SALT LAKE CITY – Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 41 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and Atlanta stunned Utah.

Dewayne Dedmon had 15 points and 15 rebounds to help the Eastern Conference-worst Hawks snap their six-game losing skid and end Utah’s winning streak at nine. Taurean Prince made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to clinch the victory.

The Jazz, who won 21 of 23 games in between losses to the Hawks, made their final field goal on Gobert’s basket with 2:33 to play and missed their last five shots.

Pelicans 115, Mavericks 105

NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis scored 37 points, and New Orleans overcame the absence of second-leading scorer Jrue Holiday to beat struggling Dallas.

Rajon Rondo added 19 points and 14 assists, and Ian Clark also scored 19 points for the Pelicans, who are in a tight, seven-team race for one of the final five Western Conference playoff spots.

Davis made 15 of 21 shots, helped by Rondo setting him up for several easy baskets inside. New Orleans shot 52.7 percent (48 of 91) as a team.

Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes each scored 19 for the Mavericks, who’ve lost three straight and four of five.

Raptors 93, Magic 86

ORLANDO, Fla. – Kyle Lowry scored 25 points and Toronto used a strong fourth-quarter defensive effort to beat Orlando.

Toronto limited Orlando to 3-of-19 shooting (15.8 percent) in the fourth quarter, helping the Raptors overcome an eight-point deficit and win for the 12th time in their last 13 games. Serge Ibaka had 14 points and Deion Wright and Norman Powell had 10 apiece for Toronto.

Shelvin Mack led Orlando with 17 points. Aaron Gordon, returning after missing five games with a concussion, added 16 points. Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for Orlando, which has lost seven of its last eight.

Pistons 115, Suns 88

PHOENIX – Blake Griffin narrowly missed a triple-double and Detroit celebrated the return of Reggie Jackson by handing short-handed Phoenix their ninth straight loss.

Griffin led six Detroit players in double figures, finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists before sitting out most of the final quarter.

Jackson was back in the Detroit starting lineup after missing 24 games with a severe ankle sprain. He scored seven points on 3-of-7 shooting in 15 minutes.

The Suns were without their two leading scorers. Devin Booker missed his second straight game with a right hand sprain and T.J. Warren was out with left knee inflammation after being hurt late in Saturday night’s loss to Golden State.

Alex Len led Phoenix with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

NCAA tournament Sweet 16: Most important players for every March Madness team

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   Basketball is undoubtedly a team game, but March Madness always has room for star players who can take over with highlight-reel, buzzer-beating heroics.

Now that we’re down to 16 teams in the NCAA tournament, there will be players who are crucial for their team’s advancement to the Elite Eight — either because of their takeover abilities or game-changing style of play.

Some might be stars, some might be unsung heroes. USA TODAY Sports tracks every Sweet 16 team’s most important player (in no particular order).

Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago. There’s no star player on the Ramblers’ roster, and that’s what makes them so dangerous. There’s a plethora of weapons at coach Porter Moser’s disposal. But for the hot-shooting guards to be successful on the perimeter, there has to be a little inside-out game. That’s where 6-9 center Krutwig (10.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), a true freshman who plays like a senior, comes in. His passing skills are exceptional for a big man, and his defense against the athletic bigs of Miami and Tennessee paved the way for this Cinderella’s buzzer-beating wins.

Cody Martin, Nevada. Caleb Martin has been the Wolf Pack’s leading scorer and alpha dog all season, but in the team’s stunning 22-point comeback against Cincinnati, it was twin brother Cody Martin (13.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.7 apg) who sparked the resurgent Wolf Pack. Martin does a little of everything to help this team win and he’ll likely be the player to step up if his brother and elite scorer Jordan Caroline aren’t on their A-game against Loyola.

SWEET 16: Ranking teams based on title potential

Tyler Davis, Texas A&M. Davis pairs with Robert Williams to make the Aggies’ twin towers presence for this team’s formidable frontcourt. But it was Davis’ offense (18 points, nine rebounds) that fueled a dominant win over North Carolina in the second round. He’ll need another big performance against Michigan.

Mortiz Wagner, Michigan. Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater helped the Wolverines prevail over Houston, but in order for Michigan to get to the Elite Eight it’s going to need better production from the 6-11 big man. Wagner is averaging just 8.5 points in the tournament.

Dean Wade, Kansas State. The Wildcats survived without their leading scorer in wins over Creighton and UMBC to get to the Sweet 16. But Wade, who said he’s “98% sure” he will play against Kentucky after dealing with a foot injury, could give this team enough offensive firepower to pull off a big upset over the heavily-favored Wildcats. He averages 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky. The Wildcats guard came up big with 27 points, six assists and six rebounds in Kentucky’s second-round win over Buffalo. He also was huge in UK’s SEC tournament title game against Tennessee, finishing with 29 points and seven assists. The better Gilgeous-Alexander plays, the better Kentucky plays.

Terance Mann, Florida State. The junior guard wasn’t expected to play against Xavier due to a groin injury. However, he opted to play and came up big for FSU by scoring 10 points, including some crucial baskets to help the Seminoles take down a No. 1 seed.

Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga. The freshman guard put the team on his back in a second-round win over Ohio State, finishing with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Norvell is really blossoming as a playmaker in March. He’ll also draw a tough defensive assignment in trying to slow Florida State’s guards in the ‘Zags’ Sweet 16 matchup against the Seminoles.

Gabe DeVoe, Clemson. The 6-3 senior guard helped pilot a 31-point blowout win vs. Auburn in the second round, finishing with 22 points. He and the rest of the Tigers’ backcourt will be tasked with slowing Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham, an elite scorer who usually needs to play well for Kansas to win.

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas. Coach Bill Self put it out bluntly following the Jayhawks’ win over Seton Hall in the second round. “If Udoka wasn’t able to come back from his injury, we don’t win.” The 7-foot big man missed Kansas’ three Big 12 tournament games with a knee injury. His re-emergence was crucial in helping KU get to the Sweet 16. His presence in the paint, for an undersized team, can be a difference-maker against Clemson.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia. The All-American guard is the Mountaineers’ best offensive catalyst, averaging 17.4 points and 6.6 assists. He also is a tenacious ballhawk on the defensive end. To beat Villanova, Carter will have to frustrate national player of the year Jalen Brunson in the same fashion he did Oklahoma’s Trae Young during Big 12 play.

Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova. Brunson and NBA talent Mikal Bridges will dominate most of the attention, but DiVencenzo’s offense and three-point shooting will be key for the Wildcats to escape West Virginia. His ball handling also will be needed for WVU’s press.

Tyus Battle, Syracuse.  The Orange only has three capable scorers (and Battle is one of them) and relies heavily on its effective 2-3 zone. So, Battle will have to take on the scoring load and hit clutch shots — as he did against Michigan State in the second round, for this No. 11 seed to keep its unexpected tourney run going.

Trevon Duval, Duke. The Blue Devils’ point guard doesn’t demand the same type of attention as All-Americans Marvin Bagley III or Grayson Allen, but it’s Duval who has the ball in his hands a lot in close-game situations. His playmaking can be a difference-maker by getting into the seams of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Duval averages 10.2 points and 5.6 assists, and he’s given coach Mike Krzyzewski a true point guard that he was lacking last season when the Blue Devils bowed out in the second round.

Keenan Evans, Texas Tech. The senior guard hasn’t been at 100% while dealing with a turf toe injury, but he’s been a warrior and the spark plug during the Red Raiders’ advancement. In TTU’s close win over Florida, it was Evans who drained a tie-breaking three-pointer with 2½ minutes left and assisted Zhaire Smith for an alley-oop with 30 seconds remaining. If it’s close late in the game, Texas Tech will have the ball in his hands.

Matt Haarms, Purdue. With Isaac Haas sidelined with an elbow injury, backup 7-footer Haarms is the next man up and will have the most important role in Purdue’s Sweet 16 clash against Texas Tech. A 7-3 freshman, Haarms played well through 29 minutes to help the Boilermakers advance past Butler. He’s certainly not as good as Haas, but he probably can do enough to help Purdue advance.

Follow Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson

NCAA Women’s Tournament Roundup: Buffalo, Central Michigan reach first Sweet 16

NEW YORK (AP) — Buffalo and Central Michigan are crashing the women’s Sweet 16.

The two 11 seeds from the Mid-American Conference pulled off stunning road upsets of Florida State and Ohio State on Monday night to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time in school history.

It’s the first time a school from the MAC has advanced this far since Bowling Green reached the regional semifinals in 2007.

Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack said she spoke on the phone with Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara after their game was over. Buffalo was the first team from the conference to earn an at-large berth in 22 years.

“Our goal was to let people know that the MAC was alive and well,” Legette-Jack said.

They sure are.

“We are excited to see success come from two teams in the MAC because it’s always been a one-bid league,” the Bulls’ Stephanie Reid said. “For as long as I have been here, for I know as long as Coach (Legette-Jack) has been here, for a long time, it’s been a one-bid league. They finally opened up to us and accepted us into the tournament at-large and now we are showing why.”

Both Buffalo and Central Michigan won by double digits.

“This team will not fold,” Guevara said. “This team is very tough, this team is very focused. We know what we had to do and we went out and did it.”

While making the Sweet 16 is new for both those schools, UConn is headed to its 25th consecutive regional semifinals.

Huskies coach Geno Auriemma wasn’t surprised to see a few newcomers in the regionals.

“If you look around the country, mid-major programs are better than people think and they’re one of the best,” he said. “Women’s basketball mid-majors don’t get any respect. On the men’s side they do, but not on the women’s side. So for this year to have what’s happening with the mid-majors (winning), I think that’s the best thing that’s ever happened. I mean, I’m glad it didn’t happen more. I think it happened just enough times.”

The Huskies beat Quinnipiac to advance to the Albany Regional. All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 for the ninth consecutive season.

Here are a few other tidbits from the Sweet 16:

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN: The Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-12 have four teams apiece in the regionals. The Southeastern Conference has three while the Big 12 joins the MAC with two. The American has one.

LUCKY 11: Gonzaga was the last 11 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, doing so in 2015. Three years earlier was the last time that two 11 seeds advanced to the regional semifinals, when Kansas and the Zags both advanced this far.

FAMILIAR TEAMS: Eleven of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16 advanced that far last season. The only other new teams besides the MAC squads are Texas A&M, Duke and N.C. State. The Wolfpack are back there for the first time in 11 years.


— Carly Fabbri grew up dreaming of wearing a Quinnipiac uniform and playing for her mom.

She’s left her mark for the Bobcats, winning 113 games in her four years at the school where her mother, Tricia, has coached since 1995. While they aren’t the first mother/daughter combo in women’s basketball, they have been able to build a program into a consistent NCAA Tournament team and that’s something they will always share.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve watched her my entire life coach. Just being able to have the opportunity to play for her has been awesome,” Carly Fabbri said. “Obviously, we’ve won a lot and that’s been incredible. These past two seasons especially, being able to get to the NCAA Tournament, making that historic run last year.

“Obviously, trying to make some more magic happen this year. She’s a really hard worker. It’s great to see success and being able to be part of it is really special, so again, just trying to make more magic happen this year, but it’s been a really fun ride.”

The Bobcats season ended Monday night when they lost to top-seeded UConn. Coach Fabbri will always cherish the past four years.

“It’s so special and it’s so special to do this with her because of where the program is and how much it means to her,” she said. “She’s been just as invested as the head coach. That’s pretty special to say.”

This year’s women’s tournament had a lot of familial bonds. Besides the Fabbris and of course the father-daughter pair of Mississippi State’s Vic Schaefer and Blair, there were 11 pairs of sisters in the tournament when it started. That has been whittled down over the opening weekend.

University at Buffalo twins Katherine and Liisa Ups came to the upstate school from Australia. Having each other to lean on nearly 10,000 miles from home has made it a lot easier for the seniors. They helped the school reach its first Sweet 16 on Monday night, shocking third-seed Florida State.

They admit they didn’t know what they were getting into coming to Buffalo. An assistant coach told them that it wasn’t cold in the city.

“She was originally from Las Vegas and hadn’t actually spent a winter in Buffalo when she recruited us,” Liisa Ups remembered, laughing. “It was her first summer there.”

Katherine Ups quickly chimed in, “She lied.”

The identical twins said they haven’t pulled many tricks on their teammates or coaches, but laugh that some of them still can’t tell them apart.

“I think some days coach Jack is trying to figure it out,” Katherine Ups said.

Liisa said that most people got it pretty quickly which sister was which although her roommate still calls her “twin” sometimes.

Missouri sisters Bri and Cierra Porter are two of eight siblings in their family. Two of their brothers play on the Missouri men’s team that also lost in the NCAA Tournament.

Going anywhere but Missouri was never really up for debate when they were younger.

“The head coach is our aunt. She talked about us playing for her since we were really little,” Bri Porter said. “Then when I was a freshman in high school and my sister was an eighth-grader we just gave her a verbal commitment. So it’s honestly been like forever that we’ve been planning on it.”

Bri Porter has been sidelined since injuring a knee ligament in 2016. Having her sister around has made it a little easier.

“That’s really helped me stay emotionally engaged just because some part of me does feel like it’s on the court when she is because my heart is so close to hers so when she succeeds I feel like I succeed,” she said. “So that’s been helpful to me for sure. It’s not easy to just sit on the sides all the time.”


The Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament is set as the second round saw game-winners, record-breaking performances and tournament firsts with a pair of No. 11 seeds continuing Cinderella runs for the first time in each school’s history,

Here’s a look back at the second round of the women’s basketball tournament by the numbers:

3,402 –– Career points for Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell. Although the Buckeyes’ season ended with a 95-78 loss against Central Michigan Monday evening, Mitchell scored 28 points and finished second all time in NCAA women’s basketball history in career points, trailing only Washington’s Kelsey Plum who set the mark last season.

RELATED: Updated bracket | Latest scores

115 –– Steals this season by Duke guard Lexie Brown. Brown finished with seven steals to help the Blue Devils to a 66-40 win over Georgia on Monday. She surpassed Alana Beard, who recorded 114 in 2001-02. Brown is just the third player in program history to reach triple-digit steals in a seaosn after Beard did so three times and Jasmine Thomas had 100 in the 2009-10 season.

101 ––  Points scored by Oregon in its 101-73 win over Minnesota on Sunday. That is the Ducks’ program record for points scored in an NCAA tournament game, and it also marks the first time in program history that Oregon has made back-to-back Sweet 16s. The Ducks reached the Elite Eight last season.

80 –– Points scored by Baylor’s starters in its 80-58 win over Michigan Sunday night. The Bears’ starting five did all of the scoring in their second-round victory, with Lauren Cox leading the way with 18, followed by 17 from Alexis Morris and Juicy Landrum, 16 courtesy of Kalani Brown and 12 from Dekeiya Cohen.

79 –– Number of wins UConn’s senior class finished with in the state of Connecticut. One of the most decorated graduating classes in women’s basketball history finished their careers an astonishing 79-0 in the state after defeating Quinnipiac 71-46 in the second round Monday evening. Additionally, Gabby WIlliams, Azura Stevens and Kia Nurse went 32-0 in games play on campus at Gampel Pavilion.

34 –– Wins by Mississippi State this season. One year after shocking the women’s basketball world with a Final Four win over UConn to end the Huskies’ NCAA-record 111-game winning streak, the Bulldogs equaled its program record with 34 wins this season after topping Oklahoma State 71-56 on Monday. Mississippi State (34-1) can break the record when it faces NC State in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

25 –– Consecutive Sweet 16 appearances by UConn. The numbers and accolades keep getting crazier for the Huskies as they are among the 16 remaining contenders left for the 25th straight year under Geno Auriemma. What’s happened in the sports world during that same span?

17.5 –– Average margin of victory for the Mid-American Conference’s pair of Sweet 16 teams this tournament. Has there been a crazier story in the 2018 NCAA women’s basketball tournament than the schools from the MAC? Central Michigan and Buffalo, both 11-seeds, not only scored back-to-back upsets to advance to the second weekend of the tournament, but did so in convincing fashion. The Bulls defeated No. 6 South Florida 102-79 in the first round and shocked No. 3 Florida State Monday night 86-65. The Chippewas also have dominated their two games, beating No. 6 LSU 78-69 and No. 3 Ohio State 95-78.

11 –– Years since the MAC had a team advance to the Sweet 16, before Monday night. More MACtion! The last time a MAC school was still dancing in the second weekend was in 2007 with Bowling Green. Prior to this year, neither Buffalo or Central Michigan had won a game in the NCAA tournament. Now each have two.

2.8 –– Seconds remaining when Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter drilled the game-winning 3-pointer to give the Aggies an 85-84 win over DePaul Sunday evening. In just her second career collegiate tournament game, the 5-7 freshman guard sent Texas A&M into the Sweet 16. She finshed with a game-high 37 points in the win.

WATCH: Chennedy Carter burries game-winner in final seconds to top DePaul

2 –– Consecutive years that Tennessee has failed to reach the Sweet 16. A staple in women’s basketball, the Lady Vols were eliminated in the first weekend for the second straight year for the first time in school history.


AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley, Pat Eaton-Robb and Joe Reedy contributed to this story.

Golf Roundup: Spieth looking for a spark at Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Seven tournaments into the year, Jordan Spieth has two top 10s, two missed cuts and no serious chances at winning.

He also sees no reason to panic just yet.

Certainly not this week.

His stretch run to the Masters begins Wednesday with the Dell Technologies Match Play, and while Spieth has made it out of group play just once in three years of this format, it’s the first time all year he won’t have a scorecard in his hand.

It’s about winning matches, not posting scores. That might be just what he needs.

“This match play could free me up a bit to play more aggressive and putt more aggressively, and it could be a trigger for a successful rest of the year,” Spieth said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Spieth has spent most of the year watching everyone else win and build momentum toward Augusta National.

Dustin Johnson smoked the field at Kapalua to win by eight. Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Justin Thomas and yes, even Phil Mickelson, all won in playoffs. Rory McIlroy joined them last week with a flawless finish at Bay Hill to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

McIlroy had gone 18 months since his last victory, and on the Wednesday before the tournament began, he was looking ahead to the format at Match Play and said, “It can change your year.”

It also can be a very short week.

Spieth has drawn former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel in the opening round Wednesday at Austin Country Club. More attention is on his final match of round-robin play on Friday when he faces Patrick Reed, an annoying figure for opponents in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and Spieth’s partner in 11 cup matches.

The winner from each of the 16 groups advance to a weekend of single elimination.

Spieth has played plenty at Austin Country Club from his three semesters at the University of Texas, though that didn’t help him much the first year when Louis Oosthuizen took him out in the fourth round.

He has the Match Play and the Houston Open before getting to the Masters, where he won in 2015 and was runner-up twice. Last year he tied for 11th, and he still was within two shots of the lead going into Sunday.

Twice he missed the cut before the Masters. Another year he won and had consecutive runner-up finishes.

Either way, the Masters has been good to him.

“I think going into Augusta, if you can generate momentum, whether it’s a win or just strong finishes, you certainly step on the first tee there feeling a little bit better about it,” he said. “I’m looking forward, I’m not looking back. I’ve got an opportunity this week and next week to generate that momentum.”

McIlroy is upbeat for a couple of reasons. He won on the PGA Tour for the first time since September 2016, and he loves match play. Of the 64-man field, McIlroy has won the most matches (23) against the fewest losses (9).

He has reached the championship match twice — losing to Hunter Mahan in 2012, beating Gary Woodland in 2015 — and the semifinals three times.

Does that make him the favorite?

Not really. Anything goes over 18 holes of match play, and that appeals to McIlroy.

“I’ve always liked this tournament because it’s the least pressured event of the year, because anyone can beat anyone in 18 holes,” McIlroy said. “The field is the top guys in the world. You don’t have any easy matches.”

He recalled 2011 at Dove Mountain in Arizona when his match against Ben Crane ended on the 11th hole — Crane won, 8 and 7.

“You can run into someone like that who just has a really good day,” McIlroy said. “Or you can get a little bit of luck of the draw on the guys that you play against don’t play that good. I remember the next year, I think for the first three rounds I was even par for those three days. And I won every match. If I had been against anyone else in the field, I was going home. And I got to the final that year.”

Spieth last year lost his first match to Hideto Tanihara, and it wound up costing him a chance to advance to the weekend. Even so, the Match Play comes at a good time for someone who has been trying to regain his putting touch, trying to keep pace with the leaders, trying to at least contend.

“Sometimes you take your chances in match play instead of paying attention to the score,” he said. “I know anything can happen. You may as well take your chances.”


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

“I’m just glad he’s playing like I know he can play to validate me — validate me, Phil and Vijay,” Els said. “We weren’t bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again … is great for the game.”

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation’s players?

“It doesn’t (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?” he said. “He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can’t take anything away from anybody.”


LEFTY REJECTION: Jordan Spieth says the importance of signing autographs for kids is to give them the personal touch, and perhaps inspire them. He knows that because he was one of those kids, trying to get autographs while attending the Byron Nelson Classic.

One of those moments involved Phil Mickelson. It didn’t end well.

“There was a time that I was out with my dad, and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green,” Spieth said. “And I was yelling at them — as I now get annoyed while I’m practicing when I’m getting yelled at — and they were talking and then they said, ‘One second.’ And when they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me.

“And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off, and Davis was like the nicest guy,” Spieth said. “And Phil, I didn’t care for as much for a little while because of that.”

Spieth laughed as he told the story, mainly because he now knows the drill.

“He could have been late for media, he could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kids’ area, where there was a 100 of them,” Spieth said. “Time management is so different out there. You have no idea, and there’s certainly been kids that probably think I’ve blown them off, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil’s intention, either.”

Spieth was 19 when he made it on the PGA Tour. The first time he played with Mickelson, he shot 62 in the final round at the TPC Boston, a round that inspired Mickelson to recommend Spieth for the Presidents Cup.

And yes, Spieth told him the story from his youth.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were and I didn’t want to go over there and sign it,'” Spieth said.


KOEPKA UPDATE: U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka had hoped to recover from his wrist injury in time for the Masters.

That is now in doubt.

Koepka was quoted by Treasure Coast Newspapers as saying that doctors told him he would be about 80 percent healthy, and that he doesn’t want to risk reinjuring the wrist and being away from golf even longer.

His manager at Hambric Sports, Blake Smith, says the report was premature. “No decision has been made,” Smith said Tuesday.


GAMESMANSHIP: Paul Casey has seen his share of gamesmanship in match play, most notably on the professional level when Jason Day wouldn’t concede short putts in the Match Play. One of his memorable times was as a junior in England.

This involved miscommunication, and the sudden ability to lose the ability to speak English.

His opponent’s ball was close to Casey’s line on the green, both of them about 10 feet away, and there was eye contact on what to do.

“I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my life and it needed to be moved,” Casey said. “And I said, ‘That’s OK there.’ So he picked it up. And then of course his perfect English … yeah, he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

Casey doesn’t remember the outcome, and he doesn’t expect anything like that his week.


WINNER’S FEAST: Rory McIlroy won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory in 18 months, which would seem to call for quite a celebration.

Then again, maybe not.

“Two glasses of wine and a big bowl of ice cream,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “That was it. And I watched the highlights, but I fell asleep before the fireworks started on the 15th. Just tired.”

The ice cream of champions: Ben & Jerry’s. One scoop of Salted Caramel. One scoop of Americone Dream. The wine was Opus One.


MAJOR INVITATIONAL: Dustin Johnson had reason to feel like a winner last week even without playing. Johnson’s team of juniors went wire-to-wire and won by seven shots over a junior team representing Jack Nicklaus in the inaugural Major Champions Invitational.

Nick Faldo organized the event as an extension of his Faldo Series for juniors. He reached out to some 20 major champions who have foundations and junior programs to send boys and girls to Bella Collina outside Orlando, Florida.

Johnson’s team of Isabella Britt, Trent Phillips, Lauren Stephenson and Grayson Wotnosky combined to post 19-under par.

Tom McKibbin, a 15-year-old from Northern Ireland, won the male division while representing Rory McIlroy. Cory Lopez, a 16-year-old from Mexico, won the female division as an individual.


DIVOTS: Jay Danzi is leaving Lagardere Sports after the Masters and taking Jordan Spieth with him. Danzi worked for his own agency when he signed Spieth and joined Lagardere Sports in 2013. He was the U.S. chief operating officer in charge of developing new business and managing Spieth. … Judy Rankin broke her left collarbone during a fall in the dark while on a family vacation in Florida. She will be in a sling for six weeks but still hopes to work the ANA Inspiration next week, if not the Kia Classic this week. … Bay Hill is adding a 2-acre short-game facility and will enhance the driving range before next year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. The short-game area will feature four greens with a collection of bunkers built to different depths to simulate what players find on the course. Bay Hill also will get a new irrigation system installed. … Davis Love III plans to play in his first U.S. Senior Open this year at The Broadmoor in Colorado. … The U.S. Women’s Amateur is going to Westchester Country Club in 2021. The New York club most recently hosted the Women’s PGA Championship.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Five of the 11 winners on the PGA Tour this year have at least 10 career tour victories — Phil Mickelson (43), Dustin Johnson (17), Rory McIlroy (14), Jason Day (11) and Bubba Watson (10).


FINAL WORD: “I don’t really chirp at guys who have $100 million.” — Pat Perez, on why there isn’t much trash talking when he plays Phil Mickelson.

NASCAR: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart elected to IMS Hall of Fame

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-   Five-time Brickyard winner Jeff Goron and two-time winner Tony Stewart have been elected to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, marking the first time a member of the NASCAR community has been given the honor.

Starting with this year’s ballot, which was due in February, voting for the IMS Hall of Fame was expanded to include members of the NASCAR and Formula 1 communities that “have made major contributions to auto racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Gordon and Stewart were chosen from a ballot of 14 nominees by a panel of auto racing journalists, participants and historians.

Gordon, who attended Tri-West High School in Pittsboro, Indiana, won 93 races in NASCAR’s top series, including the Daytona 500 three times. He won the NASCAR series championship four times following a career in USAC open-wheel racing where he was the 1990 national Midget series champion and 1991 Silver Crown titlist. He added an overall win in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2017.

Stewart, from Columbus, Indiana, won the national Midget series championship in 1994 and the Triple Crown (Silver Crown, Sprint Car, Midget) in 1995. He won three IndyCar events and the 1996-97 series championship. After moving to NASCAR, Stewart won 49 races in Cup series and three series championships.

The 2018 inductees were announced on “Founder’s Day,” the 109th anniversary of the day the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company was officially formed. They also are the first to be enshrined under the Hall’s new name and scope, which includes the stars of the Brickyard 400 and United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis for the first time. The induction ceremony will be held May 24.

“We are thrilled that the first class of inductees with our new name and election criteria honor two drivers who mean so much to fans in Central Indiana and around the world” said Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Famewas founded in 1952 as the Auto Racing Hall of Fame under the auspices of the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA). The Hall of Fame was moved to the original Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum under the direction of then-Speedway president Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. in 1962.


Another honor for “Lone Star J.R.”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford will be honored in April by the Road Racing Drivers Club prior to the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

It will mark the 10th straight year the organization has feted some of the greatest drivers in open-wheel racing. Previous honorees were Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, George Follmer and Emerson Fittipaldi.

“Johnny has always been a tough, accomplished racer on the track and an absolute gentleman off the track,” former IndyCar star Bobby Rahal, who serves as RRDC president, said in a release. “He always has time to sign an autograph or pose for a selfie. He’s been the ultimate ambassador for our sport.”

Born in 1938 in Coffeyville, Kansas, Rutherford began his racing career in modified stock cars in 1959 and he won his first NASCAR-sanctioned race in 1963, capturing one of the twin 125-mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500 driving for Smokey Yunick. That victory made him the youngest-ever NASCAR winner at that point.

Rutherford also became a driver to watch in the open-wheel ranks, especially on dirt, when he drove his No. 9 to the 1965 USAC Sprint Car Championship. His IndyCar breakthrough came a decade later when he drove for McLaren and delivered Indy 500 wins in 1974 and 1976 and finished second in 1975.

In 1980, Rutherford raced Jim Hall’s “Yellow Submarine” Chaparral, winning the Indy 500 again and capturing the series championship. His victory in the Indy 500 made him one of only nine drivers to win the storied race three times (A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears are the only four-time winners).

Rutherford also was an accomplished road racer and drove a Porsche 935 to second in the 1978 Daytona 24 Hours.

RRDC was formed in 1952 as a way to give champion drivers a say in their sport, particularly in the areas of safety. Today, it mentors new drivers at both the amateur and professional levels, and its reach has been impressive, especially since the club started a free on-line training seminar dubbed SAFEisFAST.com.

The site has featured RRDC members and other industry experts in videos covering subjects from physical and mental preparation to driving techniques, driver safety, to car setup and sponsorship. To date, the club says more than 550,000 racers in 171 countries have viewed nearly 3 million video tutorials in 70 languages.

Soccer Roundup: Spain experimenting with its forwards ahead of World Cup / World Scores

MADRID (AP) — Spain enters the final stage of its World Cup preparations with coach Julen Lopetegui experimenting up front.

Lopetegui has called up several different forwards since taking over the national squad and has plenty of options to choose from before announcing the final list for Russia in a few months.

It won’t be an easy decision because Spain has thrived in attack with a deep stock of strikers. The team has outscored opponents 52-10 in the 16 matches played under Lopetegui.

The coach will get a chance to have a final look at some of his forwards in the high-profile friendlies against Germany on Friday in Dusseldorf and Argentina on Tuesday in Madrid.

Still unbeaten since Lopetegui arrived after the 2016 European Championship, Spain will go to Russia trying to rebound from disappointments in the last two major soccer tournaments — it was eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup and in the last 16 at Euro 2016.

Here’s a closer look at the key issues three months before the World Cup:



Lopetegui has called up more than 10 strikers since his arrival, with the most-recent list including Diego Costa, Iago Aspas, Rodrigo and Lucas Vazquez.

Alvaro Morata, Jose Callejon and Victor “Vitolo” Machin had been regulars in previous lists but were left out of the important pre-World Cup friendlies.

Costa hadn’t been called up in more than nine months because he couldn’t play with Atletico Madrid until the team’s transfer ban from FIFA ended in January, while Vazquez hadn’t made Lopetegui’s list since last year. Aspas has been a regular name in Lopetegui’s teams even though he hasn’t played much as a starter.

Morata was left out of the current list because of physical problems but Lopetegui said the Chelsea player still has a good chance of making it to Russia.



Among the other forwards tested by Lopetegui are Manuel “Nolito” Agudo, Paco Alcacer, Pedro Rodriguez, Aritz Aduriz, Gerard Deulofeu and even 36-year-old veteran David Villa.

They had few opportunities recently, though, and are considered a longshot to make it to Russia even though Lopetegui said he hasn’t closed the door on anybody.

“Some players were not included in this (last) list but they still remain with their chances intact,” Lopetegui said. “All players still have chances.”



A few attacking midfielders seem to have their spots secured after several call-ups under Lopetegui, including Isco, Marco Asensio, Saul Niguez and David Silva.

Silva is among the players with the most minutes in Lopetegui’s team, along with Sergio Busquets and goalkeeper David De Gea. Silva also has the most goals scored under Lopetegui with 11, followed by Morata with seven.



Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion and Andres Iniesta are practically assured of a spot at the World Cup, which will likely be the last for Iniesta.

The 33-year-old Barcelona player has been struggling with his physical condition in recent months and hasn’t played regularly with the Catalan club.

Busquets will miss the friendlies against Germany and Argentina because of a fractured finger in his foot but is expected to recover in time for the tournament in Russia.



It will also probably be the last World Cup for Gerard Pique, who has said he plans to retire from the national team after playing in Russia.

Sergio Ramos will most likely be his teammate in central defense at the World Cup, with Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal playing alongside them on the flanks.

Left back Marcos Alonso got his first call-up for the upcoming friendlies and will be fighting to be in Lopetegui’s final list.

“I’m getting a chance to show my worth,” the Chelsea player said.



Calls for the return of Iker Casillas are long gone as De Gea continues to play in top form and is more than secured as the team’s starter in Russia.

Kepa Arrizabalaga and Pepe Reina have been included in Lopetegui’s most-recent lists and are expected to be the reserve goalkeepers.



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NBA Roundup: Wild night in Miami as Heat top Nuggets 149-141 in double OT

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   MIAMI – James Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, Kelly Olynyk added 30 off the bench and the Miami Heat set a franchise single-game scoring record by beating the Denver Nuggets 149-141 in double overtime Monday night.

Miami’s total was also an NBA season-high and helped the Heat get back to the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Houston and Oklahoma City each scored 148 in games earlier this season.

Wayne Ellington scored 23 points for the Heat. Nikola Jokic had 34 for Denver, while Wilson Chandler added 26 for the Nuggets.

Neither team was at full strength. For Miami, Dwyane Wade (left hamstring strain) missed his fourth consecutive game, and Hassan Whiteside (left hip pain) sat out his fifth straight contest. Denver was without leading scorer Gary Harris, sidelined again by a strained right knee that could keep him out several more days.

Denver led 16-5 after 3 1/2 minutes, and that was the only double-digit lead by either side for about the next three hours. It was airtight until the very final moments.

Cavaliers 124, Bucks 117

CLEVELAND – LeBron James scored 40 points as part of his third triple-double in four games and Cleveland beat Milwaukee as coach Tyronn Lue began his leave of absence to address health issues.

Lue said Monday in a statement he been dealing with chest pains and loss of sleep, and that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is. Associate head coach Larry Drew will run the team in Lue’s absence.

James scored 17 points in the third quarter and finished with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 16th triple-double this season and 71st of his career.

The four-time MVP took over in the third beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers. After not getting a foul called on a third attempt, he finished Cleveland’s next possession with a massive dunk. He was fouled attempting another dunk and made both free throws the following time down.

Spurs 89, Warriors 75

SAN ANTONIO – LaMarcus Aldridge had 33 points and 12 rebounds, and San Antonio blew a 16-point lead to injury-ravaged Golden State before pulling away for a victory.

The Spurs beat Golden State for the first time in four tries this season and won their fourth straight overall to move into fifth place in the Western Conference, one-half game ahead of idle Utah and New Orleans.

Already without injured All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the Warriors lost Draymond Green in the second quarter to a bruise in the pelvic area. Green took a knee to the groin while defending a drive to the basket by Danny Green.

The Warriors weren’t getting any sympathy from a Spurs team that has played without Kawhi Leonard for much of the season.

76ers 108, Hornets 104

PHILADELPHIA – Joel Embiid had 25 points and 19 rebounds and Ben Simmons had a triple-double to lead Philadelphia over Charlotte.

Simmons had 11 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists to help the Sixers keep alive their shot at finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference and earning home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The 76ers have one of the easiest schedules of any team the rest of the season. The Sixers would have to pass Washington and Indiana to grab the No. 4 seed and stave off a potential Toronto or Boston matchup for at least a round.

The Hornets missed 17 of 21 shots in the third (1 of 5 on 3s) to crush their chances of stretching a seven-point halftime lead.

Pacers 110, Lakers 100

INDIANAPOLIS – Victor Oladipo sparked a decisive run and finished with 20 points, Myles Turner had 21 points and Indiana recovered from a poor start for a victory over Los Angeles.

The victory snapped Indiana’s two-game losing streak.

Los Angeles was led by Kyle Kuzma with 27 points and Brook Lopez with 23, but the Lakers still lost their third straight.

Oladipo and Darren Collison got Indiana going with back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third quarter for a 77-70 lead.

Pistons 106, Kings 90

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Blake Griffin had 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Detroit pulled away in the third quarter to beat Sacramento.

Ish Smith had 18 points, Reggie Bullock added 17 and Anthony Tolliver scored 12 points behind three 3-pointers – one of three Pistons with a trio of 3s. Andre Drummond had just four points but pulled down 16 rebounds to help Detroit end its three-game losing streak.

The Pistons won on the road for only the 10th time this season.

Knicks 110, Bulls 92

NEW YORK – Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 22 points and Michael Beasley added 17 as New York beat Chicago.

Enes Kanter had 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Troy Williams added 11 for the Knicks.

Cristiano Felicio scored a career-high 17 points for the Bulls, who were missing their top three scorers and went 3-for-30 from 3-point range. Bobby Portis and Antonio Blakeney scored 16 points apiece.

Nets 118, Grizzlies 115

NEW YORK – Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert each scored 22 points and Brooklyn beat Memphis.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and DeMarre Carroll scored 18 points for the Nets, who have two straight wins for the first time since Jan. 19-21.

Andrew Harrison, who missed Memphis’ last nine games due to a right wrist injury, scored 19 points, and Brionte Webber had a career-high 15. The Grizzlies have lost 20 of 21.

NHL Roundup: Predators earn point in 15th straight game

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)   —   Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots for his eighth shutout of the season and the Nashville Predators set a franchise record by earning a point in their 15th consecutive game with a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night in Buffalo, New York.

Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen scored goals 4:34 apart in the second period, and Filip Forsberg and Ryan Hartman sealed the victory by scoring in the final four minutes.

The NHL-leading Predators improved to 14-0-1 in their past 15, and also extended their team-best road winning streak to nine straight.

Rinne won his 11th straight to match his personal best in a stretch in which he’s allowed just 18 goals. The shutout was the 51st of his 12-year career and third in nine games. Rinne also improved to 40-9-4 in becoming the NHL’s seventh goalie to win 40 games in a season three or more times.

Blue Jackets 5, Bruins 4 (OT): In Boston, Cam Atkinson scored 2:55 into overtime to lift Columbus to its eighth straight win, spoiling a splendid NHL debut for Boston forward Ryan Donato.

Sonny Milano, Boone Jenner, Thomas Vanek and Artemi Panarin also scored for the Blue Jackets. Nick Foligno had two assists, and Vanek and Jenner each added one. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 34 shots.

Atkinson cut in on the left wing and fired a wrister past Rask for the game-winner.

Columbus moved into a tie with Philadelphia with 85 points, but the Flyers hold the tiebreaker for third place in the Metropolitan Division and the Blue Jackets hold the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Donato had a goal and two assists for Boston, which moved a point behind idle Tampa Bay for first in the Atlantic. Riley Nash, Brad Marchand and David Krejci also scored for the Bruins, and Tuukka Rask finished with 20 saves.

Kings 4, Wild 3 (OT): In St. Paul, Minnesota, Jeff Carter scored his second goal of the game with 33.8 seconds left on the clock in overtime and Los Angeles recovered after giving up a two-goal lead.

Tanner Pearson and Dustin Brown also scored for Los Angeles, which has alternated wins and losses over its past nine games. The Kings pulled into a tie with Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division with 86 points, and hold the tiebreaker over the Ducks.

Jonathan Quick made 24 saves for the Kings, who appeared headed to a second straight loss until Brown tipped home a point shot from Drew Doughty with 46.5 seconds left in regulation. Doughty finished with three assists.

Joel Eriksson Ek scored for the first time in 13 games with 2:31 left to give Minnesota the lead after trailing 2-0. Eric Staal added his 39th and Zach Parise had his second goal in three games for the Wild.

Devan Dubnyk stopped 26 shots for Minnesota, which is in third in the Central Division, four points ahead of Colorado.

Panthers 2, Canadiens 0: In Montreal, Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots for his third shutout of the season and 76th of his career to lead Florida over Montreal.

Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov scored to help the Panthers inch closer to a playoff position, pulling three points behind idle new Jersey for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Florida has two games in hand on the Devils.

Antti Niemi finished with 38 saves for Montreal, which was shut out for the second straight game and 12th time this season – including three against the Panthers. The Canadiens were coming off a 4-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday.

Coyotes 5, Flames 2: In Glendale, Arizona, Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored twice late in the third period to lead Arizona past Calgary.

Max Domi also had two goals for Arizona, including an empty-netter with 21 seconds left, and had an assist on Ekman-Larsson’s tiebreaking goal. Richard Panik scored early in the second period for the Coyotes, and Antti Raanta stopped 42 shots.

Dougie Hamilton had a goal and an assist, and Sean Monahan also scored as Calgary lost for the fourth time in five games. Mike Smith finished with 25 saves.

Domi stole a pass in the Calgary zone and beat Smith to tie the score at 2-2 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the second period.

Both teams missed several scoring chances in the third period until Ekman-Larsson put the Coyotes ahead with 3:41 remaining with his 100th career goal. He then had an empty-netter 2:04 later for his 13th of the season to double the lead.

Golf Roundup: Spieth, Reed drawn in same group at Match Play

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed go from being partners to opponents in match play.

Spieth and Reed, who have a 7-2-2 record as partners in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, were drawn in the same four-man group Monday night for the Dell Technologies Match Play.

The World Golf Championship begins Wednesday at Austin Country Club, where Spieth played when he was at the University of Texas.

Spieth has a 9-9-1 record in match play as a pro, going 0-5 in his singles matches at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. He is 9-4-1 in the Match Play. Reed has an 8-6-2 record, and is best known for taking down Rory McIlroy in the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

Spieth and Reed won’t play each other until Friday. Also in their group are former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Li Haotong of China.

Round-robin play starts Wednesday, with the winners of 16 groups advancing to a weekend of single elimination.

Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, is the No. 1 seed for the second straight year. He has longtime friend Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin of Canada and Bernd Wiesberger of Austria in his group.

The opening session Wednesday has some compelling matches.

Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t played since winning the Mexico Championship, opens against Charles Howell III in the first round. Howell has two PGA Tour victories, one of them in a playoff over Mickelson at Riviera.

Tommy Fleetwood faces Ian Poulter in an all-England match. Poulter has to advance out of his group to have any chance of moving into the top 50 and qualifying for the Masters. This is the final week for players to earn a Masters invitation through top 50 in the world ranking.

Poulter carried Europe to a stunning comeback in the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012 when he made five straight birdies to win a fourballs match, which ultimately swung momentum to Europe going into singles.

Poulter’s lone victory in America was the 2010 Match Play in Arizona when it was single elimination. He was referred to as a “ninja” in match play during the draw.

“I’ve never gone up against a ninja in my life,” Fleetwood said, who wondered if he could find a book called “Karate for Dummies.”

He was driving to St. Andrews for the Dunhill Cup in 2012 and remembers well Poulter’s heroics at Medinah.

“Hopefully, it’s just a memory,” he said.

Rory McIlroy, coming of a victory Sunday at Bay Hill, gets Peter Uihlein in the opening match. Also in McIlroy’s group are Brian Harman and Jhonattan Vegas.

Matt Kuchar will face Zach Johnson in the opening round. They were partners one time, losing a foursomes match in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014.

Since going to group play in 2015 at Harding Park in San Francisco, two No. 1 seeds (McIlroy and Johnson) and a No. 2 seed (Jason Day) have won. Anything goes with 18-hole matches, though having at least three matches allows a player to recover from a bad day.

Not that it makes it any easier to pick a favorite.

“This is as hard to win as trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner,” Pat Perez said. “I always pick the wrong horse.”

Among those skipping the event are Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott, mainly for scheduling reasons. Also missing is U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka as he recovers from a wrist injury.

Joost Luiten withdrew with an injury. He was replaced by Julian Suri, the No. 64 seed, who plays Marc Leishman in the opening round.

The groups were determined by the top 16 seeds, and then players from the next three segments of the world ranking were added by lottery — one from Nos. 17-32, one from Nos. 33 to 48, and one from No. 49 to 64.


LPGA: FAR HILLS, N.J. (AP) — Two-time champion Karrie Webb has received a special exemption to the U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek in Alabama.

Webb won consecutive U.S. Women’s Open titles by a combined 13 shots when she was at the top of her game. She beat Cristie Kerr and Meg Mallon by five shots at The Merit Club outside Chicago in 2000 and Se Ri Pak by eight shots at Pine Needles in North Carolina a year later.

The U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek starts May 31.

Webb received a 10-year exemption for her 2001 victory, and she has remained exempt through other categories every year since then.

The Australian is the first player to receive a special exemption to the Women’s Open since Pak in 2016 at CordeValle.


TIGER WOODS: Corrections and clarifications: In an earlier version of this story, an incorrect year was listed for Tiger Woods’ last title. He last won in 2013.

Tiger Woods merely being in the hunt the past two weekends led to a spike in ratings for NBC Sports.

A weekend after he finished second at the Valspar Championship, he faded late at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to place fifth. His comeback – and search for his first title since 2013 – continues. But the result was the same for NBC Sports: ratings were the highest they’ve been in years.

Despite going up against March Madness, Sunday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational averaged a 3.6 overnight rating — a 136% jump over the Tiger-less 2017 tournament.

NBC Sports said in a news release Monday that when the prior weekend’s final round of the Valspar Championship (5.1 overnight rating) is factored in, the two tournaments posted the highest ratings of any non-major PGA Tour broadcast since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. Woods played in that tournament, too.

More than 12 million minutes were streamed of NBC and Golf Channel coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a 683% increase compared to 2017, according to NBC Sports.

The overnight rating of 3.6 on Sunday wasn’t far from the 3.8 Fox drew for the final round of the U.S. Open.

Golf ratings have seen a significant dip without Woods, who has been sidelined in recent years with multiple back procedures.


RORY MCILROY: Rory McIlroy had his first Arnold Palmer moment before the tournament even started.

He had just finished his pro-am round at Bay Hill and was about to walk out of the tunnel leading from the 18th green when a man asked him for a picture. McIlroy obliged, because he usually does. But this was different.

The man handed him a black bolero hat and told McIlroy it was from his squadron when he served in Vietnam. He didn’t want a selfie with McIlroy. He wanted a picture of McIlroy wearing the hat that meant so much to him. The hat looked awkward on him with golfing attire, but McIlroy didn’t mind.

It’s all about giving the fans what they want.

Then the 28-year-old from Northern Ireland gave them something even better with what McIlroy described as a “perfect round of golf,” certainly the closing stretch. He birdied five of the last six holes, capping it off with a 25-foot putt on the 18th hole to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

That ended his longest drought without a victory in eight years, and it cast him in a new light with the Masters approaching.

McIlroy had fallen to No. 13 in the world when he missed the cut the previous week at the Valspar Championship, his second missed cut in four PGA Tour events this year. He had not been that low in the ranking since April 25, 2010.

It’s not that he was forgotten; rather, attention was shifting to so many others that it was easy to feel overlooked. All it took was one victory for the conversation to include his bid for a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam.

“It’s huge for my confidence going into the next few weeks,” McIlroy said. “I kept saying I didn’t need a win going into Augusta to feel like I had a chance. I just wanted to see signs of good golf. And thankfully, I’ve been able to get both.”

Just don’t get the idea his confidence was lagging.

McIlroy always says that when he’s playing well, it’s hard to remember ever playing poorly. And when he’s playing poorly, it’s hard to remember what it was like to play well. But he has a history of going through spurts of mediocrity, and coming out of it strong without notice. Most memorable was in 2012 when he missed the cut four times in five tournaments. Two months later, he won the PGA Championship and consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events.

Three times in his career, McIlroy has won in his next start after missing the cut. Five other times, he won after finishing out of the top 30.

That’s why he wasn’t the least bit concerned after missing the cut at the Valspar Championship.

“It’s such a fine line out here, and I might have sounded crazy the last few weeks when I was telling everyone it actually feels pretty close and I’m not that far away, and I’m putting up 72s and 73s,” he said. “And all of a sudden, it all clicks into place and I end up winning a golf tournament by three shots and shooting 8 under on the last day. So it’s fine lines out here. I think you have to play the game to really appreciate that. It’s not as black and white as some people make it out to be.”

He could think of only one time he was genuinely worried about his game.

McIlroy was 19 and in his first full year as a pro in 2008. He had only two top 10s all year on the European Tour. He wasn’t eligible for any of the majors. He had missed three straight cuts in Sweden, Holland and Scotland. He was concerned he might lose his card. And then he lost in a playoff in Switzerland, lost in another playoff in Hong Kong and won his first pro event early in the next year.

“And I was off and running,” he said.

McIlroy reached No. 50 with that playoff loss in Hong Kong, and he hasn’t fallen out since then. He’s had a few dips, sure, “but it’s not as if I’ve had to panic.”

Palmer and McIlroy share one other connection, at least for now. They are one leg short of the Grand Slam. Palmer never won the PGA Championship. McIlroy needs the Masters. When they had dinner at Bay Hill in 2015 — right before McIlroy’s first crack at the fourth leg of the slam — the topic never came up.

“It’s amazing to think, all that Arnold did in the game, he never won that Grand Slam,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy at the Masters, Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open and Jordan Spieth at the PGA Championship each have a chance at the career slam this year.

“I’m glad to be part of that conversation, get the first shot at it in a few weeks,” McIlroy said. “So we’ll see how we go.”

His game is never far away, even if it doesn’t look like it at times.


PALM CITY — Reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said Tuesday he will miss the Masters because of a left wrist injury.

Koepka has been sidelined since playing in the Sentry Tournament of Champions the first week of January. He was diagnosed with a partially torn tendon in his left wrist.

      When asked Tuesday if he would play in the Masters, Koepka shook his head.

       “They said I would be about 80 percent, but I can’t play 80 percent,” Koepka said. “I either have to go full bore or not at all. I don’t want to risk getting it re-injured and then be out a long time.”

     Koepka said he started hitting putts this week and will be able to chip next week. Koepka, who was at the Floridian to watch his alma mater Florida State play in the Valspar Collegiate Invitational, is ranked ninth in the world.

      He has improved in each of his three career starts at the Masters – 33rd in 2015, 21st in 2016 and 11th last year.

Five takeaways: Truex rolls, Harvick errs as NASCAR heads East for first short track race

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(PhatzRadio Sports /USA TODAY SPORTS)    —   FONTANA, Calif. – Five takeaways from Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway as teams prepare for Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and the first short-track race of the season this weekend:

TRUEX  WAS GONE: Martin Truex Jr. returned to 2017 form in winning Sunday’s race in blockbuster fashion, leading 125 of 200 laps and rolling to the checkered flag 11.6 seconds in front of Kyle Larson.

How good was that? “We couldn’t even see Martin,” Larson said from second place.

That’s good.

HARVICK’S ‘DUMB MISTAKE’:  Kevin Harvick admitted that he made a “dumb mistake” challenging Kyle Larson for position on the backstretch early in the race.

When Harvick tried to side-draft off Larson’s car, they bumped, and the impact sent Harvick into the outside wall. He finished the race but was nine laps down, a far cry from the previous three weeks, when his car was in victory lane each time.

“The race car was there; it was just a mistake,” Harvick said.

Much of the post-race discussion centered on whether Harvick’s car was strong enough to challenge Truex at the front if the early-race incident hadn’t crippled the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

“He had his issues,” Truex said. “We’ll never know. I’m sure we’ll have plenty chances to race each other throughout the rest of the season.”

JOHNSON CLIMBING: Jimmie Johnson continues his journey in from the cold.

Johnson had a steady Sunday and finished ninth, his first top-10 run of the year (in fact, his first since last October).

“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now, but we are seeing the improvements. We have been seeing it internally.  We are making the cars drive better and better, and we are getting more competitive.”

TOYOTA GETS FIRST: Martin Truex Jr.’s Sunday victory put Toyota on the win board for the first time this season.

Ford has won three races (all by Harvick), and Chevrolet won the Daytona 500 with Austin Dillon.

Toyota’s Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch own the first two spots in the point standings, but Fords sit in six of the top-10 positions. Larson, in seventh, is the only Chevrolet driver in the top 10 in points.

GO EAST, YOUNG MEN: After three weeks of NASCAR’s West Coast Swing, the Cup tour continent-hops this week to land at Martinsville Speedway in south central Virginia for Sunday’s STP 500.

The 500-lap race will be the Cup Series’ first short-track event of the year, an event the teams generally welcome after dealing with the aerodynamic issues that faster tracks cause.

Martinsville is all about strong cars, smart drivers, bumping and banging and brakes that last the distance.

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