Johnson shoots for redemption at Pebble Beach

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Johnson shoots for redemption at Pebble Beach

Feb. 9, 2011GOLF PAGE SCOREBOARD

PEBBLE BEACH (AP) -- Dustin Johnson returns to Pebble Beach with conflicting emotions.

Rare is a defending champion who is looking for redemption.

Johnson has a chance to make history as the first player to win three successive years at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since this iconic event began in 1937.

Forgotten is how he built a four-shot lead in 2009 and was declared the winner when rain cut the tournament short to 54 holes. Or how he smashed one last drive to set up an easy birdie from the bunker on the final hole last year for a one-shot victory.

No, the lasting image of Johnson at Pebble Beach comes from the U.S. Open last summer.

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He had a three-shot lead going into the final round when he took two chips from the rough -- one of them left-handed -- and took a triple bogey on the second hole. Then came an aggressive play with the driver on No. 3 that he hooked into the bushes for a lost ball. His tee shot on the fourth went into the ocean.

It added to a colossal collapse in his first chance to win a major. Johnson closed with an 82, the highest final round by a 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open in nearly 100 years.

He had yet to get out to Pebble Beach by Wednesday, and planned to play only a couple of holes before sneaking over to Cypress Point. Johnson has moved into the celebrity rotation, meaning he will play Monterey Peninsula on Thursday and Spyglass Hill on Friday before he gets his first crack at Pebble Beach.

Which memories will come back?

"Neither," Johnson said. "I'm just coming out to play the golf course. It's still good, even though the last time I played it I struggled a little bit. But I'm still excited to get back out there and play. I'm always going to love this golf course, no matter what. I'm just ready to get back out and play."

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But then he paused, and offered a slight smile.

"Get a little redemption for the last round of the Open," he said.

Johnson does not lose confidence easily.

Despite a round that would haunt some players, he was right back in the mix two months later at the PGA Championship, poised to win another major until he failed to realize he was in a bunker on a Whistling Straits course that has too many bunkers to count. Instead of getting into a playoff, he wound two shots behind.

Unfazed, Johnson won the BMW Championship a month later to mark himself as a rising star.
That's not to say he hasn't learned from his mistakes, especially at Pebble Beach.

Johnson attributes his U.S. Open blunders to playing and thinking too quickly. He is among the fastest players in the game, and Johnson spent the latter part of last year trying to slow down.

"In the first couple of rounds, I might get a little quick," he said. "I probably need to do it more in the first, second and third rounds than I do in the final round. The final round is when you're thinking and you're more conscious of what's going on. That's when it's most important, when you're under the gun and when you've got a shot to win.

"Slow for me is still pretty fast," he said. "I've got to feel like I'm moving pretty slow, which probably isn't slow."

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gets under way Thursday with the usual suspects -- Johnson going for a third straight win, Phil Mickelson trying to find momentum sometime before the Masters, Davis Love III playing for the 25th consecutive year, and Padraig Harrington making his PGA Tour debut.

Harrington was on his way out to Pebble Beach for a practice round when he bumped into Johnson. He stopped to shake hands and pass along a playful message.

"I'm trying to take the trophy off your hands this week," Harrington said.

"Good luck," Johnson said with a delivery that Clint Eastwood could appreciate.

Johnson might not be on top of his game as he was a year ago, when he was coming off a runner-up finish at Riviera. His season began with a couple of top 10s, including an outside chance to win at Torrey Pines.

He made more news for his relationship with LPGA Tour player Natalie Gulbis that surfaced at Kapalua, whatever that relationship was.

Even so, he gets most of his attention on the course.

"We've never had an athlete like that play this tour," Paul Goydos said. "He's the best athlete that I can think of who's playing out here. It's ridiculous to watch this guy work out. He's a tremendous talent who can do things that very few people have ever been able to do."

Johnson nearly had a chance to win as a rookie until he chopped up the 14th hole. He followed that with two victories.

He is not sure why he has such an affinity for Pebble Beach. He just does.

"I'm very comfortable out here," he said. "I think I've got this course figured out pretty well. I tend to play it pretty well. Confidence is huge, especially playing golf. If you're confident you're going to play well on the golf course, most of the time you do."

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

San Jose Sharks fans may have just witnessed the end of an era

Melodrama demands that San Jose’s exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs be portrayed as the very likely end of the Joe Thornton/Patrick Marleau Era.

It probably won’t work that way, and probably shouldn't as will be explained further down your reading, but when you get shoved out of the postseason in your own building, melancholy is the order of the day. Even if the melancholy isn’t for any player in particular, but for an entire era.

Nobody will blame Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinal on bad luck (although Joe Pavelski going crossbar/post on the final power play of their season was close enough to it), or unjust officiating, or even lousy ice (though that was a fairly clear by-product for those who like their hockey a little less sticky). Edmonton took advantage of two critical Sharks errors 56 seconds apart in the second period, Oiler goaltender Cam Talbot cheated the gods multiple times when the Sharks weren’t vomiting up chances on their own, and young legs joined up with growing know-how to make this a just outcome.

But for Thornton and Marleau, a quick round of 30-on-1 interviews asking them if they thought their days in Finville Heights had finally come to an end were their mutual introduction to yet another unfulfilling offseason.

And a team whose core is among the league’s oldest was just exposed for that very flaw by a team that, in head coach Todd McLellan’s words, “Grew up, learned how to get into the playoffs, how to get a lead, how to play with it, and how to deal with a desperate team at the end of a game. Now we’ll see what they have to learn next.”

That learning will comes against the Anaheim Ducks, who are 15-0-3 in their last 18 games, including four straight against the Calgary Flames.

As for the rest of it, Edmonton earned its advancement without a big series, or even a single big game, from Connor McDavid. Rather, their difference makers were Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (whose work with Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic against the Marleau-Thornton-Pavelski line was the defining matchup) Leon Draisaitl (after a rocky start), Oskar Klefbom (their best defenseman), Zack Kassian (who made the most of his 15 minutes of fame), and Drake Caggiula (whose promotion to the McDavid line at the expense of Patrick Maroon helped wake up Draisaitl).

Plus, McLellan finally got to deliver a rebuttal for his firing by the Sharks two years ago. He didn’t, of course, at least not where anyone could hear it, but the exploding fumigant of the 2015 season never sat right with him as the one who paid the full retail price. Now, with this result, he can let the NHL’s Stanley Cup media guide do the talking for him.

That, and having the team of the future, while San Jose is trying to sort out its past. This is a closing window, one which stayed open a very long time and actually pried itself back open a year ago for the run that took them to the Cup final, but it is now clear that they play at a pace the modern game has outrun. Thornton is still hugely important (he remained an impact player despite the leg injury that cost him Games 1 and 2), and there are no clear young replacements for the central group.

This is why all the melodramatic speculations about Thornton and Marleau in particular and perhaps the entire era ignore one central truth – there are not nearly enough replacements for a reboot, or even a course correction. They may be stuck as what they are – a group whose veterans are still their best players, playing a game that younger and faster players are likely to do better. The Pacific Division, being easily the thinnest of the four, may allow one more year of status quo, but while the day of reckoning has not yet arrived, the method is now clear.

And Edmonton, young, impetuous, sprightly and McLellanized Edmonton, has been the instrument of San Jose’s education.

Steph Curry keeps game ball for Steve Kerr after he misses Game 3

Steph Curry keeps game ball for Steve Kerr after he misses Game 3

While head coach Steve Kerr was unable to make Saturday's Game 3 due to an illness, the Warriors went out and took a 3-0 series lead over the Blazers. 

After the game, Steph Curry dedicated the win to Kerr by keeping the game ball for him. 

"Our coach is going through a lot right now physically and he told us this morning this is a situation where we need to rally and go out and win a game for him, but we felt like that," Curry said after the Warriors' 119-113 win. "The way that game had gone on we had to fight and do it for him. 

"The way that he said it was we had to win one for The Gipper, so shout out to coach Kerr." 

Curry led the Warriors with 34 points in Saturday's win.