Rory McIlroy holds off Tiger to win Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy holds off Tiger to win Honda Classic

From Comcast SportsNet
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Rory McIlroy, the new No. 1 player in golf, is not easily rattled. He didn't see a scoreboard in the final round of the Honda Classic until he walked onto the eighth green, looked at the large video screen to his left and saw that Tiger Woods -- who started the day nine shots behind -- already was tied for fourth, four shots behind. McIlroy buried a 10-foot putt for his first birdie of the day. The pressure of trying to win and reach No. 1 in the world didn't really hit him until he was lining up a putt on the 13th green at PGA National, his concentration shattered by a cheer that could be heard a mile away from the 18th green. It was so loud that McIlroy not only knew what it was for -- an eagle on the 18th green -- but who it was for. Tiger Woods. "I wasn't really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18," McIlroy said. "I heard the huge roar. And it definitely wasn't a birdie roar. That's when I knew that he probably got to 10." That would be 10-under par for Woods, courtesy of a 62, his lowest score ever in a final round in his 15 years on tour. The birdie-eagle finish, just like the Tiger Woods of old, pulled him within one shot of the lead. McIlroy still faced the scariest stretch of golf at PGA National, with water in play on every shot over the last four holes. What followed was a clutch performance worthy of the new No. 1. McIlroy made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th to restore a two-shot cushion. Standing some 65 feet away, in grass so deep he could barely see the golf ball, he gouged out a wedge to 4 feet for a par he badly needed to keep momentum. On the two par 3s over the water, Nos. 15 and 17, he splashed out of a bunker toward the water and saved par both times. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland finally played it safe at the end, making par on the last hole for a 1-under 69 that was meaningful in so many ways. It made him the 16th player to be No. 1 in the world, and the second-youngest behind Woods, who was 21 when he first reached No. 1 after the 1997 U.S. Open. It was his fifth career win, three of those on the PGA Tour, which includes his record-setting performance last year at Congressional to win the U.S. Open, and a 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow. And he won despite Woods, that red shirt brighter than it has been in two years, posting a score that McIlroy didn't think possible in such blustery conditions Sunday. Lee Westwood, whom McIlroy beat in the semifinals of the Match Play Championship a week earlier in Arizona, closed with a 63. Even in such strong company, this day belonged to golf's new No. 1. "It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it," McIlroy said. "But I didn't know what I would be able to get here this quickly. ... Hopefully, I can hold onto it for a little longer." However long, it sets the tone for a big year in golf -- especially with the Masters a month away. Even in defeat, Woods showed that he is hitting the ball well enough not to be counted out at any time. His 62, which featured two eagles in the final round, was nearly nine shots better than the average score Sunday. "It feels good, because I felt like I was close," Woods said after the 28th runner-up finish of his PGA Tour career, and his best result since he was second at the 2009 Tour championship. "I've been close to shooting this score, or scores like this. And it was just a matter of time before things all fell into place." Tom Gillis birdied the last hole for a 69 and tied Woods for second. Westwood was alone in fourth. The 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th was a big moment for Woods. The eagle on the final moment was a shot under pressure that had not been seen in some time. With a 5-iron from 216 yards, he aimed at a tunnel beneath the grandstand and ripped it, the ball clearing a bunker and settling 8 feet away. "It was a lot of fun out there," Graeme McDowell said. "It was just roars going up all over the golf course. For Rory to go out today with a two-shot lead and have Tiger shoot 62 on him and Westwood shoot 63, it just shows how hard it is to win golf tournaments on any tour in the world, but especially this tour. "This golf season just got a lot more spicy." But it starts with McIlroy, who had been building to this occasion when he would replace Luke Donald at No. 1. Since injuring himself at the PGA Championship trying to hit a 7-iron with a tree root in his way, McIlroy had finished out of the top five only once in 12 tournaments he played. He won the Hong Kong Open, along with an unofficial event against a limited, world-class field at the Shanghai Masters. He was runner-up at the Dunhill Links in Scotland, the Korean Open, the Abu Dhabi Championship and the Match Play. And he won the Honda Classic, finishing at 12-under 268, with two former No. 1 players making a move. "It was a lot more meaningful," McIlroy said. "I think the way I won today was great. I missed a few greens coming in. I was able to get up-and-down. I made a couple of big par saves early, which kept my momentum. It was just one of those days. There was a 62 and a 63 out there, which is unbelievable playing. "I just needed to focus on my game and do what I needed to do," he said. "And thankfully, that's what happened." He hugged his father on the 18th green, posed with the crystal trophy and flashed a No. 1 sign. Before long, he was off to New York to spend a few days with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, before going to Miami for a World Golf Championship. It will be his first tournament as No. 1, a spot that McIlroy intends to keep as long as he can. "There's very few players as good at him at his age out there winning tournaments," three-time major champion Padraig Harrington said. "There are guys with potential, but he's already delivered. And he has a good balance in his life. He doesn't look like a guy who is going to burn out. He looks like he's going to be here for a while."

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

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David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

BOSTON — David Price and Rick Porcello showed improvement on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, important signs for the Red Sox after a difficult month for both pitchers prior to this homestand.

Price on Saturday night went six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 6-3 loss to the Angels. He fanned five and his velocity has been consistently better this year than last year.

But the most important number was his walk total: one. He walked three batters in his previous start, and four in both of his starts prior.

“Two outings ago, the first start here in Fenway,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “There was better timing in his delivery and overall better separation over the rubber. And he carried that through I thought, even though there's a higher pitch count in Houston, and has been able to maintain it here. I can't say there was one specific thing. It's been more the timing over the rubber. And you're seeing him pitch out of the stretch exclusively. Just less moving parts in a better position to repeat it.”

After Price’s final inning, the telecast captured Price calling pitching coach Carl Willis into the tunnel. Neither Farrell nor Price detailed the conversation. 

“Yeah, everything was fine,” Farrell said of the conversation. “Everything is OK there.”

Price made it sound like he’s dealing with some sort of physical ailment, but was vague.

“There's a lot of stuff going on right now,” the pitcher said when asked about the desire to stay out there. “You don't want it to linger into the next start, or two or three weeks from now, and that's why we did what we did.”

Asked to elaborate, Price reinforced that the decision was to save his body for another day.

“You never want to come out of a game. But you have to look forward at the time,” Price said. “You don’t want today to cost you your next start or you know, the start after that. So that’s what happened.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow or anything like that. This is — you get past one thing and there’s another So that’s what it is.”

Price in New York in early June felt a blister develop on his ring finger. He missed an in-between start bullpen because of it.

Asked about the blister Saturday, Price said, “That one’s gone.”

Farrell indicated the blister was diminished, if not entirely gone.

“He's been dealing with that,” Farrell said. “I think while it's still present and maybe not as severe as it was when it first happened, I'm sure he's going to check on it occasionally."