Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

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Tiger Woods set to reunite with ex-caddie

From Comcast SportsNet
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Tiger Woods on the tee wearing an American flag instead of a swoosh. Steve Williams right there with him, standing guard over a bag. It might look like any of the previous 44 times they were together in a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. Far from it. The feature match in the opening session Thursday at Royal Melbourne took on qualities of a sideshow when captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman allowed Woods to be placed opposite his jilted caddie in the Presidents Cup. "I think it's great for the tournament," Norman said. "It needed to be done." The most compelling matches of any cup competition usually don't happen until Sunday singles. And they're usually about two players with clubs in their hands, not a guy who is carrying the bag. On paper, the sixth and final foursomes match will be Woods and Steve Stricker, a tandem that went undefeated two years ago, against K.J. Choi and Adam Scott, the popular Australian who hired Williams after he was fired by Woods this summer. The firing alone is not enough to make a Woods-Williams reunion the least bit interesting. Caddies get fired all the time, even those who have been at the side of a player who won 72 times and 13 majors in their 12 years together. It's the soap opera that led to so much speculation until the pairings were announced Wednesday. They disputed publicly whether the firing was done over the phone or face-to-face. Williams gave one of more incredible TV interviews after Scott won the Bridgestone Invitational, calling it "the best win of my life." And then came the Shanghai surprise. Williams was getting roasted at a caddies award dinner two weeks ago when he was asked about his TV interview at Firestone. "My aim was to shove it up that black a------." Amid accusations of racism, Williams apologized. Scott said that was enough for him not to discipline his caddie, and so did golf executives. Woods accepted the apology last week, and bailed out his old caddie by saying Williams was not a racist. He said they ran into each other in the gym in Sydney and shook hands. But it remained such a topic that both captains felt it was best to get it out of the way. Couples and Norman said the pairing was not planned, though that rang hollow. In the Presidents Cup, captains take turns filling out the lineup for every match, so both captains had ample opportunity to make sure Woods was not in the same match as Scott. The last chance fell to Couples. Norman put K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang in the fifth match. Couples inserted Hunter Mahan and David Toms. That left only one team available for the sixth match, and U.S. assistant captain Jay Haas broke up the room when he said, "Who's left?" At the opening ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Couples said of the opening session, "You're going to see six great matches." Yet it was the one match that grabbed everyone's attention. Williams has taken such a public beating since Shanghai that he likely will think of nothing but wind direction, yardage, hole location and helping Scott pick the right club. Woods doesn't like to bring much attention to anything but his golf, either. Any fireworks would be a surprise, and everyone involved -- Woods, Williams and even Scott -- are ready to move on. "I'm sure Freddie and I -- everybody -- we want to put this behind us," Norman said. "It's a dead issue as far as we're concerned. There's no animosity between any of the players. I know it's good fodder. People like to talk about it in the media. But from our perspective, it's dead and gone. And we would like to keep that way going forward." Even so, it became a talking point once the pairings were announced. "That's going to be interesting, isn't it?" Robert Allenby said. "I think there will be a lot of media out there." "You can kind of see it coming, with what's been going on recently," Nick Watney said. "I think it's great. I think it will definitely add some drama to the matches, and I know that they will both be ready. So it should be a good match." Woods might have other things to worry about, anyway. He now has gone two full years without a win anywhere in the world, though he comes to Royal Melbourne having finished alone in third at the Australian Open -- his best finish against a full field since he last won down the street at Kingston Heath. This is his first cup when he had to rely on a captain's pick. In the days leading up to the matches, no one looked at him that way. He's still Tiger Woods. "Pre-tournament fashion, Tiger never really shows a lot of stress, whether it be as an individual or whether as a teammate," Jim Furyk said. "It's not that he looks nonchalant, but he never looks flustered. Even he's playing poorly, he doesn't look flustered." In the middle of this mess is Scott, who has said that it's up to Woods and Williams to sort out their friendship, or lack of one. Scott grew up in Queensland, though his primary home is now Switzerland. How fitting. Norman said he at least talked to Scott ahead of time, along with his two assistants. And while the Shark said this was not premeditated, it sure sounded as though he had a master plan. "If we had to defuse anything and just get this thing over and done with, wouldn't you rather have it sooner than later?" Norman said. "Because I personally wouldn't have wanted to be sitting down at the singles and everybody is playing a really tight match and it comes down to the last group or the second to last group, and all of this pressure is coming on because it's the first time the two met." "Adam and Tiger are good friends," Norman said. "It's got nothing to do with Adam and Tiger, and at the end of the day, the atmosphere that will exist walking to the first tee will be exactly the same if none of this took place in the past week."

Knicks, Phil Jackson part ways

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AP

Knicks, Phil Jackson part ways

NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson is out as New York Knicks president after he oversaw one of the worst eras in team history and feuded with star Carmelo Anthony.

Days after Jackson reiterated his desire to trade Anthony and said he would listen to deals for Kristaps Porzingis, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan reversed course and cut ties with Jackson on Wednesday.

"After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction," Dolan said in a statement. "Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched."

But his work as a first-time executive was awful. The winner of an NBA-record 11 championships as coach, Jackson couldn't engineer one playoff berth while running the Knicks. The team was 80-166 in his three full seasons, including a franchise-worst 17-65 in 2014-15. His departure was quickly welcomed by Knicks fans such as film director Spike Lee, who posted a picture of himself on Instagram in a celebratory pose after it was first reported by The Vertical.

The move comes less than a week after Jackson led the Knicks through the NBA draft and on the eve of free agency that opens Saturday. Dolan said general manager Steve Mills would run the day-to-day business of the team in the short term.

Jackson was a Hall of Fame coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, delivering titles with some of the game's biggest stars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He also played for the Knicks when they won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

He was welcomed back to the organization to huge fanfare in March 2014, but it soon became clear the transition would be a poor one. His first coaching hire, Derek Fisher, lasted just 1½ seasons, and Jackson's trades and free agency moves also failed to improve the club.

"I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren't able to do that," Jackson said. "New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best - today and always."

The turbulence he created off the court may have led to his departure more than the Knicks' record on it.

Jackson wanted to trade Anthony, the All-Star forward who has two years left on the five-year, $124 million deal that Jackson gave him shortly after taking the job. Anthony has a no-trade clause and has said he wants to stay in New York, and the stalemate that hung over the team for much of last season threatened to linger throughout the summer.

Then he said before the draft that he was listening to offers for Porzingis, the 21-year-old forward from Latvia whom Jackson drafted with the No. 4 pick in 2015 in one of his few successful moves.

Jackson believed the Knicks would compete for a playoff berth last season after he traded for Derrick Rose, signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee and hired Jeff Hornacek to coach. But after a solid start, they quickly spiraled toward their familiar position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and finished 31-51.

Despite all that, Dolan said during an ESPN Radio interview in February that he would allow Jackson to finish his contract, and the sides picked up the mutual two-year option on Jackson's contract.

But the instability involving Anthony and Porzingis threatened to damage the team's ability to lure free agents and may have spurred Dolan's decision. Though he had been intent on keeping Jackson, the dysfunction within the franchise showed no sign of ending even as Jackson, 71, largely stayed out of sight.

He never spoke to the media last season after vowing openness upon taking the job and refused to provide Anthony with the communication he sought.

"It's like a total train wreck ," tennis great and Knicks fan John McEnroe told The Associated Press last week.

"I mean, he's known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he's not talking to anybody," McEnroe said of Jackson. "So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails."

There was also incessant debate about Jackson's insistence that the team employ the triangle offense, which potential incoming players were schooled on during the run-up to last week's NBA draft. The Knicks wound up taking 18-year-old French point guard Frank Ntilikina, who spoke highly of the triangle and Jackson's belief in the scheme.

"I think I can definitely fit with this system," Ntilikina said on draft night.

Not even a week later, the triangle is probably gone, and the Knicks will start anew.

Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, will be a free agent. Noah - whom Jackson gave a puzzling four-year, $72 million contract last summer - will start the season by finishing out a 20-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first season in New York, shooting just 44 percent from the foul line.

Span clinches win for Giants and Gearrin, who had walk-off dreams of his own

Span clinches win for Giants and Gearrin, who had walk-off dreams of his own

SAN FRANCISCO — With the winning run on second and a bat in his hands, Cory Gearrin allowed himself to dream. He was a second baseman at Mercer University years ago and he entered the night with a 1.000 batting average in the big leagues. Why couldn’t this be his night on the mound and at the plate?

Gearrin stopped on the way to the plate and told Buster Posey that he was going to walk it off. He dug in against right-hander Chad Qualls and waited for the first sinker. He swung over the top of it, but he felt it was a quality hack. And then he missed the next sinker, and then the next. 

“I felt good going into that at-bat,” Gearrin said. “It was fun getting that opportunity. I’ve never faced a sinker like that. I felt like I missed it … by a lot.”

Gearrin can take solace in two facts. First, using his own sinker, he pitched three shutout innings, more than earning his keep, and he was a well-deserved winning pitcher in a 4-3 win over the Rockies that became official one minute after midnight.

Second, perhaps he gave the next hitter, Denard Span, a better view of an opposing pitcher’s repertoire. 

“Yeah ... he gave me a lot of information during that at-bat,” Span said as he laughed. 

Okay, so maybe Gearrin’s contributions were limited to the mound, but oh what a job he did against one of the best lineups in the National League. Span didn’t glean anything from Gearrin’s brief battle, but he didn’t need to. He spat on a changeup and then ripped a sinker into right, allowing Gorkys Hernandez to race home for a 14th-inning victory. 

Span, who is open about his distrust of birds, had spent nearly two hours standing under a circling flock of seagulls. Between pitches, he often dropped his hands onto his knees, looking more eager than anyone for the night to end. 

“Those birds were dropping stuff all around me,” he said. “I was like, you know what man, I don’t got time for this.”

The single gave the Giants back-to-back wins for the first time since May 27-28. It validated so much good work, from the five relievers who got the ball to Gearrin, to the Brandons who turned a snazzy double play in the 11th, to Buster Posey, who twice threw out runners at second in extra innings. Gearrin shouted out the defense in his post game media session. 

“It’s not news to us that we’ve got gold glovers all over the field,” he said. 

The Giants trailed by a pair after Matt Cain hung a curveball to Mark Reynolds, but they chipped away. The Rockies were the jumpier team in extra innings, but every rally was cut down by stellar defense and quality pitches. Gearrin threw 34 of them. 

The veteran right-hander had never before recorded more than six outs in a big league game. He got nine outs Tuesday, giving Bochy one extension after another as he battled to make it through a game shorthanded. With Conor Gillaspie headed to the DL, the Giants had just three position players on the bench. That meant Ty Blach was used as a pinch-runner. Jeff Samardzija pinch-hit in the 11th. Bochy thought of using Matt Moore in the 14th when the pitcher’s spot came up. Hunter Strickland was warming up to pitch the 15th, but …

“I could have hit Moore — I probably should have,” Bochy said, smiling. “But Cory is a pretty good athlete and had a pretty good average going into that at-bat. The numbers swayed me.”

Gearrin got his first career at-bat last season and singled. He has not even taken batting practice since that day, but he was fired up when given the opportunity. He was still so fired up after the Giants chased Span into the outfield that he didn’t mind the fact that his shiny 1.000 batting average has been cut in half. 

“I got to use that line for a year,” he said. “But I’ll gladly sacrifice the 1.000 average for a walk-off win.”