As his 2012 victory at the U.S. Open moves further into his rearview, Webb Simpson believes it’s time to make another splash at a major tournament.
The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee declared on the air Wednesday that Simpson’s strengths — particularly a combination of length and accuracy off the tee — and his recent strong play on tour should make him a factor this weekend at Winged Foot.
“I’m coming in confident,” Simpson said Wednesday in a Zoom call. “I’ve been playing good golf for a while, and I have always loved this tournament.
“I love the idea that patience matters here. Some weeks you can get impatient and that’s OK, but this week you have to stay patient. Every golfer is going to make tons of bogeys this week. So it’s kind of the marathon mentality of kind of who can kind of hang on and play the 72 holes as well as they can. I like my chances.”
Since his U.S. Open victory at Olympic in San Francisco, Simpson hasn’t finished better than a tie for 10th at Shinnecock Hills in 2018. His best placing at a major in those eight years was a fifth-place tie at the 2019 Masters.
Still, the 35-year-old North Carolina native has enjoyed a solid 2020, pushing his tour ranking to No. 6 with wins at the Phoenix Open in January and the RBG Heritage in June. He’s also posted seven top-10 finishes in 13 tournaments for the year, including at the Wyndham and the Northern Trust last month, and tied for 12th at the Tour Championship.
But experts believe the numbers may align for a place on the leaderboard this week at the challenging Winged Foot course. Simpson mostly has minimized big mistakes since the COVID-19 restart in June, ranking first on tour in bogey avoidance. He also mostly keeps the ball in the fairway (18th in driving accuracy) and has thrived with his irons (11th in greens in regulation).
“This is, to me, a classic U.S. Open setup where it’s brutally hard all day, but there’s no tricks to it, you’ve got to drive it in the fairway,” Simpson said. “I’m sure the guys are saying the same stuff that if you’re not in the fairway it’s hard to score and I do think this will be a higher winning score U.S. Open than we have seen in a while.
“Olympic was similar in the sense that it’s a classic, old-style golf course, doglegs, you have to shape some tee shots to hold the fairways. … Out here, there’s only a few holes where you’re going to have shorter shots in, you’ve got to take advantage of those holes.”
While one major tournament, the PGA Championship, already has been played without fans this summer, Simpson added that the rowdy local galleries will be missed.
“When I think of the fans in New York, I just think of the volume, the noise is louder than anywhere,” Simpson said. “Boston tries to compete a little bit, but here it’s just louder. I think people aren’t afraid to speak their mind when you hit a bad shot and that’s part of it. We know that going in
“And we appreciate that people care enough to come watch us. It’s a bummer, it’s a bummer for all these states and towns, but I think especially here hosting a major.”
Georgetown football player arrested in connection to DC murder
A Georgetown University football player wanted in connection to a Washington, DC, murder was reportedly arrested in Georgia on Monday.
US Marshals picked up Dijon Williams, who hails from Georgia, in a house in Gwinnett County, authorities told Fox 5 DC.
Williams, a senior wide receiver for the Hoyas, was being sought for his alleged role in the July 21 fatal shooting of Nurudeen Thomas, the report said.
Following his arrest, the university suspended Williams from the football team, which has not played this fall due to a coronavirus-related postponement.
“While we are working to learn more information, we will cooperate fully with any investigation and we stand prepared to offer resources to members of our community who may be affected by this news,” the university said in a statement to the news station.
“At this time, there are no indications that the alleged crime took place near the University.”
Lakers vs. Heat NBA Finals prediction, matchups:
It’s only fitting that the craziest NBA season in memory will end with two teams in the lottery a year ago fighting for the championship. The Lakers and LeBron James, going for another historic ring with the Heat, his former team, in the way.
The season saw the tragic death of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in January, and the suspension of play two months later because of the coronavirus that has since taken 200,000 American lives. And it restarted in Orlando amid social unrest, with the Lakers one of two teams who voted to quit after the shooting of Jacob Blake.
After it took the intervention of former president Barack Obama to save the season, here are the Lakers trying to honor Bryant with their 17th NBA title.
“This is what I came here for,” said James, 35, who called this bubble experience “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.”
These Finals are rife with subplots, not the least of which is James vs. Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley. The latter challenged LeBron to stay after Miami lost the 2014 Finals, and following an acrimonious split the Heat president famously said the team had rid itself of players who had “smiling faces with hidden agendas.”
The two didn’t speak for years, and they haven’t met in the playoffs ever. Until now.
“One of the great minds this game has seen,” James said Tuesday, taking the high road. “This league is not the same without Riles. Someone who knows what it takes to win and he’s shown that over the course of 40 years.”
Here is a look at how the Lakers and Heat match up across the board ahead of their NBA Finals series, starting Wednesday:
Point guard: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope vs. Goran Dragic
While King James is listed as the Lakers’ lead guard — and clearly is their leader — Caldwell-Pope will handle a lot of that grunt work on Dragic, especially with Avery Bradley having opted out of the restart and Rajon Rondo coming off the bench.
Dragic has been great for Miami in the playoffs, averaging a team-high 20.9 points, 4.7 assists and 4.2 boards. But for the Heat to have any chance, the longtime holdover will have to keep that up, and then some.
Shooting guard: Danny Green vs. Duncan Robinson
Robinson is one of the X factors for Miami who could easily come up big with a surprise performance and start raining 3-pointers. He poured in 20 points in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, and added 15 on 5 of 7 from deep to eliminate the Celtics on Sunday. If he can make James work on defense, that would be a huge help for the Heat.
Green has hit some big 3s himself before in the playoffs with San Antonio, but his role with Los Angeles is different. Lakers coach Frank Vogel will probably deploy him defensively on Jimmy Butler to spare James that burden.
Small forward: LeBron James vs. Jimmy Butler
Butler summed up the road to the title simply: “You have to go through [James] at 26, at 36 and probably at 49. But if anybody is up to the task, the Miami Heat are.”
Not all edges are equal, and this one tilts heavily towards Los Angeles. James’ dominant triple-double (38 points, 16 boards and 10 assists) eliminated Denver, his 16 points in the fourth quarter showing how unstoppable he is in the clutch.
Miami will have to run bodies at him, with Andre Iguodala admitting, “You’re guarding the top talent ever.” But this won’t be a straight-up head-to-head matchup. The Lakers can run Caldwell-Pope and Green at Butler, while James will get an easier job on defense, resting against either Robinson or Jae Crowder.
Power forward: Anthony Davis vs. Jae Crowder
The Heat started Crowder at power forward against Boston, but their choice against the Lakers is still unclear. They can use Crowder, Butler and Iguodala to try to stop — OK, let’s be real, slow — James. But Davis could be the X factor who tilts the series.
Davis’ dominance was already obvious before he went out and rolled through the Western Conference foes, averaging 28.8 points on 57.1 percent shooting. Will Miami be forced to use Bam Adebayo on Davis? If he plays the four instead of Crowder, it could lead to more minutes for the likes of Kelly Olynyk or Derrick Jones Jr.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Bam Adebayo
Adebayo is bigger than anybody Houston could muster, and quicker than anybody Portland and Denver had to offer. He’s a great one-on-one defender, shown in his game-saving block on Jayson Tatum to clinch Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. And he’s every bit as physical as Denver’s Nikola Jokic (who backed Davis down often during the series) but more athletic. The matchup will be fascinating to watch.
While Davis is stellar at center, the Lakers have increasingly gone big with him at power forward and either JaVale McGee or Howard in the pivot. Vogel pulled McGee at halftime of Game 3 and Howard has been the starter since, averaging a double-double on 80 percent shooting. Does he match up with Adebayo?
In the playoffs, these benches aren’t as much about quantity as they are quality. The Lakers’ bench has veteran Rondo running the second unit, but can he and Green hit shots when Miami inevitably packs the paint against James and Davis?
Miami has Kendrick Nunn, Olynyk and Jones Jr. But most of all they have Tyler Herro and Iguodala. Iguodala averaged a career-low 4.6 points this season and was just 7 of 27 from deep this postseason before Game 6, but he brings the experience of six straight Finals and vital defense on James.
Back in the 2015 Finals, James shot just 33 percent with Iguodala on him, and 38 percent with him on the court. The Heat need that defense from him, and offensive punch from Herro (37 points and five 3s to win Game 4 against Boston).
Frank Vogel is a fine coach, but he’s been outfoxed by Spoelstra in the playoffs before while with Indiana. Yes, King James is on the other side now, but in a pure coaching matchup, Spo has the edge. He usually does.
In his fifth Finals, going for his third ring, Spoelstra is finally in a position to get just due as one of the very best the game has to offer. The Clippers, Rockets and Thunder parted ways with elite coaches such as Doc Rivers, Mike D’Antoni and Billy Donovan all during this postseason, but Spoelstra is still kicking, the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA.
“The players and the coaches know how great Spo is,” James said. “It’s been [the media] that’ve changed the narrative and never gave him the respect he deserves.”
Prediction: Lakers in 6
Miami’s attention to detail, defense and winning culture helped thrash Giannis Antetokounmpo and top-seeded Milwaukee, and Boston put up only slightly more challenge. But while the Heat have some slight edges in multiple positions, they don’t have King James and the Lakers do.
The emerging theory behind Gary Sanchez’s Yankees nightmare
Sandy Alomar spent two decades catching in the majors, so he has an understanding of the difficulties Gary Sanchez has faced this season in trying to adapt to a new stance behind the plate.
The results have been brutal, as Sanchez’s productivity at the plate plummeted this season and he was benched in favor of Kyle Higashioka with Gerrit Cole on the mound in Tuesday’s Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Indians in Cleveland.
“He changed his style of catching and that’s a process,’’ said Alomar, who is serving as Cleveland’s manager during the postseason while Terry Francona deals with health issues.
“He has one knee down now and that’s gonna take time in order to see results,” Alomar said. “He’s a big guy with a good arm. I don’t know if that position is gonna help him a lot.”
The 6-foot-5 Alomar would know, although he stressed he hasn’t seen much of Sanchez this season, since the Yankees and Indians didn’t play during the regular season and he’s been limited to watching Sanchez on video.
But he knows how much of an impact a defensive change can have on a catcher’s offense.
“Absolutely,’’ Alomar said. “If you don’t feel comfortable yet with the situation and you’re trying to improve, it can affect your offense also. Possibly it’s affecting him. I don’t know.”
He hoped not to find out, as even though Sanchez wasn’t in the Game 1 lineup, Alomar remained wary of the 27-year-old, recalling that Sanchez hit 34 homers a year ago.
“He has talent and a good bat,’’ Alomare said. “I’m happy he’s not in the lineup, even though the other guy [Higashioka] hits home runs.”
Aaron Boone and the Yankees made the move to Higashioka largely because of Gerrit Cole’s success pitching to Sanchez’s backup.
In four regula- season starts with Higashioka behind the plate, Cole had a 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, compared to a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings over eight outings pitching to Sanchez.
On Monday, Higashioka said it was “of course” difficult for Sanchez to not be in the Game 1 lineup, but Higashioka was confident Sanchez would recover from the disappointment.
“I know Gary and I know he’s extremely mentally tough,’’ Higashioka said. “If anything, it’s gonna spur him on and [he’ll] perform even better and get back to his normal self.”
It’s been a while since that’s been on display, as Sanchez finished a disappointing regular season by going 2-for-20 with no extra-base hits, three walks and seven strikeouts. And Sanchez is coming off a 2019 postseason in which he went just 4-for-31 with a homer, three walks and 16 strikeouts.
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