April 15
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 15
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it's april 15 and the a.l. east is now a 4-team race

To earn a wild card spot in the American League you'll have to win 88 games, give or take a victory or two.

Using the last three years as a (small) sample size, that's about what it takes every year. 88, 89 or 90 wins gets you one of the two wild card spots.

If we go with 88 wins, that means a team has to finish 14 games above .500 to make the post-season.

88-74 gets you a playoff spot.

The Toronto Blue Jays are currently 1-9, coasting in the direction of 1-11 when the Orioles finish sweeping them in a 4-game series.

Their season is just about over -- and we haven't even sent in our tax returns yet here in the States.

Jonathan Schoop's second home run in three games helped the Birds get past the Blue Jays last night, 6-4, and drop Toronto to 1-9 to start the season.

In fact, it's highly unlikely they can recover from this start, given that they'd have play their final 152 games in 22 under par to finish at 88-74. Think about it like that: To get to 88-74, Toronto now has to go 87-65 the rest of the season. Not happening.

Did Edwin Encarnacion really mean that much to the Blue Jays? They lost Michael Saunders, too, who was a decent stick at the plate, but I can't believe those two guys meant so much to a club that last year made it to the post-season.

Their bullpen is shoddy, and that's putting it kindly.

But not much has changed from their 2016 squad, plus they essentially swapped Encarnacion for Kendrys Morales. Morales isn't a stiff.

I'm all in favor of the Blue Jays stinking it up, of course. I realize there might come a time one of these days when the Orioles take a dive and we get the needle from opposing fans, but if you could pick a team in the league to have one of those awful, forgettable, once every two decades disaster of a season, you'd choose the Blue Jays.

They're not quite as easy to dislike as the Philadelphia Flyers, but they're cut from the same cloth.

And it sure looks like they're on their way to a 70 win season in Toronto.

Wouldn't that be a shame?

Friday night's 6-4 win looked a lot like a 2016 regular-season victory for the Birds. Home runs flew out of Rogers Centre like hit albums flew off the shelf for RUSH in their heyday. Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Seth Smith all went deep for the Birds, who are now 7-2 on the campaign.

Last night's game was such a laugher that Wade Miley was able to go six innings and not walk a single batter. He dished out seven free passes in his season debut last Sunday vs. the Yankees. The Blue Jays couldn't coax one walk out of him last night.

For the second straight game, former Oriole Steve Pearce had the chance to be a hero and, predictably, came up empty. It happened twice for Pearce in the final three innings, in fact. In the bottom of the seventh with the O's up, 5-3, Pearce popped out to Manny Machado with runners on first and second and two outs. In the bottom of the 9th, having already nicked Zach Britton for a run to cut Baltimore's lead to 6-4, Toronto had runners at first and second with two outs, but Pearce struck out to end the game.

Zach Britton gave up a run? Is that what you're wondering?

Yep, he sure did.

For the second straight night, the Birds closer looked human, this time allowing three hits and a run against the Blue Jays. Thursday night he didn't surrender any runs, but he got everyone's heart beating a lot faster in Toronto's final at-bat, putting the tying run at third and the winning run at second with just one out before retiring Kevin Pillar and Pearce to seal the victory.

At some point, obviously, Britton's going to blow a save this season. It will cause a night of social media unrest in Baltimore when he does, but it's bound to happen. In all honesty, he hasn't looked A+ sharp thus far in 2016, but he didn't throw much in spring training, remember.

Speaking of not looking sharp, Manny Machado is currently hitting a robust .152 to start the campaign. I'm not worried about #13 -- just pointing out that 10 games into the season, he's hitting 48 points beneath the Mendoza Line.

That said, Machado's .152 average is still 152 points higher than that of Caleb Joseph, who got the spot-start last night in Toronto and promptly went 0-for-4 in the win. Joseph didn't have an RBI all of last season. Maybe he'll follow up that remarkable stat by not recording a base hit this season.

But while Machado and Joseph -- and Mark Trumbo, hitting .200 as well -- are ice cold, Jonathan Schoop is heating up quickly. He produced his third straight multi-hit game last night and clobbered his second home run in three games. That's how it works in baseball. Someone hits .200 for ten games, then they hit .385 for the next ten. It was only a matter of time for Schoop, the same way it's just a matter of time before Machado and Trumbo heat up.

If there's ever going to be a day were the Blue Jays get the better of the Birds, today figures to be that occasion. The Orioles are sending someone named Alec Ashur to the mound for the 1:07 pm start, while Toronto counters with Marco Estrada. It's Dylan Bundy vs. J.A. Happ in Sunday's series finale. If the Blue Jays hope to win one of these four games, today's their best chance.

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a walk in the park

One of the downsides of service-industry jobs like bartending, waitressing, or, as DF pointed out yesterday, caddying, is that sometimes it’s necessary to suffer a low-grade class of people who use the services. About that ilk, the less said the better, although I have always been mildly curious about why, after a lifetime of earning spit on their steaks and boogers in their drinks, they didn’t sign up for some sort of personality-improvement courses.

Caddying is a great way to supplement an income and provides as well the benefits of fresh air and exercise. If you’re an old man of 50 who has taken up the game of golf, has fallen in love with it, and who earnestly wants to improve, caddying for the right players is an excellent way to begin to learn the mental processes of those who shoot par and birdie golf.

Early on in our friendship I asked Drew for the privilege of carrying his bag in an amateur tournament in Baltimore. My memory is fading, but I think it was a Publinx, and I think it was around 2000 or 2001. I know that it was at Forest Park. While most of my recollection of the event is hazy, two things happened in it that were unforgettable, and those are the subjects of this piece.

Amateur players using caddies in Baltimore events was unusual but not unheard of. I remember carrying for a friend in a round where another player in our group also had a caddy, one who was instantly recognizable. We caddies talked amiably during the round when our duties permitted. He told me his name was John and that he'd played some football many years ago. I asked with a straight face if he happened to know Artie Donovan, and John replied with an equally straight face that he'd met him a few times. When I asked about his player, he told me proudly that it was his son, Chad Unitas.

Caddying is an odd job. Its main functions are to carry the bag, clean the clubs, and tend the flag. Show up — keep up — shut up. Anything else you can do to assist your player is icing on the cake.

An aerial view of the par-3 13th hole (the lower of the two pictured) at Forest Park and Hillsdale Street.

Drew manifests two outward moods during rounds – chatty and silent. Neither mood is an indicator of whether he's playing great, well, OK, badly, or very badly. Sometimes he'll go two or three holes without saying a word; other times he only shuts up when he begins his concentration for the next shot.

The first time he asked for a read on a putt, I was initially reluctant to give it. I feared that if it were different than his, it would introduce doubt into his stroke. But then, I reasoned, he of course would be aware of that possibility, and take it into account. So, from then on, in the rare instances when he asked for reads, I told him exactly what I thought.

A brief digression here — DF has extraordinarily high standards for his putting. [So high, in fact, they are ridiculous.] He believes he should make every putt. I explained, repeatedly, that Dave Pelz, who knows everything there is to know about putting, suggests that even a machine that has almost no mechanical fluctuation will miss 50% of seven-foot straight putts it hits on a flat green. I might as well have been talking to a tree. In his desperate pursuit of that impossible perfection, Drew once acquired a putter that was about nine feet long and weighed 37 pounds. I think it was made of an alloy of uranium and lead. That was fun to drag around, especially on an afternoon at an event at Bulle Rock where the temperature was 101 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in sight. And, I read on the Internet recently that he has begun to putt left-handed! — As Chirkinian says in Tin Cup, "Somebody tackle this guy . . . ."

Alright, back to the Publinx at Forest Park. Drew's threesome is backed up on a par-three tee. When it's our turn, Drew hits a six-iron that draws dead on the flag. The ball lands and stops 10 feet directly below the hole. On the green, he asks for my read.

If you're dying it in the hole, it breaks six inches left," I say.

"Why do you think that?" he asks.

I don't know if this is a teaching moment or if he really wants to know what I think. "The slope is to the left, the grain is left, there's water left, the sun is left, west is left, and it . . . it just looks left," I say.

"Hee hee hee," he snickers in a low voice. "Watch this."

He lines up aiming left of the hole and strokes the ball left of the hole. My instant reaction was that the putt will go even more left and miss by two feet. I wonder if he's gone loco. As the ball nears the hole, instead of moving to the left, as physics and good sense suggest it should, it veers right and disappears into the hole. Drew flips me the putter and struts off to the next tee.

When I catch up to him on the tee, he pulls out his scorecard. "I know Bobby had a three on that last hole," he says as he marks it down. "Remind me, what did I have there, Geo?" he asks.

I mutter an obscenity and mosey off for a drink of water.

As we walk to his drive in the fairway, Drew's admiration of himself has subsided enough for him to explain.

"This only works when there are players in the field who are good putters," he begins.

"When you can, watch the group ahead of you when they're on the greens. See if their putts are short, or long, or left or right. Generally, they'll see the same things in putts that you do. When they miss, you'll know which way to adjust your reads."

"Now, the really important thing to notice is when putts break the exact opposite way players think they will," he continued. "When that happens, their right hands will swing up and then indicate which way the putts actually broke."

"On the last hole, Al [a great putter] had the same putt I did," Drew explained. "He read it to break left – like you did – and when it went right, his arm swung up and motioned right. It's like he was sending me a signal. — Remind me to thank him for that, please."

Drew and the two members in his threesome were the final group. They had put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field, and it was likely the winner would be one of the three.

They were teeing off on the long downhill par-three 13th hole that has Hillsdale Street behind the green. Hillsdale Street is out-of-bounds. One player, let's call him Bobby, pulled a low screamer left off the tee. The ball never got higher than 20 feet, waved at the green as it sailed by, then disappeared from our view. Bobby hit a provisional and four of us set off to search for the ball.

There was little question that the ball had either landed in or sailed over the road, and that it was out of bounds. We searched mostly on the far side of the road. Soon Bobby conceded the ball was lost and prepared to hit his provisional, which lay in the fairway and had predictably come up a few yards short of the green.

Drew and I were standing left of the green. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw part of a golf ball under a crushed soda cup in the rough. I quietly snapped my fingers to get Drew's attention, and when he glanced my way I pointed at the ball. Drew saw it, and in the same instant that he saw it, he called out, "Bobby!"

Bobby had actually started his backswing when Drew called out to him. Startled, he backed off his shot and glared. We just pointed to what might be his ball. When he carefully lifted the cup, his mark on the ball was clearly visible, as was a patch of road rash. The ball must have hit the far curb, or perhaps a tree, and bounced back into play. Had Drew waited even half a second, whose ball was under the cup would have been irrelevant, because Bobby's provisional would have been in play when he struck it for his fourth shot.

Alerting Bobby to the location of his original tee-shot changed his score, potentially, from five or six to three [or two, had he chipped in]. It was a huge moment in the golf tournament.

All in the threesome made par on the hole, and all were tied for the lead. As Drew and I walked across Hillsdale Street to the next tee, Drew said, "Rub of the green, Geo, rub of the green." I was so proud of my player that I had a tear in my eye.

This contribution was provided to #DMD by our friend George McDowell.

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another mount rushmore task is upon us

Over the last two weeks, I published my four "Mount Rushmore" of active coaches in sports. They were: Bill Belichick, Joe Maddon, Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich.

Independent of one another earlier this week, two #DMD readers reached out to me with two additional Mount Rushmore ideas. Art would like to see which four rock-n-roll singers I'd have on my Mount Rushmore and Jerry would like to see the four all-time Baltimore Blast players who would make up a Blast Mount Rushmore.

I'm game.

Since the Blast just finished up another successful championship series, I'll start with them coming up this week. One thing, though, in fairness. The Blast list is going to have to include players (or a player, at least) who are no longer with us. Stan Stamenkovic passed away in 1996, but he absolutely must be on any list of great players or "Mount Rushmore" type efforts.

It would be a lot easier to include deceased rock-n-roll singers on my Mount Rushmore as well, but we can get the job done with those who are still living. For the Blast, though, Stamenkovic simply must be on the list.

So, coming up this week, I'll give you the top four players -- all-time -- on the Blast's "Mount Rushmore". And then over the next week or so, I'll tackle the singers.

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April 14
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 14
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at least toronto still has geddy lee

Well, Thursday wasn't a particularly great night to be a sports fan in Toronto.

The Blue Jays and Maple Leafs both went down, courtesy of teams in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

And both losses came in odd ways, as the top half of the Orioles' lineup went 0-fer and the Capitals got an overtime game-winner from an unlikely source.

The Birds won 2-1 last night to improve to 6-2 on the year, while the Blue Jays fell to 1-8. Seasons aren't won or lost in the first nine games of the campaign, but the Blue Jays are in serious danger of producing one of those starts that seals their fate before Cinco de Mayo -- and I know here in Baltimore we'd all be so sorry to see that happen to Jose Bautista and John Gibbons.

Chris Davis picked up baseball's Golden Sombrero on Thursday night (four strikeouts in a game) but the Birds still pulled out a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays.

Ready for this bizarre stat from Thursday night? The top five hitters in Baltimore's starting lineup -- Gentry, Jones, Machado, Trumbo and Davis -- went a combined 0-for-19 on the night, with just one of those five reaching base (a Machado walk).

That Craig Gentry didn't get a hit isn't shocking. He might not record a base hit until mid-May the way it looks right now.

But the Orioles aren't going to win many games this season when Jones, Machado, Trumbo and Davis go 0-fer at the plate. Davis, in fact, whiffed four times on Thursday, which also isn't a complete surprise since he strikes out more times in a season than you make right turns on a red in a year.

Zach Britton's consecutive-saves streak looked like it was going to be snapped by the Blue Jays in the bottom of the 9th, as Toronto had runners on second and third with just one out, but Britton got Kevin Pillar to ground out and former Oriole Steve Pearce flew out to Adam Jones to end the game and give Baltimore the win.

Speaking of saves, even though he won't be officially credited with one, big props to catcher Welington Castillo last night, as he stopped several Britton pitches in the dirt in the bottom of the 9th to keep the O's ahead. One that did escape Castillo -- a wild pitch from Britton -- moved runners over to 2nd and 3rd in that inning, but the veteran catcher came up big later on in the inning to preserve Britton's save streak.

Kevin Gausman earned his first victory of the season, although it's fair to note the O's are 3-0 in games he starts in 2017. Gausman wasn't overpowering last night, but he was plenty good enough to shut down Toronto's struggling lineup on five hits in six innings of work, allowing just one earned run along the way.

At some point soon, once Joey Rickard's "injury" heals and he's ready to return, Buck Showalter and the O's are going to have to make a decision on Craig Gentry. He might be a resourceful player to have around to fill-in on a Sunday afternoon or a get-away game on a long road trip, but having him play virtually every night against left handed starters is like having you and I in the lineup. He's probably Buck's kind of player -- hard worker, good guy, loves the game -- but it's an 8-man batting order when his name is on the roster card.

The Caps celebrate with Tom Wilson, who scored at 5:15 of overtime on Thursday night to propel the hosts to a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs.

The other Toronto team fell in overtime on Thursday, as the visiting Maple Leafs put a scare into the Capitals before Barry Trotz's team pulled out a 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center in Game 1 of their playoff series.

Tom Wilson scored the game-winner for D.C. at 5:15 of overtime to revive the Caps, who trailed 2-0 midway through the first period before rallying to tie the game on two tallies from Justin Williams.

Goaltender Frederik Andersen was the story of the night, as the Toronto goaltender made several spectacular saves in the third period and early in sudden death before Wilson's hard wrist shot from a sharp angle somehow got past him.

That's usually how it works, right? The goalie makes a dozen saves that would make Ken Dryden say, "Boy, that guy's really good", then he gives up a half-a-stinker in overtime to wind up on the losing end of things. Wilson's shot wasn't nearly as dangerous as three or four others that Andersen saved earlier in the sudden death period, but it found the back of the net.

The good news for the Caps? They squeaked out a Game 1 win.

More good news? They did it with a no-show from Alex Ovechkin, who managed just one shot on goal in the contest.

Bad news? Ovechkin wasn't anywhere to be found.

Toronto is playing with house money in this series, and their play on Thursday looked precisely like a team that was just happy to be there. They skated with more energy than the Caps, scrapped harder for loose pucks, and generally looked like they were an even match-up for Washington, despite the Caps' 23-point edge during the regular season.

Losing that one, though, might just send the Maple Leafs reeling. They produced their best effort -- or close to it -- and it still wasn't good enough. Sure, the Capitals are well known for perfecting the playoff "dive", but even Washington's "B effort" on Thursday provided them with a victory.

And to have Tom Wilson beat you? That's like having the aforementioned Craig Gentry homer off your closer with one out in the 9th to give the Orioles an improbable win.

I doubt the folks in Toronto enjoyed a peaceful night of sleep on Thursday evening.

Their baseball team can't beat anyone and their hockey team played as well as they could and still lost.

At least they can still lay claim to Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of RUSH. No matter what happens in sports, Toronto can always brag about being the stomping grounds for one of the great bands in the history of music.

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"maybe it's because you can't putt..."

David Rosenfeld's excellent piece on Thursday and his memory of a trip to Bandon Dunes where he used a caddie for the first time triggered some great memories of my own, including a couple of funny, fascinating stories from my two years caddying at Caves Valley back in the mid 2000's.

I was on the shelf with an elbow injury at the time and thought looping at Caves would be a good way to "stay in the game", so I would carry two bags two or three days a week, make some extra money, and enjoy the atmosphere at one of the country's top private clubs.

Like most caddies out there, I have two or three truly memorable stories that would be great scenes in a caddie-centric movie or screen play.

There was one time when a guy I was looping for insisted on hitting a 7-iron at the 4th hole, which I think we were playing from about 190 yards out.

"I can hit this 190 if I pure it," he said, as I cleaned off his 4-iron and tried handing it to him.

"I think it's probably not a seven," I whispered. "There's a little wind up there..."

In caddy parlance, "There's a little wind up there" is also at times a way of saying, "Dude, you can't hit that club that far."

Despite my recommendation, said player pulled the 7-iron out of his bag.

"Can you wipe down that grip?" he asked.

"Yeah, boy," I thought to myself, "wiping down that grip is what's going to be the difference in you hitting this 190 (a dream) and hitting it 160 (reality)."

His shot would have been perfect if the green at #4 had it been positioned 155 yards away right in the middle of big pond that borders the front of the putting surface.

When it splashed some 35 yards short, he handed me the club and said, "There's more wind up there than we think..."

"That's probably why I wanted you to hit 4-iron." I didn't say it, of course. But everyone else in the group was thinking it.

I once had two guys from Montreal who showed up for two days of golf with two other Canadian business partners.

They were all easy to like, right up until one of the guys I was looping for three-putted the 6th hole, which I always found to be one of the course's more perplexing greens.

"You told me that was a right edge putt," Mr. Montreal said. "It was more like a ball or two on the outside of the hole."

I took my medicine well, knowing without question he hadn't hit the ball hard enough on the 15-footer and when it dove low of the hole, he needed someone or something to blame.

At the next hole, the par-5 7th, he hit a poor drive and followed that up with a decent wood of some kind that left him with 200 yards to the hole for his third.

"I need to get this on the green and make birdie," he announced.

"Let's do it," I said, knowing full good and well he couldn't make birdie from where he was stationed. "All we need to do is get this ball on the green and we can make the putt."

His snap hook and chunked pitch left him just short of the green in four shots. "What's he lie?" he asked me, pointing to one of the others in the group that he was playing against.

"I don't know, Sir," I said. "I was busy getting (his playing partner) set for his shot into the green."

"It would help us if you knew what those guys were doing, too," he said as he prepared for his par chip.

"Sure thing," I mumbled to myself as he one-hopped the ball off the green. "I'll pay attention to you and your 8 shots per-hole, plus your playing partner, who has already moved the ball three times in the rough because 'this place isn't in great shape' and, oh, right, I'll also watch the other two guys in the group to see what they're scoring on the hole." Those are the things you think -- and whisper to yourself -- but can't say out loud when you're caddying.

"These greens are really firm," my man said as he thumped his putter on the ground to try and produce some sort of sound that would indicate it was the putting surface -- and not his poorly struck chip -- that caused the ball to careen over the back of the green moments earlier.

"Let's just make this putt," I said to him, having no idea if his impending triple bogey eight would be good enough for a win or a half on the hole.

"What are you putting for?" he asked one of the two guys he was playing against. "This is for, seven," came the reply.

"Is it for six or seven?" the ball-mover-guy asked, obviously forgetting for a moment that his scorecard and the actual number of shots he had taken were inaccurate on at least four of the first six holes we had played."

"It's for six," said the player in mid-stroke. When it came up short, he confirmed that he had, in fact, made a seven, although there was little doubt he probably made an eight -- at least.

"So, I need this one to tie the hole," my guy announced, having left his chip for six considerably shy of the hole. The putt was about 10 feet, although I thought for sure it was more like 12 feet when he first went to mark his ball.

"I see left edge here," he said as he surveyed the putt. "No, it's more like a cup to the right," I stated.

He backed off. Plumb-bobbed again. Looked at me, and said, "Are you sure? I see this just diving in from the left."

"It's a cup out to the right," I confirmed.

He shook his head in bewilderment, hit it left edge, and the ball quickly tailed off even further left, missing the hole and rolling 30 inches past the cup.

"Well, that didn't do what either of us thought it would do," he said as he picked up his ball with the back of his putter in mid-stride.

As we walked to the 8th tee, he said, "We need to tighten up on those reads a little bit. We've lost two holes now because we didn't get the read right."

Again, that voice in my head spewed great golf wisdom that I wasn't allowed to share with anyone. "No, you dope, you've lost two holes because you don't know what you're doing. Maybe it's because you can't putt."

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this weekend in
english soccer

Contributed by #DMD's English Premier League Reporter

With all five teams at the top of the table taking maximum points last weekend, the fight for the top spot in the league and the final two Champions League places will remain in full swing as we enter Matchday 33 of the English Premier League, with Tottenham keeping the pressure on Chelsea for the top spot and a three-way fight for two places to round out the top four between an injury ravaged Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United. Catch all of the action this Holiday weekend live on the NBC family of networks or online at NBC Live Extra and the NBC mobile app.

Saturday, April 15 (all times eastern)

12:30pm - Manchester City @ Southampton – St. Mary’s Stadium, NBC

Manchester City bounced back from their defeat to Chelsea in the mid-week to pick up a well-deserved three points when they got past the inform Hull City 3-1 to hold on to fourth place and their four-point cushion over cross town rivals Manchester United for the final spot in next seasons Champions League. With a showdown against United on the horizon, they will hope to increase that advantage when they travel to the St. Mary’s Stadium for a meeting with Southampton, whose 1-0 victory over West Brom gave the Saints three points for the fourth time in their last six league games (L1 D1).

Despite enduring an extreme amount of turnover from year to year, both within the squad and in the managerial spot, Southampton look set to make it four years in a row with a finish in the top half of the table to once again showcase the depth of their talent throughout one of the most respected academies in Europe. The Saints have failed to walk away with points in just one of the last of their last four meetings at the St. Mary’s Stadium (W2 D1) with Manchester City and will hope to make it five to set up the potential for a massive Manchester Derby next week with a spot in the top four on the line.

Sunday, April 16 (all times eastern)

11am – Chelsea @ Manchester United – Old Trafford, NBC Sports Network

Jose Mourinho and Chelsea need a win on Sunday when they face Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Already a goal to the good, Manchester United had little trouble getting past Sunderland after they were reduced to ten men just before the halftime whistle, shipping two more goals past the Black Cats in the second half and cruising to a 3-0 victory. They will welcome manager Jose Mourinho’s former side to Old Trafford for a massive Holiday showdown, with the champions-elect needing at least fifteen points from their final seven matches of the season to seal the silverware after they took a two goal first half lead over Bournemouth before putting the game to bed mid-way through the second half in a 3-1 victory.

With the matchup on Easter Sunday the final time that Chelsea will face a team in the top six of the table over the final six weeks of the season, which includes home games against the bottom two teams in the table Sunderland and Middlesbrough, the Blues could take a major step towards the title if they are able to navigate the always difficult trip to Old Trafford against a United side they have not lost to in their last twelve meetings across all competitions (W7 D5) and where they have not lost, but managed to only split the points, in four of their last five league visits to the Theater of Dreams.

Monday, April 17 (all times eastern)

3pm – Arsenal @ Middlesbrough – Riverside Stadium, NBC Sports Network

The annual second half swoon that has become common place at Arsenal over the last several years reached a new low on Monday night when, looking uninterested and underprepared, they were soundly dispatched 3-0 by Crystal Palace to boost the Eagles survival hopes and leave the Gunners seven points adrift of the top four. They have a golden opportunity to regroup and reduce that gap in this week’s installment of Monday Night Football when they visit the Riverside Stadium and Middlesbrough, who remained six points from safety and second from the bottom following their 0-0 draw with Burnley.

The matchup could not have come at a better time for Arsenal and embattled manager Arsene Wenger, with the Gunners losers in only one of their last ten meetings with Boro (W3 D5) but, in a trend that is likely to give the home side a fighting chance to save their top-flight status heading down the seasons home stretch and cause some sleepless nights for the Frenchmen in the coming days, they have struggled in their trips to the Riverside Stadium, failing to find all three points in their last four visits (L2 D2) and losers of their last four trips in the league away from the Emirates Stadium.

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"the best 34 minutes of the week" returns

Settle in and check out the latest #DMD podcast below, with special guest Dean Johnson of Primary Residential Mortgage.

Dean, like most of you reading this, I assume, is a sports nut who also happens to know what he's talking about. We cover a lot of territory in this one, including Manny and the O's, the Masters, Terps basketball and some other stuff that I hope you'll find interesting.


April 13
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 13
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all you have to do is go 16-12

During the NHL's regular season, the Washington Capitals went 55-19-8, accumulating the most points -- 118 -- in the entire league.

The good news? They don't have to come anywhere close to duplicating that kind of stellar win percentage in the upcoming playoffs.

The bad news? The Capitals have never won the required 16 games in the post-season that earns a team the coveted Stanley Cup.

The pursuit begins tonight for Barry Trotz's team when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 at the Verizon Center. Toronto didn't get in until the final weekend of the regular season, which means they've been playing playoff-style hockey for the better part of two weeks now.

Is this finally the year the Capitals give Braden Holtby some offense in the post-season and win their first ever Stanley Cup?

Nothing is taken for granted in the NHL post-season and, most certainly, nothing is ever etched in stone for the Caps once April rolls around. They should dispose of Toronto quite easily, but when it comes to the Caps and the playoffs, anything can happen.

The odd thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs is this: To win the Cup, a team needs only to go 16-12 over the next two months. That's can play just above .500 hockey -- by winning each round 4-games-to-3 -- in the four playoff series' and be the champions of the hockey world.

The Caps are always facing post-season demons anytime they tee it up in April or May. There's always the issue of the franchise never having won the Stanley Cup. They've been to the Finals just once since joining the NHL in 1974 and they were quickly ousted by Detroit in four games back in 1998.

En route to a spot in the Finals this year, the Caps will most likely have to face at least one team that has given them post-season fits over the last decade. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who eliminated the Caps last year, are potential opponents again this spring if they get past Columbus, while the New York Rangers are also lurking should they win a couple of series' this month.

It's easy to look at recent form and say, "No problem, the Caps are way better than the Rangers" or "We held our own against Pittsburgh this year", but if there's one thing we've learned about the Capitals franchise, it's that prior performance almost never has anything to do with the way the team performs in the playoffs. Don't ask me why that is -- it just is.

There's not a Capitals fan alive who would honestly be completely stunned if they lost to the 8th seeded Maple Leafs in this upcoming playoff series.

Yes, the Capitals should win. Yes, they should win in four or five games. Yes, they might even blow out Toronto in a game or two.

Or they could lose in six games.

It's the Capitals. And the playoffs. Until they've won a game or a series, there's always potential heartache on the way. There are some teams who, for whatever reason, can't get out of their own way come post-season time. In the NFL, it's the Bengals. In Major League Baseball, for the last decade anyway, it's been the Dodgers. And in the NHL, it's the Washington Capitals. Perennial post-season losers, they are.

This year could be different though.

I guess every Chicago Cubs fan said that same thing in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's before finally giving up hope, but I do believe this spring could be different for the Capitals. Their own stellar regular season play aside, I don't see another team in the Eastern Conference that's strong enough all the way around to scare me. The Capitals can beat anyone in the East, that's for certain.

What scares me -- and any Caps fan -- is the team's history. It's in their DNA to lose in the playoffs. No one has ever figured out why the team implodes come playoff time, but they do.

But this spring might offer another result.

For the first time in quite a while, the Caps have three high-functioning offensive lines and a fourth line that should come in handy for mucking it up and giving Barry Trotz 12 minutes of quality ice time every night. If Washington stays healthy in the post-season and Trotz has the team's full lineup at his disposal, there aren't many teams who can handle the skill and pressure the Capitals provide on every shift.

It goes without saying that the Caps need high-quality hockey from the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov -- and we all know any or all three of those guys could disappear in the playoffs -- but they now have other players who can score goals and win games. T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky make up a pretty solid "second tier" of offensive players for Trotz and the Capitals to depend on this spring.

Defense and goaltending shouldn't be an issue. If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that the Capitals are going to be solid defensively.

But can they score enough goals to win?

And can they exorcise a few team-demons along the way as well?

Who knows? Maybe this is the year Pittsburgh loses to Columbus in the first round of the playoffs and the Caps get to avoid facing the Penguins. Maybe the Rangers lose early on and the Caps don't have to face Henrik Lundqvist in the playoffs.

I don't care how the Caps get to the Finals. I just want them there.

I've been blessed in my lifetime to see the teams I love win a title. I saw the Colts do it, I've seen the Orioles do it and I was there in New Orleans in 2013 when the Ravens did it.

I've never seen the Washington Capitals win a Stanley Cup.

And all they have to do, at a bare minimum, is go 16-12 over the next two months.

In the same breath, I say this about the Caps chances: "I think they can do it. I really do. But they probably won't."

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thursday sports with David Rosenfeld

DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.

random thoughts on golf (not a verb)

Many people say that the golf season doesn’t really begin for them until they see the azaleas blooming at Augusta, catch the CBS theme music for the first time and hear the latest schmaltz from Jim Nantz. So, in honor of The Masters, a few thoughts…

Why do people think that it’s ok to use “golf” as a verb? It sounds ridiculous and amateur. Do people use “tennis” as a verb?

On “Mike and Mike” last week, during an interview with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, Mike Golic said it twice. He mentioned that Tiger Woods “wouldn’t be golfing” this week, and that it was still up in the air whether or not Dustin Johnson would “golf” in the Masters.

News flash: Tiger has won 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour events, but he’s never “golfed” in his life. Sorry, but Drew will not be “golfing” in his club championship this year.

Early in our relationship, knowing that I played most weekends during decent weather, my girlfriend would ask me if I was “golfing” on Sunday. Since I liked her, I tried to drop some hints. I think it worked.

In “Caddyshack,” Judge Smails’ grandson Spaulding wanted to play tennis. But Smails was having none of it. “Get dressed,” he said. “You’re PLAYING golf today...”

Calling someone a “golfer” isn’t great either, but it’s somewhat more acceptable. It still smacks of British English, though. The Daily Mail might call Wayne Rooney a “footballer” or some guy I’ve never heard of a “cricketer,” but I don’t.

Golf is a noun. Like many other nouns, it can also be used as a modifier for another noun, like the ball, the club, or the course. Let’s leave it at that, and make sure nobody ever “golfs” again.

For those of us unable to make the #DMD trip to Augusta, the 18-hole coverage of featured groups on is fantastic, because you really get to “walk the course” for five hours. Even without feeling the elevation of the place, you can see the tremendous variety of holes.

The first hole is my least favorite kind of hole, a Par 4 that’s long, yet pretty much leaves you dead if you aren’t in the fairway. Switching it up, the second hole is a downhill Par 5 that must inspire tremendous confidence. Then comes a short Par 4, of which there are too few good ones in the world, and then a long Par 3, the kind of hole that makes you feel good if you can actually make a par, or even an easy bogey.

Whether you’ve been there or not, what’s your favorite hole at Augusta, and your favorite kind of hole in general? I’d probably say the 13th or 15th at Augusta, and any good Par 5 that gives you a legitimate chance to make a birdie.

If you have even the smallest interest in golf course architecture, check out, which I stumbled upon for unknown reasons several years ago. Of particular interest to me was the review of the golf course at Yale, which I had the chance to play several times while working at Princeton.

It’s the most “impossible” course I’ve ever played — a combination of blind shots, canted fairways, deep bunkers and less-than-great conditioning. The 18th hole isn’t even a hole; it’s more like a mountain.

In some ways, the recent trend in golf architecture has mirrored the stadium trend started by Camden Yards in 1992. Designers are moving earth to create the “old” natural look of courses from 100 years ago, when earth-moving equipment didn’t exist.

They’d never build a place like Yale today, just like they’d never build Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. But the authenticity of it makes the course what it is. If you can’t get on there, I’d recommend Bethpage Black, which isn’t as hard but has the same kind of feel to it.

Whenever I see the traditional white uniforms worn by the caddies at The Masters, I’m reminded of Rodney. No, not Rodney Dangerfield (real name: Jacob Cohen). I’m speaking of Rodney, whose last name I don’t remember, who caddied for me at Bandon Dunes on the Oregon Coast in 2004.

I had never before played with a caddie, including a round the day before at the resort. It’s not something I’d ever really thought about. As a public course kind of guy, it always seemed a little goofy to me.

But there we were, Rodney and me, on the first tee at Pacific Dunes. After introductions, he looked through my bag of decent but hardly spectacular irons, mismatched woods and the Cleveland sand wedge I had been given as a pro-am gift. He must have been impressed by my 5-foot-9, 165-lb. frame and my Dockers. But he pulled himself together and spoke very directly.

“I want you to tell me what club you hit around 210 yards,” he said. “I’m going to pull it for you, and I want you to aim directly at that spot there. You’ll be fine.”

To this day, I’ve never stood over an opening tee shot with anywhere near that kind of focus. Any lack of confidence I had drifted away. I did pretty much what he said, then did it again.

It’s a strange feeling when you hit an approach shot on the green and your caddie hands you the putter for the walk, like for the first time in your golf life you’re actually a legitimate player.

After a couple of holes, Rodney realized that I actually had the ability to hit the shot he was suggesting, which seemed to boost his enthusiasm as much as it did mine. He almost got mad at me when I inevitably missed a few shots; I almost felt bad when I did.

The experience with Rodney was equal to, or even better than, the experience of playing golf on windswept dunes overlooking the Pacific. He got a nice tip, probably more than I could afford.

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my mount rushmore of active coaches is now complete

This one was difficult.

But my Mount Rushmore of current, active coaches is now finished.

No, I didn't choose Coach K.

And I guess I should offer a qualifier of sorts on why I didn't. Not that I care if you're upset because I didn't go with the Duke basketball coach, but I guess an explanation is due since he's certainly been wildly successful both in Durham and with any U.S. teams he has coached in international competition. So, yes, slicing away our general disdain for anything-Duke, it's more than fair to admit that Mike Krzyzewski is an outstanding basketball coach.

I can admit that and still not put him on my Mount Rushmore.

Here's the funniest part of this whole issue with the last guy on my list.

I don't like him.

That's right, I don't like Gregg Popovich.

But he's one hell of a basketball coach.

Maybe it's partially about my 12-year tenure in the radio business, where I was "blessed" (in quotes for a reason...) to talk to my fair share of coaches (Bob Huggins, you creep) who gave you a morsel of quality and then nine minutes of junk, mumbling along the way, failing to answer a question directly and, at best, acting like they were doing you the greatest favor of your life by giving you this ten minutes of their precious time.

That's precisely how Popovich behaves nearly every time I see him interviewed. If it's real, he's a prick. If it's a skit (which, honestly, I think it is), he needs to come up with new material. It's awful. He's awful.

But the man can flat-out coach. And I think you're hard pressed to find many coaches in sports today who have done what Popovich has done with what appears to be unbridled support from the guys who have and still do play for him.

Try and find more than a handful of players who, on the record, have ever mumbled a negative word about "Pop". You can't do it. And in today's day and age where players are always trying to blame someone else for their shortcomings, the coach is always first in line to get whipped. But you won't find many guys who rail against Popovich once they leave San Antonio.

He's been with the Spurs since 1996. He's won five NBA titles over that two-decade run. Sure, San Antonio has had some great players along the way, like David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli, but having great players on your roster and coaching them to titles are two totally different things. Lots of NBA teams have high quality rosters and they don't ever sniff a title.

Popovich is a renegade in the NBA. He's an envelope pusher to the highest degree, but that might be one of the reasons why players connect with him while they're in San Antonio. He's different, in a wacky, maybe even disturbing way.

But the man wins games. And he coaches players "up" (a fancy word in sports when a coach gets more out of a player than he should) time and time again.

So there are my four active coaches who make my Mount Rushmore: Bill Belichick, Joe Maddon, Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich.

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orioles-yankees one-day road trip, anyone?

Anyone want to go to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 11 to see the Orioles and Yankees do battle in the Bronx?

Game time is 1:10 pm, which makes for a perfect up-and-back bus trip for the baseball lovers in your family. We'll leave Baltimore at 8:00 am sharp and be at the stadium by 11:45 or so. Assuming the game ends at 4:00 pm, that puts us back in good ol' Bawlmer by 7:30 or 8 pm.

I'm working with the Yankees on group tickets, but the one-day trip is likely going to be in the $115 range, which includes your round trip bus ride, breakfast, drinks on the ride up to NY, lunch when we arrive at the stadium and a game ticket. I'm trying to finagle some lower deck seats from the Yankees at a reasonable price. I should know more about that today.

Looking for a good early Father's Day gift? This is it (Father's Day is the following Sunday)!

If you've never been to Yankee Stadium, we make it easy for you to enjoy a great day of "road baseball", except we do the driving, we supply the tickets, and you'll never go hungry or thirsty when you travel with us.

If you're interested in making the trip to NY with us, send me an e-mail today, please:

April 12
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 12
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blown out in boston

Five hits won't typically get it done at Fenway Park.

That's all the Orioles managed on Tuesday night, as the Red Sox collected an 8-1 win in the 2-game series opener. It was 2-1 heading to the bottom of the seventh before Dylan Bundy ran out of gas and then Darren O'Day came in and got lit up, followed by Oliver Drake's less-than-impressive effort in the bottom half of the eight inning that saw Boston score three more times.

It all added up to an 8-1 trouncing that drops the Birds to 4-2 on the young season.

Welington Castillo was the only Oriole with two hits in the game.

After an outstanding start vs. Toronto last Wednesday, Dylan Bundy's second appearance of the season wasn't great last night, but a 7th inning error by J.J. Hardy didn't help matters much.

The Birds actually had a chance to jump out early, with runners at 2nd and 3rd and just one out in the second inning, but Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy failed to produce a hit there and the game stayed scoreless.

The only Baltimore run of the night came on a Schoop fielder's choice ground out in the top of the seventh inning that trimmed Boston's lead to 2-1.

It's only a two-game losing skid, so tonight's not must-win or anything like that, but the Birds are sending Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound to try and right the ship. I assume Jimenez either goes 6.2 and allows one run while striking out eight or he walks five guys in 4.1 innings and gets shellacked for seven hits and six runs. There's usually no middle-ground with him.

One week in, let's look at the first six games and jump to some conclusions.

The Craig Gentry experiment isn't going so well. He got the start in right field last night -- his second straight start, in fact -- and went 0-for-3 before being pulled for a pinch hitter. On the season, Gentry has as many hits as you and I. That would be: Zero. He's 0-for7 thus far.

It looks like, for now at least, Gentry is going to play against left handed starters, which means Hyun Soo Kim sits, Seth Smith sits, and Gentry patrols right field while Trey Mancini plays left, like he did on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

No offense to Gentry -- but the Orioles aren't winning much of anything if he's going to be in the starting lineup 60-70 times this season. Sorry...

Speaking of Mancini, he's finding out that baseball in April is different than baseball in March. He's now hitting .167 after a 1-for-4 night on Tuesday, but he did manage to flash the glove a time or two in left field on Tuesday evening. If he can turn into a decent defensive player, the Orioles might be able to tolerate his offensive growing pains, although he's obviously going to have to hit better than .200 to warrant any kind of extended playing time once the season really starts rolling.

If the Orioles aren't going to get any offensive production out of Mancini or Gentry, they're in trouble when a southpaw starts against them.

Early days still, I know, but J.J. Hardy and Jonathan Schoop are both really struggling at the plate. Hardy, in fact, made a crucial error on a ground ball in the 7th inning last night that helped extend Boston's lead from 2-1 to 5-1. But it's at the plate where he's limping along, hitting .105 with an on-base-percentage of just .150. He's a notoriously slow starter, and he bats ninth for a reason, but Hardy needs to wake up at the plate.

The same goes for Schoop, who is also hitting .105 through the first week of the season. He won't do that all year, of course. But these early losses count the same as any other loss, and Schoop needs to start heating up with the bat.

The others who are struggling, like Machado (.200) and Trumbo (.217), will come around soon. There's nothing to worry about there. But that bottom third of the lineup (1-for-10 last night) has to pick it up a bit in order for the Birds to compete for the A.L. East title.

Pitchers are like hitters -- sometimes they need a couple of weeks to get into it. Let's hope that's the case with Darren O'Day, who wasn't very good in Sunday's loss to the Yankees and was tagged for an earned run (and two runs total) in two-thirds of an inning last night at Fenway. The good news? He didn't walk anyone. The bad? He gave up three hits.

We're six games into a 162-game season. One week down, twenty-something to go. There's not much to learn from the first week of the season other than the Orioles muddied outfield situation isn't helping out much and anyone in the bullpen not named Britton or Brach is subject to the occasional flame-out.

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"the best 34 minutes of the week" returns

Settle in and check out the latest #DMD podcast below, with special guest Dean Johnson of Primary Residential Mortgage.

Dean, like most of you reading this, I assume, is a sports nut who also happens to know what he's talking about. We cover a lot of territory in this one, including Manny and the O's, the Masters, Terps basketball and some other stuff that I hope you'll find interesting.


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orioles-yankees one-day road trip, anyone?

Anyone want to go to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, June 11 to see the Orioles and Yankees do battle in the Bronx?

Game time is 1:10 pm, which makes for a perfect up-and-back bus trip for the baseball lovers in your family. We'll leave Baltimore at 8:00 am sharp and be at the stadium by 11:45 or so. Assuming the game ends at 4:00 pm, that puts us back in good ol' Bawlmer by 7:30 or 8 pm.

I'm working with the Yankees on group tickets, but the one-day trip is likely going to be in the $115 range, which includes your round trip bus ride, breakfast, drinks on the ride up to NY, lunch when we arrive at the stadium and a game ticket. I'm trying to finagle some lower deck seats from the Yankees at a reasonable price. I should know more about that today.

Looking for a good early Father's Day gift? This is it (Father's Day is the following Sunday)!

If you've never been to Yankee Stadium, we make it easy for you to enjoy a great day of "road baseball", except we do the driving, we supply the tickets, and you'll never go hungry or thirsty when you travel with us.

If you're interested in making the trip to NY with us, send me an e-mail today, please:

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my mount rushmore of coaches

A couple of Monday's ago, I asked you to consider what current, active coaches would be on your "Mount Rushmore".

Since then, I've revealed two of my four; Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Joe Maddon of the Cubs.

Today, I bring you the third coach on my personal "Mount Rushmore".

It's probably a lot easier to coach college football when you're able to recruit the best players year after year. I get that. There's a reason why Alabama competes for national titles every January and Boston College, for example, doesn't.

Winning brings in -- winners.

But someone has to drive that winning ship. What comes first? The winning coach who brings winning to the program? Or winning players who make the coach a winning coach?

I think the coach comes first.

Which is why Nick Saban is the third coach on my "Mount Rushmore" of current, active coaches.

If Saban leaves Alabama tomorrow, they're a 7 or 8 win team in two years or so. And, if he goes to LSU, let's say, the Tigers are competing for a national title by 2019.

I didn't always care for Saban. I know a couple of people who worked in the Dolphins organization who said he was a complete horse's ass when he tried his hand at the NFL in 2005-2006. "Maybe the meanest person I've ever met," one of them said to me one year at the Super Bowl.

But none of that has anything to do with his ability to coach college football, and since arriving at Alabama in 2007, he's been at the helm of the best program in the country.

All Nick Saban has done at Alabama is, you guessed His record is 114-19 and he's won four national titles with the Crimson Tide. All of that since 2007, remember.

There are some really good college football coaches out there, but none of them have done -- over the last decade -- what Nick Saban has done at Alabama. And here's the thing, too. He recruits well, of course, but he rarely ever secures the #1 recruiting class, according to the experts. He gets his fair share of high quality players, but other schools produce exceptional recruiting classes, too.

Saban just seems to get more out of his group than anyone else.

His record at Alabama tells you that.

April 11
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 11
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dear manny, please stop talking -- or even hinting -- about going to new york

This isn't one of my "Cheap Shots from The Bleachers" efforts, although I suppose it's going to come across like that.

I'm not really mad at Manny Machado. I'm not a hater of guys who make a lot of money. I'm not even one of those people who says, "Anyone who signs as a free agent with the Yankees is dead to me."

But I'd rather not see any articles like the one published in the New York Post on Saturday, where Machado openly discusses the possibility of joining the Yankees, along with Bryce Harper, in a couple of years.

In case you missed the piece, it's here.

Look, I get it. I realize Machado is going to go to the highest bidder when he's a free agent after that 2018 season. I also understand the Yankees will likely make a strong play for him.

I get it.

But now, in the season, I'd prefer not to hear or read about Machado flirting with the Yankees, Red Sox, Nationals or any other team for that matter.

For those who say, "What's he supposed to do when the guy from the New York Post comes up to him and asks questions?", I have an easy answer for that. Just tell the guy "No questions about my free agency, please."

Isn't that easy enough?

Or is Manny thinking that any chance he gets to start the ball rolling in New York is one he should take?

I blame a little bit of Saturday's piece in the Post on Manny's inexperience. He is, after all, still just 24 years of age. He can hit a baseball, field one, and throw one as good as anyone in the game, but he's not a 10-year veteran at handling the media.

Maybe he just got caught up in the moment on Saturday. Perhaps he never wanted to address his free agency at all, then a question came his way and he just answered it without thinking it through all the way.

Or maybe Machado doesn't care that he plays for the Orioles right now and that any public discussion about his plans for 2019 and beyond just isn't cool.

I'm not bitter. I guess I'm just resigned to the fact that the O's could lose Machado in a couple of years. And I don't like it.

“I’m sure now when we go to New York, it’s going to be crazy,’’ Machado said in the New York Post article. “I know there is talk about the future and maybe me, Gary [Sanchez] and [Bryce] Harper being together. That’s New York. That’s what goes on. … You never know what to expect in this game."

I wonder if Harper cares that Machado mentioned him specifically as a possible teammate in New York?

Probably not.

I understand these guys are in business for themselves. I say this all the time: I've never made $15 million doing something, so I don't know how I'd react if I made $15 million and had the chance to make upwards of $35 million with another employer. I don't have experience with that dilemma.

But unless the price of eggs, oatmeal, wine and golf balls goes through the roof in the next few years, I think I could still survive on $15 million. Or $20 million.

I can't relate to a guy wanting to make $35 million a year. I don't think anyone reading this can, either.

So, I also can't relate to the kind of greed it takes to say, "Rather than take $30 million a year from the Orioles for 7 years, I'll take $35 million a year from the Yankees for 7 years."

At that point, what the hell's the difference?

Other than greed, what's the difference?

I understand players are always under the gun from the Player's Association to take the most amount of money they can get. "No hometown discounts" is a basic demand from the MLBPA to any high dollar free agent.

And it's easy for me to say, "Phooey on the Player's Association" when I'm not part of it and I don't get the e-mails and phone calls from them after I've taken less money to stay with the team that drafted me and signed me to my first big league contract.

But ---- phooey on the Player's Association.

For a long time, the Orioles didn't face these kinds of situations. They never really had any good players from 2000-2008 and, if they did, none of them were high profile enough to warrant being chased by the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, etc.

More recently, though, Baltimore baseball players have been pursued by a number of other clubs in the off-season. We kept Davis and Trumbo, but lost Cruz and Wieters, for example. It stings to lose a guy you'd otherwise like to keep (although there's an argument the O's didn't want Wieters), but that's part of the business of baseball.

It's one thing to lose a guy who "only" made $8 million a year because his new team ponied up $14 million a year.

It's entirely different to see Machado out there potentially whoring himself for $35 or $40 million a year when the Orioles would likely give him something in the $30 million a year range, at least.

You mean to tell me $300 million is acceptable but $240 million isn't?

Yeah, I know. That's a difference of $60 million. How do you pass that up?

I guess you don't.

In the end, all I'm asking is that Manny not openly discuss his potential/imminent move to New York.

If he's doing it specifically to rattle the Orioles' cage, I guess you could file that under "good negotiating", but the Orioles don't need to be scared -- they're fully aware that Machado might very well wind up in New York or Boston.

But seeing articles like the one that appeared in the New York Post reminds me that Machado is just like the rest of the cattle in the world of professional baseball.

He's going to the highest bidder.

I hate the thought of it. But Machado's no different than anyone else, as I assume we're going to find out after the 2018 season.

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what does the garcia win at augusta teach us?

I spent some time on Monday talking to my Calvert Hall golf team about the impact of Sergio Garcia's big win at the Masters on Sunday.

We have two important matches this week; today at Elkridge CC vs. Gilman and home on Wednesday vs. defending champion St. Paul's. When you only play 12 regular season matches, every single one of them is crucial.

Garcia's triumph was a wonderful teaching moment, not only for high school athletes, but for all of us, really. It just depends on whether or not you're willing to pay attention to it all and absorb the lessons.

Handling a poor shot was never a strength of Sergio Garcia's prior to Sunday's win at Augusta.

For those who don't know his history, Sergio has been an outstanding player for the better part of two decades. The only thing missing on his resume was a major championship.

As the years went by and he flirted with major titles, only to come up short, it appeared as if he might be destined to never win one. Golf, as most people know, is a sport where you have to get your treats early, because the funnel is always getting filled with new players, most of whom are bigger, stronger and better than the group they're replacing.

Once Garcia got into his 30's, the window started to shut a little bit. At age 35, he was nearing the point where winning a major was going to be extremely difficult.

Then, on Sunday, at age 37, he finally broke through.

The lesson?

Sometimes just making a committment to changing the way you think is enough to get you over the top.

Sounds trite, doesn't it?

But in Garcia's case, that's precisely what he needed to do to finally break through.


That's the word for Garcia: Attitude.

On Sunday in the final round, his drive on the 13th hole clipped a tree that overhangs the fairway and bounded left into the woods. His ball could have gone anywhere. It could have caromed right, out into the fairway, and Garcia would have still had the chance to make birdie. It could have bounced left into the woods but playable enough to give him the opportunity to punch out into the fairway and still make a birdie.

Instead, his ball went left and settled into a bush that afforded him no opportunity at all to play a shot. Taking a one-shot penalty, he played out from there and eventually scrambled for a round-saving par.

Garcia admitted afterwards that was the difference between the "old Sergio" and "new Sergio". In the past, Garcia explained, he would have looked at that bad break as a sign that he was yet again destined to come up short in a major championship. "I would have said to my caddie, "Why does this happen to me all the time?" Garcia explained to the media after his win.

Instead, on Sunday, Garcia didn't flinch. "Once I saw I didn't have a shot, I said to my caddie, 'Let's figure out a way to make a par here and keep ourselves in this thing.'"

That might seem like a small thing to most, but anyone who has played golf knows all about the mental anguish one suffers while in the heat of competition. A lot of it is self-torment, yes, but it's there and it's real and if you constantly pay attention to the chatter inside your own head, before you know it, you've lost.

Garcia was the master of self-torment for a long time, by his own admission.

Finally, the light went off and he figured it out.

Negativity gets you nowhere. Getting outside of the current moment at hand does nothing good for you. Stay in it, stay positive and vow to figure out a way to make something out of this dilemma you've put yourself in.

That's the lesson we can all take from watching Garcia on Sunday.

Handling adversity on 10, 11 and 13 in Sunday's final round led Sergio Garcia to this moment.

Even when he missed short putts at 16 and 18 that would have given him the title in regulation play, the Spaniard didn't flinch. In the past, those self-inflicted wounds would have finished him off.

This time around, he got stronger as the day went on.

It was quite an event to witness. The whole idea behind validating one's career by winning a major title is kind of silly, but it's a little bit like a pitcher trying to win a Cy Young award. If you want to be known as one of the best pitchers, you have to win a Cy Young at some point in your career. The same goes for golf. Only the great players win a major title.

Sure, there's the occasional Rich Beem, Y.E. Yang or Shaun Micheel who somehow, mysteriously, puts it all together for four days and wins a major (all of those guys won a PGA, by the way, which tells you something about that event, I guess). There's an outlier or two in golf history, that's for sure.

But if you want be considered great, in golf, you have to win a major.

And the pressure that comes along with that gets ratcheted up once you reach your mid 30's and you haven't yet won one.

That's why Garcia's win was so impressive on Sunday. He knows the whispers. He's heard them for a decade now. He is well aware of what's been said and written.

And yet, he overcame it all at Augusta.

It was, as it turned out, a great lesson for all of us.

Don't ever give up.

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We still have room for four more people on our trip to the U.K.!! We'd like to add these in groups of two or four, obviously, so if you're interested in securing seats on our trip, we'd love to have you!

We're flying over on British Airways and staying at the St. George's Hotel Wembley Stadium.

Our game tickets at Wembley Stadium are in the lower concourse, I might add. And most of our group of 34 are sitting together and/or on in the same section.

The trip details are simple: We're leaving on Tuesday, September 19 and arriving (via direct flight) in London on Wednesday, September 20. We'll spend five days in the U.K., take in the Ravens-Jaguars game on Sunday, and return to Baltimore on Monday, September 25.

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To reserve your space on the trip, all you have to do is go here.

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April 10
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 10
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garcia quiets the detractors

If you're a sucker for a good redemption story, like I am, you must have been thrilled with what you saw from Sergio Garcia on Sunday.

Disappointed for Justin Rose, yes, but ecstatic for Garcia, who got one of golf's great monkeys off his back with a win at Augusta National yesterday.

Lots of people thought El Nino would never win a major championship.

Those folks were wrong.

A sight many thought they'd never see -- Sergio Garcia slips on the green jacket after his win at Augusta National on Sunday.

With equal parts talent, wisdom and good fortune on his side, Garcia was able to overcome a disastrous start to the back nine yesterday, where he steadied himself with a miraculous par at the 13th hole and then produced some of the best golf of his career in fending off Rose, who proved a worthwhile competitor and a classy runner-up.

Here’s how he did it:

Guts -- For years, Garcia’s mettle was always questionable. There were lots of other close-calls with major championship glory. Most of the time, he fired and fell back. He was, it’s fair to note, a victim of the Tiger Woods era like a lot of others. Woods beat him head-to-head in 1999 at the PGA and in 2006 in the British Open.

At the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, he had a 10-foot putt on the 72nd hole to win the Claret Jug, but it hit the lip and spun out.

But time and time again, when Garcia failed to claim a major, the analysis on his shortcomings pointed at his inability to come through in the clutch.

That ended on Sunday when he rebounded from a shocking start to his back nine, going bogey-bogey at 10 and 11, then rescuing himself at 13 after a bad drive led to an unplayable lie in the woods to the left of the fairway.

It took guts to hang around at that point, particularly when Garcia knew what was coming afterwards if he wound up losing the tournament by shooting 39 on the back nine.

He took body blows on the back nine, but kept getting to his feet and throwing punches right back at his opponent. Sergio just wouldn’t give in this time around.

Luck -- Garcia’s first piece of good fortune actually took place on Saturday in round three when he flared a 5-iron from 210 yards out at the 13th hole. The ball hit the bank in front of the green and mysteriously stayed there, a la Fred Couples in 1992 at #12, and Garcia calmly pitched his 3rd shot to 3 feet and made birdie from there.

In Sunday’s final round, the pressure applied by Rose was really the only competition Garcia faced. It wasn’t “luck” that guys like Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott didn’t press the final group duo, but it’s MUCH easier to compete against one player who is in your group than it is to battle four others, several of whom you can’t follow directly.

That Garcia only had to match cards with Rose down the stretch worked out in his favor, for sure.

He was also the benefactor of a suddenly-cold putter employed by Rose, who missed a short birdie putt at #13, then failed to connect on a seven footer for par at #17. But Rose’s big miss was the one at 18 in regulation, where he had it eight feet for birdie but left the ball on the right side of the hole and had to settle for par.

Quality iron play -- Throughout the final round, Garcia hit premium iron shots on demand, starting with his first shot at #1 to eight feet, which resulted in an opening birdie.

He then hit a marvelous 36-yard pitch at the 3rd hole to set up another birdie. Of all the early shots that showed his nerves were good, that was the one. It required a deft touch and concentration, and Garcia clearly had both of those elements working for him on that delicate effort.

A superb wedge at the 9th hole didn’t result in a birdie, but it set the stage for later iron shots that did, in fact, pay off for him.

After his driver betrayed him at 10 and 11, Garcia returned to hitting solid iron shots at 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. It helped that he drove the ball in the middle of the fairway on the non-par-3 holes, but the late iron shots at 17 and 18 were as good as anyone could have played under the circumstances.

He repeated that great swing on the first playoff hole from 153 yards out to set up his winning birdie.

For a guy known for failing to conquer his nerves, Garcia certainly handled himself well down the stretch on Sunday.

Rose didn’t "lose", but it feels like he did -- The record books will show that Justin Rose lost the playoff to Garcia, but the reality is he more than played well enough to win. It was just Sergio’s time to finally break through.

He made a terrific birdie at 8 to tie Garcia for the lead, then played 10-11-12 in even par to take a 2-shot lead.

It was the 13th hole where Rose could have separated himself but failed to do so thanks to a missed birdie putt after Garcia scrambled for his life to make par.

What could have been a four-shot lead (with a Rose make and Garcia miss) stayed at two shots after that episode, and Garcia narrowed it to one shot on the 14th hole when he made birdie.

Rose managed to quiet the crowd after Garcia’s stunning eagle at the 15th hole by rolling in his own birdie putt, then went back ahead at 16 with an 8-footer for birdie that rolled perfectly in the middle of the hole.

Then, his putter suddenly betrayed him.

His miss at 17 evened things up again and then, with the green jacket in his grasp, potentially, Rose missed the pivotal short birdie at the 72nd hole that left the stage to Garcia, only he missed as well.

On the first playoff hole, Rose hit his only real poor drive of the day, blocking it right into the pine trees and then hitting a feeble punch out that left him 130 yards to the hole for his third. When his 15-foot par putt missed low, all Garcia needed to do was two-putt for the win.

Rose, it must be mentioned, was a gracious loser afterwards. He didn't win the tournament, but he won some new fans with his grace and poise in the aftermath of a horribly disappointing defeat.

Maturity -- Garcia won the Masters this time around because he handled the good and the bad with the same basic indifference.

A decade ago, Sergio would have brooded over the short miss for birdie at #2 and #8, two par-5 holes where failing to make four is like giving a shot back to the field. In the past, Garcia's bogey-bogey start to the back nine would have unraveled him.

It was different this time around.

Time and experience are perfect aspirin for an athlete in need of healing, and Garcia's scars were fresh enough that he could use them to his advantage on Sunday to navigate his way through the ups and downs of a final round in a major championship.

Rather than blow up and prove his critics right, Garcia dug deep and found something inside of himself that perhaps he didn't know was down there. And this time, his detractors were the ones with egg left on their face.

It was bound to happen at some point. Sergio Garcia is too talented and too successful to not win a major golf championship.

Sunday at Augusta, we saw the coronation of a 37-year old "kid" who once was his own worst enemy, but has now finally figured it all out.

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who takes garcia's spot as "the best player without a major title"?

With Sergio Garcia no longer "the best player without a major title", who, now, owns that distinction?

Here's a quick list of four players, all of whom will likely be discussed in that regard now that Garcia is a Masters champion:

Rickie Fowler -- Like Garcia, he'll get one (at least) someday, probably sooner than later, but Fowler's 76 on Sunday in the final round at Augusta won't do anything for his current stock among golf enthusiasts.

Fowler actually hung around for the better part of nine holes on Sunday, but when he needed to make a move on the back nine, there was nothing under the hood. He's a terrific player who hasn't yet got the job done on a Sunday in a major. He will, though. You can bet on that.

Matt Kuchar -- He fired a bit too late on Sunday, going nuts on the back-nine with a slew of birdies and an ace to get to five-under par, but Kuchar was never a serious threat in this year's Masters. Still, he deserves mention in this category for his stellar play over the last two decades, all of which should prime him for that inevitable major championship. One thing that hurts him, though, is his lack of distance off the tee, which makes winning the U.S. Open or PGA somehat of a longshot for him.

Kuchar's best bet is to win at Augusta or at the British Open. At age 38 now, he still has time, as Garcia just proved on Sunday at age 37, but the opportunities are diminishing for Kuchar.

Lee Westwood -- Even though he's in the November of his career, Westwood stil deserves mention in this category because his game remains steady enough to win a major.

If he can drive it straight at Erin Hills in June, he could be a threat to capture the U.S. Open, but his best opportunity in 2017 will likely come at Royal Birkdale in July's British Open.

Hideki Matsuyama -- Has the ability to overpower a course, so the British Open at this year's PGA at Quail Hollow both present glorious opportunities for the Japanese star to break through and capture his first major title.

The only thing working against him at this point? He doesn't have any final-round major experience where he was in the hunt, contended, and didn't get the job done. That kind of scar tissue is a prerequisite for most players. As the saying goes, "You can't win a major title until you've coughed one up and learned from your mistakes."

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patchwork bullpen costs o's in 7-3 loss to the yankees

The good news for the Orioles is that Sunday's 7-3 defeat to the Yankees at Camden Yards wasn't authored by the likes Brach and Britton.

Yes, the bullpen gift-wrapped a win for the Bronx Bombers, but the team's two best relief artists were unavailable for duty after both of them worked on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Baltimore victories.

Walking three and giving up four runs in the 9th inning wasn't the way Darren O'Day wanted things to go in Sunday's loss to the Yankees.

The goat horns on Sunday were worn by Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day, with a nod to starter Wade Miley, who didn't allow any runs in his 5-inning stint but walked seven New York batters along the way.

Givens surrendered an 8th inning home to Aaron Judge that tied the game at 3-3, and O'Day spoon-fed the Yankees in the 9th, walking three batters himself as New York scored four times in their final at-bat to win for just the second time this season.

The loss dropped the Birds to 4-1 on the campaign.

They weren't going 162-0, of course, but it's indeed rare to see the Baltimore bullpen implode like they did on Sunday afternoon.

Then again, when the bottom four hitters in your lineup go a combined 1-for-14, you're probably not winning that game anyway. Trey Mancini (1-4), Jonathan Schoop (0-3), J.J. Hardy (0-3) and Caleb Joseph (0-4) produced just one hit on Sunday.

Oh, and don't look now, but Mancini, Schoop and Hardy are all hitting .125 through the first five games. Joseph is right around where you would expect him -- hitting .000.

The good news for the Birds is that Chris Davis (.333) is off to a solid start, as are Adam Jones (.263) and Mark Trumbo (.263).

The Birds now head to Boston for a quick two-game series that starts Tuesday at Fenway Park.

Dylan Bundy will face Drew Pomeranz on Tuesday and Ubaldo Jimenez will oppose Steven Wright on Wednesday. The Birds then head to Toronto for a 4-game series that runs Thursday through Sunday.

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April 9
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 9
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garcia, fowler have everything to gain and everything to lose

No matter what happens today at Augusta National, someone's life is going to change.

Even if previous winners like Jordan Spieth or Adam Scott come out on top and win their second Masters green jacket, things will never be the same for them.

But the leaderboard has so many twists and turns and possible storylines that figuring out which one is "best" is practically impossible.

Everywhere you turn, the potential winner has a narrative that makes you say, "It sure would be cool if he won."

Is today the day that Rickie Fowler becomes a major champion?

Saturday's third round was the day Sergio Garcia typically fires and falls back at Augusta National. Prior to yesterday, he was a combined 38-over-par on Saturday in his career at the Masters.

Garcia got that monkey off his back with a solid two-under-par round of 70 and now shares the lead with Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose, who was an afterthought following a pedestrian opening nine holes that left him at 1-under par. But then Rose caught fire on the incoming nine and posted a five-under 31 to finish at 6-under and deadlocked with Garcia.

Rose is a terrific player, a deep thinker, and a great ambassador for England and European golf. He'd be a gracious and respected winner if, in fact, he comes out on top today.

Garcia is poised to finally break through and win that elusive first major. He's had plenty of other chances, but just hasn't cashed in at the right time. He seems to know, without saying it, that something about this week is special. His ball stopping on the hillside at the 13th hole yesterday after he flared a 5-iron from 212 yards out should have been a pretty good indicator that the golf gods are pulling for him.

Once a whiny, bratty player with an iron game to die for, Garcia has settled down now as he nears 40 years of age. Time has a way of doing that to all of us, I suppose, but for the Spaniard, it appears as if he's ready to win OR lose, which is all part of the process of getting to the finish line first.

Rickie Fowler, one shot back at -5, is starting to get a little hype as this generation's version of Arnold Palmer. While that's obviously a stretch, there's no denying that Fowler is extraordinarily popular amongst the fans and, more importantly, carries himself well on the course. In terms of pure "popularity", a Fowler victory today at Augusta National would be just what the doctor ordered for the game of golf.

Fowler doesn't yet own a major title, but he's performed well enough at the highest level to earn mention as one of the game's top players. Still, we all know how this works. You have to win a major title at some point to get that final slice of respect.

Then there's Spieth and Scott, both of whom already have a green jacket. Scott has plodded along nicely this week, opening with a 75 in Thursday's blustery conditions, then going 69-69 on Friday and Saturday to quietly move into contention at 3-under par. He knows what it takes to win at Augusta National and has the tools to do it.

Spieth, trying to become the first player in major championship history to make a quadruple bogey in the tournament and still win, has the look of someone who isn't going to be denied today.

His record at Augusta National is eerily sensational. He nearly won in his first visit back in 2014, finishing T2, then blitzed the field in 2015 to win his first major title, and then last year -- well, everyone knows what happened last year. Still, in three Masters appearances, he's finished T2, 1 and T2.

Can Jordan Spieth overcome that disastrous "9" on the 15th hole in Thursday's opening round and claim his 3rd major title today at Augusta National?

Spieth trailed first-round leader Charley Hoffman by ten shots following Thursday's opening round. He's now at 4-under par and two shots behind Garcia and Rose. In other words, he's in prime position.

There are others, too, who would see their life change if somehow they come out on top today.

Ryan Moore -- two shots back as well -- is a stylish American who last October sank the winning putt in the Ryder Cup. He's a gamer and a grinder, but this will be his first taste of contention-on-a-Sunday in a major and golf has a way of teaching a lesson or two to inexperienced players. For Moore's sake, I hope he's in it until the end this afternoon.

And Hoffman, who continues to handle himself well, also sits just two shots behind. He'd be tied for the lead if not for an unfortunate blunder at #16 on Saturday, but he'll likely benefit today from the pairing with Moore, who, like Hoffman, just sort of goes about his business without much fanfare or attention.

The Masters is still the greatest golf tournament in the world because the course eventually separates everyone from the winner. Unlike the U.S. Open or British Open, where often times it's a battle of attrition and the last guy left standing with a pulse is the winner, the Masters is always won by someone.

Even last year when Danny Willett came from three behind to beat error-prone Spieth, he had to play his best golf on the back nine to win.

No one is going to win today by shooting even par on the final nine holes, you can bet your house on that.

The guy who wins today will do something magical and spectacular in the final 90 minutes of play. Someone's life will change on that back nine at Augusta National this afternoon.

I'd love to see Garcia win and not just because I picked him as the champion here at #DMD on Wednesday. I'm a sucker for a good story and Garcia winning the major title that some thought he'd never win -- on what would have been Seve Ballesteros' 60th birthday -- is enough to have me rooting for him this afternoon.

I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Fowler win, either. He's a wonderful ambassador for the game and an underrated player. Any time the guy they think can't win does, in fact, win, I revel in that kind of turn-about.

It wouldn't pain me at all to see Justin Rose come out on top. Not only do I have him in the random drawing at Eagle's Nest Country Club, but I think Rose is a wonderful competitor and a strong, gritty player that serves as a wonderful example to young players around the world -- like my Calvert Hall varsity golf team.

Spieth would be the ultimate redemption story, not only because of what happened last year at #12, but because of Thursday's comedy of errors at the 15th hole, where he turned a 4 into a 9 because he suddenly became a 15-handicapper.

There's no telling how many times he's going to win at Augusta National based on the early returns on his four visits to the Masters, but you can close your eyes and picture him winning a bunch of green jackets over the next two decades.

The course seemingly fits him perfectly. A win today for Spieth would be a great story.

What do I think is going to happen today?

Well, I picked Garcia from the start and there's no reason at all to change now, since I felt from the beginning this was his week to finally break through.

I say Garcia finishes at 10-under par, with Spieth and Rose breathing down his neck on the closing holes but both coming up a shot short at 9-under par.

Fowler leads late, but finds the water at 15 with his 2nd shot and then can't get it up and down from there to finish at 8-under.

The leaderboard is so juicy and so filled with great storylines that I really don't mind seeing anyone win, but I'm pulling for Garcia, Rose and Spieth, if you're making me claim a horse in the race.

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a masters video you haven't seen anywhere else

#DMD's resident media wizard George McDowell put this gem together for those of you who love the Masters. It features pictures from various points on the course that you might not otherwise get from the TV broadcasts.

It's pretty cool, if you ask me.


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birds turn back yankees with another late rally at camden yards

Another day, another comeback from the Orioles, who are now the only unbeaten team in the majors after Saturday's 5-4 win over the Yankees and Minnesota's loss to the White Sox.

And for the second straight game, the O's stared a deficit in the face and didn't blink. On Friday night, New York led 5-1 before Buck Showalter's team rallied to win. On Saturday, it as 4-1 in favor of the visitors before the Orioles started getting serious.

Four wins for the O's, three saves for Zach Britton, who allowed one base runner in Saturday's victory over the Yankees before shutting the door on Joe Girardi's team.

Kevin Gausman wasn't very good in his second start of the season yesterday, but that Orioles bullpen sure was -- again.

Gausman went 4.2 innings and allowed eight hits and four earned runs, while striking out four and walking three. He wasn't great on opening day, either, but battled hard enough to keep the Birds in that one. Yesterday, the Yankees nicked him and Gausman left with the Birds trailing.

But the fun was just beginning. Manny Machado's big hit in the 5th inning followed by a Mark Trumbo fielder's choice cut New York's lead to 4-3.

In the seventh, still down a run, Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim produced run scoring singles that gave the Orioles a 5-4 advantage. And that was that. The Baltimore bullpen shut down the Yankees in their final two at-bats and the Birds improved to 4-0 on the young season.

Zach Britton worked the 9th and recorded his 52nd consecutive save. He has a long way to go to threaten Eric Gagne's major league record of 84 straight saves, but right now, it sure looks like Britton might not ever allow another run, let alone blow a lead. Too bad he wasn't available to pitch in that wild card game last October in Toron -- oh, wait, never mind.

All of this early winning is being done without Chris Tillman, remember.

Lefty Wade Miley makes his debut for the Birds today against veteran C.C. Sabathia. Sure, they've played all their games at home thus far, but wins in April -- and at home -- count the same in the standings as games on the road in September. Win 'em while you can, I say.

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April 8
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Issue 8
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there's one storyline better than all the rest at augusta

I've seen some really cool stuff happen in professional golf over the last two decades.

Tiger Woods clobbering the field at the 1997 Masters, winning the first of his 14 major titles at 21 years of age.

Phil Mickelson winning the British Open at age 43 in 2013.

Jordan Spieth tying Tiger's tournament record at Augusta National with a virtuoso performance and victory at the 2015 Masters.

25 years after capturing his first -- and only -- Masters title, Fred Couples is back in the hunt at Augusta National.

And let's not forget Tom Waton's epic effort in the 2009 British Open where, at age 59, Watson came within one eight foot at the 72nd hole of capturing another major title.

Those were all great moments in golf that I was fortunate enough to witness.

But none of those four memories, or any others we've seen, would equal what we might be on the verge of seeing at Augusta National this weekend.

The coolest golfer I've ever watched has a chance to win the Masters.

At age 57, Fred Couples is in the mix. Again.

No one in my lifetime of watching golf (starting roughly around 1987) has ever been as stylish as Fred Couples. The Ashworth shirts, the no-glove look, the tug at his sleeve before he lasers a 9-iron to six feet from 155 yards out.

Fred Couples is the coolest golfer of my lifetime.

That he only managed to capture one major championship in his Hall of Fame career is neither here nor there at this point. The one he did win, at Augusta in 1992, serves as the backdrop for this weekend's 36 holes, where Couples will have to fend off some of the game's best young players if he somehow wins that improbable second major title.

Couples is at 1-under par, trailing the co-leaders by just three shots, so to say he's well in the mix would be a colossal understatement. He's right there, primed to make a move.

But will Father Time allow for it all to materialize? Freddie has been in this very position before, post-age 50, in fact, driving the ball like a 30 year old, throwing darts into the greens, and rolling in a handful of putts to work his way up the leaderboard.

Then, because 50-somethings don't win major titles on the PGA Tour, Couples falls by the wayside and someone younger and stronger races past him to win the green jacket.

This year, though, might be different.

Couples says his historically bad back feels better than ever, which either means he's learned to fake it -- perfectly -- or the medications are working well in conjunction with one another. Either way, playing on two of the toughest days in Masters history, Freddie has played as well as anyone in the field, as his position on the leaderboard indicates.

Nothing would be better than seeing Fred Couples somehow capture the Masters this weekend.

His old college roommate Jim Nantz would cry for sure. Right there in the Butler Cabin, even.

There are lots of great storylines looming at Augusta National over the next 48 hours. Pick one, if you want, and follow it. Sergio Garcia trying to win that elusive first major and win the green jacket on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, Seve Ballesteros.

Rickie Fowler, one of the game's top American players, looking to break through and earn a spot among the game's elite.

Journeyman William McGirt making his first-ever appearance at the Masters, along with the pudgy Spanish rookie, Jon Rahm, who is quickly establishing himself on TOUR after a torrid college career.

And then there's Jordan Spieth, who coughed up last year's title with an epic meltdown on the 12th hole and then started off this year's quest by making a horrendous quadruple bogey nine on the 15th hole in Thursday's opening round.

There are storylines all over the place this weekend at Augusta National, but none of them would ring the cool-meter like a Fred Couples victory would.

It would be the greatest Masters victory ever, in my opinion. Yes, before you ask, I realize Jack Nicklaus won his 6th green jacket at age 46. That was great. But Jack was 46, not 57.

A 57-year old guy winning at Augusta is as improbable as Michael Jordan coming back and hitting a late 3-pointer for the Bulls to help them win the NBA title.

It's unlikely that Freddie can pull this off, but if anyone is cool enough to do it, he certainly is.

I know who I'm pulling for this weekend.

Leaderboard analysis:

Sergio Garcia (-4): Could this finally be his year? No one in the first two days has driven it off the tee like him. But can his putter hold up to the weekend heat? Garcia says it can. One thing he has over a lot of the others in contention: experience. And that really does matter at Augusta.

Charley Hoffman (-4): Came back to the field -- predictably -- on Friday but can now relax, breathe, and just go play golf over the next two days. It's said that every major champion typically has one "off" round over their four-day triumph. Maybe Friday was Hoffman's day of suffering.

Rickie Fowler (-4): Keeps looking like he belongs -- and a win on Sunday afternoon would prove that he does. Does he have the guts needed to stare the others in the face and hold them off?

Thomas Pieters (-4): Was the early leader on Thursday before a back-nine blow-up sent him tumbling, but he steadied himself nicely on Friday and chewed up the par 5's en route to a share of the 36-hole lead. This kid is the real deal.

Assorted others --

Justin Rose (-1): A wayward driver didn't help him on Friday, but the former U.S. Open champ is well positioned with 36 holes to go. There's no question about his mettle. If he hits it straight off the tee over the next two days, he'll be right there on Sunday afternoon.

Phil Mickelson (even): Was one shot off the lead before making bogey at 14 on Friday, then missed a six-footer at 16 that looked like it rattled him. A bogey at 17 sent him back to even par, but if there's one guy in the field with the experience to put that behind him this weekend, it's Mickelson. Don't be surprised if he's slipping on the green jacket Sunday night.

Jordan Spieth (even): He'd be tied for the lead after two days if not for the inexplicable brainfart at #15 on Thursday. Still, he's back in position to make a weekend move and certainly has the game to go low in one of the two final rounds.

Rory McIlroy (+1): It's been an up-and-down tournament for Rory thus far, but you sense he's locked and loaded for a 67 today that will put him on the first page of the leaderboad heading into Sunday's final round. Hasn't been sloppy, per se, but too many loose iron swings have kept him from making a charge thus far. Still well in it, though.

Martin Kaymer (+2): If there's anyone at +2 or higher to watch, it's the 2-time major champion, who started Friday's round at 6-over par and worked his way back into semi-contention by making birdie at three of the par 5 holes. He's just the type of guy to go 68-66 and win the tournament by three shots.

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this, that and the other

It wasn't a great night for baseball at Camden Yards, but that didn't bother the Orioles, who came back from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Yankees, 6-5, on Friday night. Seth Smith's 2-run homer in the bottom of the 7th was the deciding blow for the Birds, who are now 3-0 to start the 2017 campaign.

The Yankees feasted on Ubaldo Jimenez on Friday night, but the O's bullpen left New York with nothing but crumbs over the final five innings in Baltimore's 6-5 win.

Predictably, Ubaldo Jimenez stunk in his first start of the season. That the Orioles are able to win a game when he starts should almost count for 1.5 wins in the standings. Jimenez gave up five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work, but five O's relievers came in and blanked the Yankees thereafter, including Zach Britton, who recorded his 51st consecutive save with a 1-2-3 effort in the 9th inning.

Manny Machado hit his first home run of the season, a 3-run shot, in the 4th inning, as the Birds reduced a 5-1 lead to 5-4 at that point.

After a Chase Headley error started the 7th inning, J.J. Hardy sacrificed Jonathan Schoop to third base as the Birds searched for the tying run. One batter later, Smith belted one just over the right field wall off of Tyler Clippard, and the Birds took the lead for good.

Brad Brach struck out the side in the 8th inning to set the stage for Britton's inning of perfection in the 9th.

Masahiro Tanaka and Kevin Gausman are on the mound for today's 4:05 pm start at Camden Yards.

If the Blast are going to win their second straight indoor soccer title, they're going to have to do it the hard way after losing Game 1 of the Championship Series last night in Baltimore, 4-2, to Soles de Sonora.

Game 2 of the series is Sunday night (9:00 pm) in Mexico, where the hosts have been one of the league's most dominant home teams over the last two seasons. If Soles de Sonora wins Game 2, they win the championship. If the Blast comes out on top in Game 2, a 15-minute "mini game" will decide the title immediately following Game 2.

The Blast isn't in unfamiliar territory, fortunately. They lost Game 1 at home in earlier playoff series with Harrisburg, then went up I-83 a few days later and won Game 2 and the 15-minute mini-game to advance to the next round.

Against Milwaukee in the conference finals, the Blast won Game 1 at home, lost Game 2, then won the 15-minute mini-game.

Last year, in fact, the Blast played this same Soles de Sonora and beat them in Game 2 in Mexico to capture the title.

They've been down this road before, but this time around, the challenge looks formidable to say the least.

The Washington Capitals know they're finishing in first in the Eastern Conference and they know they have home ice throughout the playoffs. What they don't know, though, is who they'll be playing later next week when they open post-season play at the Verizon Center.

The Caps could still play one of five teams in their opening round: Ottawa, Boston, Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders or Toronto.

If Toronto wins tonight at home over Pittsburgh, that eliminates Tampa Bay and the Islanders.

If Boston beats the Capitals this afternoon in Beantown, that means the Caps can't play the Bruins next week.

The one team Barry Trotz would like to avoid, for sure, is Ottawa, who have perfected a smothering defensive style against the Capitals over the last couple of years.

If Tampa Bay or the Islanders somehow sneak in and steal that last playoff spot from Toronto, there's not much to worry about there as far as the Caps go. They can beat either of those teams over a 7-game series.

The Maple Leafs are a young team oozing with talent, but they're probably a year or two away from posing a post-season threat to Alex Ovechkin and Company. They would be a good first-round opponent for the Caps next week.

I'll end this by offering the obligatory qualifying statement about the Capitals in the post-season. They're fully capable of beating any team and also fully capable of losing to any team. They're the Capitals. Nothing is a foregone conclusion in the post-season. Expect heartbreak.

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final results for our #dmd march madness contest are in!

With nearly 400 entries in this year's #DMD March Madness contest, the staff (me) had quite a task on its hands this week, but it's all done and double-checked, although I'm fairly certain a "triple check" might be in order.

Unlike the world of golf, who resents armchair call-ins, we'll take any disputes you might have. Please note, however, that ties were broken by email time stamp. You might have finished deadlocked with 20 other people for 10th place, for example, but if he/she got in before you, they get the prize.

By the way, only eight people in our contest had a UNC-Gonzaga final and only two of those had UNC winning it all.

Thanks to all of you who participated in our contest! I hope it was fun following along with our "unique" format.

1st place -- $250 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: J.P. Hyle, 95 points

2nd place -- $150 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: Robert Canaggio, 90 points

3rd place -- $100 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: Sean Keehan, 90 points

4th place -- Breakfast/lunch for a month from Royal Farms: Taylor Monihan, 90 points

5th place -- Breakfast/lunch for a week from Royal Farms: Patrick Windsor, 90 points

6th-10th place -- $25 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: John Powers, Bart Adams (85 points), Rich Prescott, John Logue and Timothy Mack (80 points)

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April 7
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 7
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hoffman races to masters lead, but can he hold on to it?

Charley Hoffman?


I know he’s a great player and all – anyone who plays on the PGA Tour is a “great player” – but I certainly never thought he had the goods to win the Masters.

Perhaps he won’t win this event, but that round of 65 on Thursday was as good as anyone has ever played in a major championship given the conditions the players faced throughout the day in Augusta.

Charley Hoffman, huh?

First-round Masters leader Charley Hoffman birdied half the holes on Thursday, including four straight from 14 through 17.

While Jordan Spieth was busy making yet another quadruple bogey and Dustin Johnson was saying “no mas” before his tournament even started, Hoffman poured in putt after putt on the back nine to engineer a 4-shot lead over American journeyman William McGirt.

The bottom half of the first page of the leaderboard looked more like what we all expected, with Lee Westwood (-2), Justin Rose (-1), Phil Mickelson (-1) and Sergio Garcia (-1) producing stellar rounds on Thursday. All four of those guys have a realistic chance to win, as does Rory McIlroy, who was +3 through 12 holes, then made three birdies coming in to finish at even-par 72.

But they’re all chasing the green-gloved Hoffman, who has sniffed around a major or two in the past and actually has a fairly impressive track record at Augusta National in his career.

I don’t think Hoffman has enough game to hold on and win the green jacket, but if he keeps putting like he did on Thursday, I’ll be issuing a mea culpa on Monday morning here at #DMD.

Spieth, who finished at +3 on Thursday, talked afterwards like he was well within reach of the lead, but the reality is the 2015 champion will need a lot of players above him to hit the skids -- in addition to shooting in the 60’s himself for each of the next three days – to return to the winner’s circle at Augusta National.

You know what they say: You can’t win the Masters on Thursday, but you can lose it on Thursday.

With one bad club selection on the 15th hole and some sloppy work around the green moments later, Spieth nearly shot himself out of the tournament.

Left with just 78 yards to the hole there, Spieth tried to hammer a 60-degree wedge, which produced too much spin once it found the putting surface. The ball slid quickly down the slope in front of the green, found the water, and Spieth was suddenly staring a big number in the face if he couldn’t get his next shot close.

He didn’t get that one close. Or the next one. Or, sadly, the one after that. To wrap up the ten minutes of horror, he missed a six-footer for triple-bogey.

It’s a little surprising that a player of Spieth’s caliber wouldn’t have just soft-armed a 56-degree wedge into the green there, generating less spin and keeping the ball comfortably on the putting surface. He’s a 2-time major champion, but still has things to learn, apparently.

If you’re wondering what happens to guys who chop up a hole at Augusta, no player in Masters history has ever recorded a quadruple bogey and gone on to win the tournament in the same year.

That stat doesn't bode well for Spieth's chances, unfortunately.

The golf course played so tough yesterday that only one player in the field navigated all 18 holes without a bogey. That accomplishment belonged to Sergio Garcia, who posted a 1-under par score that could have easily been more like 3 or 4 under.

Five straight birdies late in the round gave Lee Westwood a 2-under par score of 69 on Thursday and once again put him on the leaderboard at Augusta National.

He failed to birdie either of the par 5’s on the back nine and missed a seven foot birdie putt at #16, but did make slippery 5-footers for par at both #17 and #18 to keep his score in red figures.

Lee Westwood made five straight birdies on the back nine to vault up the leaderboard, while William McGirt, who was making his Masters debut, hung tough all afternoon while playing in the most treacherous of the conditions that made life miserable for most of the field on Thursday.

If you're looking for a few over-par names to consider for the title, there's Marc Leishman (+1), Justin Thomas (+1) and Jason Day (+2), each of whom kept themselves alive with some solid back nine play on Thursday. Thomas, in fact, was the only player in the field to birdie the 11th hole in the opening round. Too bad they didn't have a $100 a man skins game on Thursday.

But the story of the day, once Dustin Johnson pulled out, was Hoffman’s incredible 7-under round of 65, which beat the field-on-average by a whopping 10 shots.

He’d be an improbable champion, but others with a similar pedigree like Mike Weir and Trevor Immelman were also able to post victories at Augusta National, so it’s not out of the question that an “outsider” can win the Masters.

Let’s give the folks who run the golf tournament some credit as well. Given the conditions they knew the players were going to face, the powers-that-be shortened a few holes and moved a couple of pins into benign positions to ensure nothing crazy happened on the putting surfaces. Say what you will about some of their stuffiness, but the folks at Augusta National know how to run a first class event.

Leaderboard analysis:

Charley Hoffman (-7): Might have been the round of his life on Thursday or could be the start of the greatest four days he’ll ever have. Anything at 72 or lower on Friday keeps him right in the thick of it heading to the weekend.

William McGirt (-3): His great short game might keep him on the first page of the leaderboard over the next couple of days, but first-timers just don’t conquer Augusta National.

Lee Westwood (-2): Five straight birdies on the back nine launched him into contention, but the Englishman needs to tidy up his driver over the next three days to have a realistic chance of winning.

Phil Mickelson (-1): Never count him out at Augusta National, particularly when the weather isn’t great. But with warm temperatures and no wind in the forecast on Saturday and Sunday, Phil will have to be on his “A” game to capture a 4th green jacket.

Justin Rose (-1): Since 2012, he’s made more birdies and eagles than anyone else at the Masters. If someone’s going to get hot and get past Hoffman over the next three days, Rose might be that guy. Appears more comfortable on the course than anyone on the leaderboard except Mickelson, perhaps.

Sergio Garcia (-1): Tee-to-green he was the best player in the field on Thursday, but only made one birdie, along with 17 pars. Will have to putt much better over the next three days to win his first major.

Rory McIlroy (Even): A late surge on the back-nine got him back to level par and well within shouting distance of Hoffman, but McIlroy’s swing looked loose throughout the opening round. Likely needs three rounds in the 60’s to have a chance at winning the green jacket and completing the career grand slam.

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my mount rushmore of coaches

In Monday's edition of #DMD, I asked you to consider what current, active coaches would be on your "Mount Rushmore".

On Wednesday, I kicked-off my personal list with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. I figured I'd get the no-brainer out of the way first.

Choosing four coaches isn't easy. It would be simple to only pick men (or women) who just win a lot, as that's why they play the game. And, let's face it, no one ever considers putting guys like Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan or Mark Turgeon on a list like this because they haven't won enough. So, winners get picked a lot more often.

No, I'm not setting you up for a "Coach K" announcement here.

Since this Mount Rushmore is being built with active coaches only, I'm putting someone up who, right now, I believe is one of the four best coaches/managers in sports today.

He's a guy I would want to play for, and I think you would as well.

I haven't read every single article or column ever written about Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, but the ones I have read haven't included a negative word about the man. It seems every player enjoys playing for him.

Oh, and then there's the winning. Maddon was saddled with one of the worst jobs in sports -- not just baseball, but sports -- when he ran the Tampa Bay Rays, but eventually he got the Rays over the hump and into the World Series in 2008 before they fell to the Philadelphia Phillies.

He joined the moribund Rays franchise for the 2006 campaign and promptly made the playoffs just three seasons later. In all, he guided Tampa Bay to four playoff appearances. They haven't sniffed the post-season since he left in 2014.

Maddon moved on to the Chicago Cubs in 2015 and what did he do there? He took the Cubs to the National League Championship Series in 2015 and to the World Series in 2016, where the Cubs captured their first title in 108 years.

Whatever it is he does, it works.

Some people consider his style odd, but players speak openly about their fondness for Maddon. When you can get a professional player to publicly appreciate a coach or manager, that's something worth noting.

Joe Maddon is the second of four coaches on my personal Mount Rushmore.

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this weekend in
english soccer

Contributed by #DMD's English Premier League Reporter

After getting past Manchester City to put away another potential title challenger, Chelsea were just minutes from essentially wrapping up their second title in the last three years before Tottenham ripped off three goals in the game’s final six minutes against Swansea City to stay seven points back of the Blues with eight games left to play as we head into Matchday 32 of the English Premier League. A slip up by either side could put the title race to bed or turn it on its head, so tune in to catch all of the long weekend action live on the NBC family of networks or online at NBC Live Extra.

Sunday, April 9 (all times eastern)

8:30am – Manchester United @ Sunderland – Stadium of Light, NBC Sports Network

In danger of relegation, Sunderland manager David Moyes faces his old team this weekend in a crucial game.

Manchester United left it until the games dying seconds but salvaged a point in a 1-1 draw with Everton to extend their league leading twenty game unbeaten run and stay within striking distance of a spot in the top four ahead of their visit to the Stadium of Light against former United boss David Moyes and Sunderland, who are running out of time to save their top-flight status after they were held scoreless for the sixth straight game to lose for the fifth time in their last six outings in a 2-0 defeat to the reborn Leicester City and remain in the table cellar, eight points from safety with eight games left to play.

With matchups still to come in the run in to the end of the season against fellow relegation rivals Middlesbrough, Hull City, and Swansea City, all hope of survival for Sunderland is not lost though they will have to start picking up points which they have had little success doing against United in the past, losing three of their last four and taking three points in just two of their last twenty-six top flight meetings while managing a goal or less in thirteen of the last fourteen games, coming away empty handed on nineteen of those occasions and in seven of their last ten encounters at the Stadium of Light (W1 D2).

11am – Leicester City @ Everton – Goodison Park, NBC Sports Network

It was only weeks ago that we were talking about Leicester City facing potential relegation only ten months after lifting the league title but, after parting ways with manager Claudio Ranieri, the Foxes have rediscovered the form that took them to the top of the league last season with their victory over Sunderland making it five wins in a row and six across all competitions, including booking their place in the final eight of the Champions League. Before continuing their European campaign against Atletico Madrid in the mid-week, they will visit Goodison Park for a matchup with Everton.

The Toffees will likely still be smarting from the late defeat against Manchester United, which had them only seconds from pulling into a three-way tie for fifth place with the Red Devils and Arsenal. In a series that has been historically even over the last several years, with the sides splitting the points in thirteen of their last twenty-two meetings across all competitions, Everton will have to hope the Foxes trip to Madrid only a few days before will leave them vulnerable at the weekend with losses in three of their last four meetings (W1) and dropping two of the last three encounters at Goodison Park (D1).

Monday, April 10 (all times eastern)

3pm – Arsenal @ Crystal Palace – Selhurst Park, NBC Sports Network

After notching only one win in their last six league games and bowing out of the Champions League over a two-legged mauling from Bayern Munich with little more than a whimper, Arsenal followed up their encouraging showing at the weekend in the draw with Manchester City by shipping three goals past West Ham United to convincingly pick up their first win in the league since early February to help ease the pressure on embattled manager Arsene Wenger and revive their hopes of a top four finish as they sit just four points back of the fourth place Citizens with a game in hand.

They will face another London Derby to wrap up the weekly action with a trip across town to face Crystal Palace, who lost for the first time in their last five league games as they continue to stare down relegation as we come down the seasons home stretch. The Gunners will like their chances of keeping the pressure on City, winning seven of their last eight (D1) and losing just one of their fifteen all time Premier League meetings (W11 D3) with Palace, never failing to walk away from the vaunted Selhurst Park without points including taking all three in five of their seven trips across the capital (D2).

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April 6
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 6
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early returns are favorable on gausman, bundy

If the O's are going to rely on the dynamic duo of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy this season, the first-week returns on those two are quite favorable.

Gausman wasn't great on opening day, but he was solid enough to work his way out of a couple of jams and help the Birds take Monday's game to extra innings, where Mark Trumbo's homer gave the home team a 3-2 win.

Bundy was terrific in last night's 3-1 win over Toronto, changing speeds and working both sides of the plate like a Cy Young winner, as he struck out eight and walked none in seven innings to help the Birds start the season at 2-0.

Quite an impressive start to the season for Dylan Bundy last night, as he allowed just four hits and one earned run in seven innings of work.

I'll admit to not having seen every major league starter's changeup, but I can say this for certain: There aren't many guys in the big leagues who have a changeup as devastating as Bundy's. Time and time again last night, the Blue Jays whiffed at it, shuffling back to the dugout with that familiar shake of the head from side-to-side.

Quality wise, Bundy's changeup is as good as anyone's pitch in the big leagues. If he somehow picks up one more quality pitch over the next year or out.

In case you missed it last night, Adam Jones and Chris Davis homered to account for all three of Baltimore's runs in the win. Two games, two wins, both powered by the long ball. Sounds familiar, right?

Yes, there's a long way to go and, hopefully, about 66 more combined starts for those two, but there's no getting around the fact that both Gausman and Bundy are ready for the big time. Those kids can definitely pitch.

Neither of them have ever eclipsed the 200-inning mark in a season. Bundy, in fact, hasn't even thrown more than 110 innings in a big league season. So asking each of them to make 34 starts in 2017 might be a tad ambitious, but if each can stay healthy all year and give the Birds a full campaign, there's no telling how good Buck Showalter's team might be.

The Chris Tillman-shoulder injury factors in to the club's (hopeful) success, of course, and there's no way of knowing how Tillman will fare until he returns in early May, but a Tillman-Gausman-Bundy trifecta looks awfully appealing.

Buck Showalter only needed two games to give the lineup a tweak, as Joey Rickard played left field last night with Toronto sending a left-hander to the mound and Trey Mancini moved to right field, giving Seth Smith the night off. The two went a combined 0-for-7 against two Blue Jay pitchers.

It got a little dicey in the top of the 9th inning when Zach Britton allowed back-to-back singles to start things off and eventually loaded the bases with just one out. But, like he did so many times in 2016, Britton came out smelling like a rose, as Steve Pearce grounded into a game-ending double play. The more things change -- the more they stay the same.

The Yankees come to town for a weekend series that starts tomorrow night at Camden Yards. Luis Severino (NY) and Ubaldo Jimenez (Bal) will take the mound for Friday's opener, with Masahiro Tanaka facing Kevin Gausman on Saturday, and C.C. Sabathia opposing Wade Miley on Sunday afternoon.

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my masters pick: that spanish kid will shine at augusta

It's been fun playing the game this week with those who have asked me about my pick to win the Masters.

"I'm going with the Spanish kid," I've said with a smile.

Everyone immediately breaks into a quick recap of Jon Rahm's surprising surge in this, his first season on the PGA Tour. They note his great college career, his win at Torrey Pines in late January, and his impressive run to the Match Play finals, where he was then stopped by the world's number one player, Dustin Johnson.

Indeed, Jon Rahm can play.

But I'm going with the other Spanish kid.

Except, at age 37, I guess we'd no longer qualify Sergio Garcia as a "kid".

But Garcia IS my pick to win this week's first major of the golf season at Augusta National Golf Club.

Why Garcia?

Because he's due, for starters. I'm of the belief that anyone who truly is great enough to win a major title wins at least one in his career. Five names immediately come to mind as solo, one-time winners of major titles; Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, Jim Furyk and, most recently, Henrik Stenson. Love, Couples and Pavin won their major title in the 90's, when all three were top players in the world. Furyk captured his in 2003. Stenson, at age 40, finally captured his last summer at the British Open.

Garcia is cut from the same cloth as those five. Except he's a great player without a major championship. Garcia and Lee Westwood are this generation's Colin Montgomerie. They're great players without a major title. But I still think both of those guys will win one at some point.

In an odd kind of way, Garcia might draw motivation from both Rahm and fellow Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello. Those two youngsters appear destined for great careers as well, with Garcia seeing Cabrera-Bello up close and personal last Fall when the two of them played together in the Ryder Cup.

With his idols, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, both winning twice at Augusta National, the pressure is on Garcia to carry on the tradition of Spanish greatness at the Masters. That pressure might get heightened a tad now when Sergio sees Rahm and Cabera-Bello in the field, knowing either of them could win the coveted green jacket this week.

Specifically, about form, Garcia is more than capable of winning at Augusta National. His track record there includes a handful of impressive finishes and anyone who follows the Masters closely knows the biggest factor of all is "experience".

Garcia has two decades of trips to Augusta in his back pocket. He knows how to play the place, there's no disputing that.

Throughout his career, the Spaniard has been one of the game's best iron players. He's become a much better driver of the ball in recent years, as evidenced by his 5th place finish in last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont, a tournament that early in his career gave him problems because of inconsistencies with the tee ball.

Putting, as we all know, has been the one thing that holds Garcia back. But let's not confuse things here. Sergio Garcia is not an awful putter. Not in the least. He's a decent putter who has an occasional week of greatness, like he did earlier this season when he won at Dubai, beating a high quality field along the way.

And, again, putting the greens at Augusta National is more about knowledge and experience than anything else. I'm not worried about Garcia's ability to putt this week. He can get the job done if the rest of his game is holding up well.

His temperament was always an issue circa 2005, but age has given Garcia a new perspective on things. In fact, that's the one early issue we can see in Jon Rahm's game. His temper flares after a bad shot or a bad break, eerily reminisicent of -- Sergio Garcia at age 25.

Rahm and Cabera-Bello might both win the Masters someday.

But this time around, it's the other "kid" I'm picking. It's Sergio Garcia's year to win the Masters and join Ballesteros and Olazabal as Spanish major champions.

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thursday sports with David Rosenfeld

DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.

I was sitting at my desk on the balcony of Jadwin Gym in Princeton, N.J., one spring afternoon in 1996 when the phone rang.

The voice on the other end was Tom McCarthy, then the radio announcer and public relations director for the Trenton Thunder of the AA Eastern League. These days, he’s graduated to the Philadelphia Phillies broadcast team, with national radio and NFL television work during the offseason.

Tom, an affable fellow then and now, was calling to warn me that I’d soon be receiving another call from the ballpark, this time from the manager of the visiting team in town, the Canton-Akron Indians(1). His name was (is) Jeff Datz; 14 years later, he would serve as the bench coach for the Orioles under Dave Trembley.

Known just as well for dugout outbursts and raging calls to the press box when he didn't get credited with a base hit.

Being a member of the 2010 Orioles couldn’t have been fun. Back then, Datz wasn’t having fun, either. He was, as I soon found out, pissed.

The previous night, early in the game, a Trenton player hit a fly ball into the gap. There were two outs, and the bases were loaded. The center fielder and right fielder each approached the ball, stopping about five feet from one another, then looking at each other as if each one wanted the other to take it. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

Three runs scored on the play; Datz’s team went on to get blown out. But he didn’t seem so mad about that. He was upset the play was scored a hit, and he was upset at me because I was the official scorer that called it a hit.

With the beginning of baseball season, let’s say a prayer for the official scorer, who maybe has the most stressful job at the park behind the closer and the security guy who deals with the drunks.

In 1996 and 1997, I served as the official scorer in Trenton maybe 60 times. I got to the park early, had a bite to eat and settled into my seat in the press box, where for the next three hours I was somewhat terrified. I wished for every grounder to be an easy three-hopper, for every hit to be a frozen rope, and that there would never be a 30-second rundown play involving seven fielders that ended up in an error(2).

All the while, I hoped that there’d never be a look from the dugout, or even worse a call from the clubhouse, both of which happened with alarming frequency.

Official scorers for Major League games are hired by the league, not the teams themselves. In 2012, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, they made $150 a game, not bad I guess, but as one scorer was quoted, he makes “$5 to score the game and $145 to absorb the abuse.”

Last year in Pittsburgh, All-Star Andrew McCutchen was charged with an error against the Cubs on a difficult play; after the game, he told the assembled press at his locker that the official scorer should be fired. McCutchen apologized the next day, perhaps when someone reminded him that it looks bad for a guy making $80K per game to demand the dismissal of a part-time employee for doing his hardly-paid job.

A few years back, David Ortiz wanted a hit in Boston for a ball that was scored an error (remember, statistically, reaching on an error counts as an out for the hitter). Apparently, he then glared at the press box several times. Afterward, he complained that his “home” scorer ought to know better than to treat him like that.

Luckily, MLB has an adult in the room when it comes to these debates: Joe Torre, who holds the title of Chief Baseball Officer in the Commissioner’s office. Publicly, he admonished Ortiz the next day, reminding him that there’s no such thing as a “home” scorer and that the scorer is doing the best he/she can in using judgment while following the scoring rules.

Privately, there is an appeal process that goes on behind the scenes, one that was codified in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the players and the league. I don’t know everything about it, but there are plenty of appeals each season, and scoring decisions do get overturned. Hits and errors and wild pitches can turn into money, on a contract negotiation or during an arbitration hearing. I get that, and I’m glad there is a confidential, documented process by which those decisions can be debated.

I don’t remember all the details of my conversation with Datz 21 years ago. His main concern, from what I recall, seemed to deal with the report he was sending to the organization, then a staple of a minor league manager’s job. He was afraid that his starting pitcher’s statistics in the blowout loss would show unfairly.

On the advice of McCarthy, and hopefully with all the maturity I could muster as a 23-year-old, I rejected the urge to make any sarcastic remarks to the skipper(3), or to suggest to him what he should write on his report.

I told him that I’d thought that, for whatever reason, neither player made a legitimate attempt to catch the ball. In some ways, it wasn’t any different from Monday at Camden Yards, when Blue Jays left fielder Ezequiel Carrera lost a ball in the high sky, center fielder Kevin Pillar didn’t notice in time, and Welington Castillo’s fly ball fell in for a double.

I was just trying to use my best judgment, and I felt okay about that. Datz might have seemed crotchety to me, but he was a young manager just trying to fight for one of his guys. All these years later, it occurs to me that we were both just doing our jobs. I was making a lot less for doing mine, but…


(1) - The next season, the team changed its name to the Akron Aeros. In 2013, they became the Akron Rubberducks. Don’t ask…

(2) - This actually happened, but I couldn’t decide whom to charge with the error. After the game, I went into the Trenton clubhouse and asked the manager, Ken Macha, who laughed and said “just pick somebody, son…”

(3) - Like…”what about the other 14 runs allowed by your pitching staff?” or “you must have some time on your hands after spending three minutes filling out the lineup card…”

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final results for our #dmd march madness contest are in!

With nearly 400 entries in this year's #DMD March Madness contest, the staff (me) had quite a task on its hands this week, but it's all done and double-checked, although I'm fairly certain a "triple check" might be in order.

Unlike the world of golf, who resents armchair call-ins, we'll take any disputes you might have. Please note, however, that ties were broken by email time stamp. You might have finished deadlocked with 20 other people for 10th place, for example, but if he/she got in before you, they get the prize.

By the way, only eight people in our contest had a UNC-Gonzaga final and only two of those had UNC winning it all.

Thanks to all of you who participated in our contest! I hope it was fun following along with our "unique" format.

1st place -- $250 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: J.P. Hyle, 95 points

2nd place -- $150 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: Robert Canaggio, 90 points

3rd place -- $100 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: Sean Keehan, 90 points

4th place -- Breakfast/lunch for a month from Royal Farms: Taylor Monihan, 90 points

5th place -- Breakfast/lunch for a week from Royal Farms: Patrick Windsor, 90 points

6th-10th place -- $25 gift certificate from Glory Days Grill: John Powers, Bart Adams (85 points), Rich Prescott, John Logue and Timothy Mack (80 points)

April 5
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 5
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augusta provides great memories for #dmd's travel group

A number of people e-mailed me over the last couple of days asking for tips on how to navigate Augusta National once you're on site for either a practice round or an actual day of tournament competition.

I'll get back to them today with some clear thoughts on how to best enjoy your day there, but here's the first tip: Go on Tuesday.

I know, it's not always easy to pick your day. It is, after all, the Masters at Augusta National. You go on any day you're fortunate enough to score a ticket. But yesterday marked my 7th time attending a Masters practice round and the fifth time I've been on a Tuesday -- and the weather was as beautiful as I've ever seen down there for our annual visit to the greatest golf course in the world.

It seems any time I attend a practice round on a Tuesday, the weather is gorgeous. That's probably just a coincidence. But Tuesday seems to be a magical day for me.

The trip started off on a scary weather note, though. More on that in a minute.

Twenty of us from Baltimore -- including a large group from Kelly Benefits and Payroll, headed up by my friend Brian Hubbard -- enjoyed a full day at Augusta on a sun-splashed Tuesday, as we arrived just before 8 am and spent the better part of eight hours walking the course, taking in the sights and spending enough money in the merchandise tent to make our eyes water.

I was blessed to have another friend, Bill McCarthy of Catholic Charities in Baltimore, join me on the trip and Bill and I put in some hard work on Tuesday walking the course and surveying all there was to see. At day's end, Bill's fancy watch said we had put in 9 miles of walking. It felt more like 19. But we had a great day together.

We weren't quite sure the sun would come out on Tuesday after the way things started out for our group late Monday afternoon. We arrived at our Aiken, South Carolina hotel just in time to walk into the lobby and see every TV set flashing "tornado warning" across the screen, along with station weather personnel showing an approaching storm that was threatening the Aiken/Augusta area.

It got nasty, quick, and by 4:30 pm, we were in a full-fledged tornado-warning situation that included heavy rain and wild, whipping winds. It was pretty scary for the better part of 15 or 20 minutes, honestly.

By Monday evening, the skies had cleared and a beautiful Tuesday was on the horizon.

When we arrived at the course, I immediately took those who wanted to go on a back-nine tour, first stopping at the area deep in the woods to the right of the 10th hole where Bubba Watson hit his improbable second shot in the playoff of the 2012 Masters. Once you're in there (14 paces from the cement water cover, for those going later this week), you simply can't believe Watson would be able to hit a shot from that position and get it on the green, especially coming out of pine needles. But he did.

We moved on to the 11th and 12th holes, which closely neighbor one another. I pointed out that the flag on the 12th green was limp and motionless and the flag on the 11th green, somewhere 90 yards to its left, was ripping. Augusta National veterans say when they get to the 12th tee, they look at the flag on 11, not 12, to determine the wind direction on their hole.

Our group traveled the back nine, stopping for a few minutes at #16 to watch Patrick Reed hit tee shots at the par-3 hole. Reed, I noted, was out there by himself. Nearly every player has at least one or two practice round playing partners with them, but Reed didn't. It was just a golfer and his caddie, putting in lots of work on every green and spending a considerable amount of time on the tee box trying to figure out which club to hit.

Oh, we also stopped at the food and drink shop a couple of times along the way, as everyone took advantage of the prices. A turkey sandwich, chips and soda set you back $5.00. At the football or baseball stadium in Baltimore, you'd be shelling out $16 for the same thing.

Bill and I eventually found our way to the practice range. It was part-rest, part-watch-the-best-players-in-the-world hit golf balls, but a stop at the range was just what we needed to refuel for the afternoon.

What a player does on the range is typically not all that important, but if you believe in such things, I'll give you three names of players who were striping it and three names of guys who were struggling to find their swing.

Three who looked really good in their practice session: Jhonattan Vegas, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker.

Three who were struggling to find their swing, complete with varying contraptions they were using or an active coach who was constantly working with them: Kevin Kisner, Jose Maria Olazabal and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

Don't read much into any of that, although I will say I also saw Vegas on the golf course yesterday and he was really hitting the ball well. You'll read more about him later.

When we finished our day around 4 pm, everyone was filled with pimento sandwiches and enough memories to last a lifetime. We caught a mid-evening flight back to Baltimore and I'm quite certain no one in our group had trouble getting to sleep last night.

Another glorious trip to Augusta National in the books.

The good Lord willing, we'll be doing it again next year. If you'd like to join us, we'd love to have you!

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from the desk of
brien jackson

BRIEN JACKSON's work at #DMD promises to provide some of Baltimore's best sports insight and commentary, brought to you by SECU, the official credit-union of Drew's Morning Dish. Brien has done sports media work with ESPN, CBS and NPR. His contributions to #DMD will focus on the Orioles, the Ravens, and national sports stories.

Another baseball season begins...which means more controversy and anger over where "the experts" are picking the Orioles to finish.

You would think by now that we'd all realize the business of making predictions before a baseball season is largely a meaningless parlor game and that most writers only do it because their bosses demand them of it, but then we wouldn't get a chance to type angrily about the lack of respect the local team is getting. And what would Baltimore sports be without that, amirite?

The truth is that the Orioles are what they've been for several years now: A lineup deep in home run power and infield defense backed up by questionable at best starting pitching and a deep bullpen with one of the game's top managers pulling the strings.

The O's opening day starter, Kevin Gausman will be called upon this year to reach the 200 innings plateau and help anchor an Orioles starting staff that could be without Chris Tillman for the first month of the season.

Since 2012 that's a recipe that's produced more or less the same results; a winning record that can push as far as a playoff berth or, with some 2014-esque luck and an extra piece or two, 95+ wins and a division title. On the other hand, it's not hard at all to imagine an injury or two or a down year from one key player knocking the whole thing off the rails and sending the Birds crashing back to the basement. And they're already working around one such injury to staff ace Chris Tillman.

Adding to the volatility of the situation is the overall uncertainty in the rest of the division.

Boston looks like a sure bet to repeat as division winners, but beyond that you can conceivably jumble up the rest of the division in any possible combination. Toronto has to contend with the loss of Edwin Encarnacion, but Kendrys Morales will make up for at least a solid portion of that production.

The Yankees don't look like contenders yet, but if all of that young talent establishes themselves early and Gary Sanchez keeps hitting like an MVP that offense could be enough to climb ahead of everyone else outside of New England.

Tampa Bay is the popular pick for the cellar, but they look like a team that's going to hover around .500 and might be able to ride a good string of luck or one extended hot streak to a better than expected finish.

And right in the middle of all of that is the Orioles. The team that finished third in the East last season looks like they'll be right back in that mix this season as well.

Overtaking Boston may be a stretch too far (though stranger things have most definitely happened) but pushing past everyone else and claiming a playoff berth for the fourth time in six years is definitely within reach. But then, so is a disastrous season, the first losing season since 2011, and a last place finish.

The 162 game schedule reduces the volatility of single game outcomes that can change the course of an NFL schedule, but it also opens up all kinds of potential for craziness, injuries, and deep teamwide slides.

The cold hard truth is this: The 2017 Orioles will go as far as Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy carry them.

The two former top five picks have both established themselves as legitimate major league pitchers, but now they need to take the next step and become a duo that can carry a starting rotation to at least a respectable performance solid enough to set the table for that bullpen and those big power bats.

It sounds simple enough, but as Drew noted in his preview of the team, neither guy has sustained that kind of workload, especially Bundy, and asking for that kind of consistent success for six months out of two youngsters is a difficult factor to count on.

They're off to a good start though, with Gausman turning in a respectable effort in his first Opening Day start. It wasn't the stuff of legends and the wheels nearly came off entirely in his 35 pitch fifth inning, but it was a wholly acceptable performance for Gausman's first real start of the season.

Bundy gets his turn tonight, and every eye in Birdland will be watching intently, with one eye on the outlook for the rest of the season.

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my mount rushmore of coaches

In Monday's edition of #DMD, I asked you to consider what current, active coaches would be on your "Mount Rushmore".

I'll start things off today with one of my four, and give you the other three over the next few days.

The first one, is, without question, the easiest of them all. If your Mount Rushmore of current coaches doesn't include Bill Belichick, you should stop doing the exercise and allow the professionals to handle it from here.

I have come to respect Belichick a lot over the last five years or so. Yes, I understand he's been blessed with the winningest Super Bowl quarterback ever. And, yes, I know what Belichick's record was before he inherited Tom Brady.

But every great coach has had great players alongside of him (her). And, who knows, perhaps it's Brady who wouldn't otherwise be successful without the aid of Belichick, not vice versa.

No matter how you slice it, though, Belichick is a great coach.

His record has a scarlet letter or two, yes. The illegal filming of an opposing team's practice sessions nicked his reputation for sure, as did Deflategate, although I'm certain -- myself -- that Belichick had zero idea that Tom Brady was instructing New England equipment room staffers to reduce the air pressure of the team's footballs.

But every coach in the league would give up their beach house in Florida for Belichick's record. Five Super Bowl titles later, with his spot in Canton already in concrete, all Belichick is doing now is making it harder for the next guy to equal his success.

Whether or not he's the greatest NFL coach ever is certainly debatable, as there have been lots of others before him with varying degrees of success and innovative systems and styles of play. What isn't debatable, though, is where Belichick ranks today, in 2017, among his peers.

There's no better coach in the NFL right now than Bill Belichick.

And, naturally, he's one of the four active coaches on my Mount Rushmore.

an update on our #dmd march madness contest

We're close to having the final results ready to publish for our #DMD March Madness.

We had nearly 400 entries, so going through each of them and making sure the point totals are right is quite a process.

Honestly, I had every intention of double-checking everything one final time last night when we returned from Augusta, but our flight was delayed by 45 minutes and I didn't get home until 11:00 pm.

So, I'll confirm everything today and have the full results of the top finishers tomorrow, although I can say this: Our winner was J.P. Hyle, who finished with a whopping 95 points!! There were three others at 90 points and a bunch of folks in the 75-80 range.

We'll have the top 10 finishers and prize winners tomorrow here at #DMD.

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masters preview:
drew's top 12 for 2017

You know spring is officially on the way when you start seeing ads for the Masters during CBS's coverage of March Madness. The music, the yellow Masters flag, the voice of Jim Nantz. It's like therapy, only better.

They'll be teeing it up starting next Thursday, April 6, in the year's first major golf championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Dustin Johnson will enter the tournament as the favorite after his sizzling February and March, but there are others who should be considered as well.

Through April 5, I'll be offering my Masters Top 12 and a 6-player "fantasy team" today.

The top 12 thus far consists of Bill Haas (12), Matthew Fitzpatrick (11), Matt Kuchar (10), Louis Oosthuizen (9), Lee Westwood (8), Rory McIlroy (7), Paul Casey (6), Justin Thomas (5) and Justin Rose (4).

I'll be giving you my #3 and #2 picks today, and the winner on Thursday here at #DMD.

With any luck at all -- or just some better playing on the back nine -- Jordan Spieth would have three Masters titles by now. The golf course suits him perfectly, as his the fairways are wide and generous and Spieth's occasionally-uncooperative driver doesn't bite him the way it might at, say, the U.S. Open.

I love Spieth's chances this week. He's my #3 pick, in fact. The short-game wizardry he possesses makes Spieth a constant favorite at Augusta National, where he won in 2015 and could have won in 2016 if not for a mammoth blunder at the 12th hole.

A player's comfort level on the greens at Augusta connects directly with his chances of winning. If you understand the greens and can get your ball into the right spot on most of them, you have a chance to score well. But if your game isn't sharp and you're faced with a dozen 35-footers on Thursday and Friday, you're probably heading home.

Spieth's knowledge of the course lends itself perfectly to the idea of getting the ball close to the hole from the fairway. And on the occasion that he does miss a green, his wedge game and chipping is as good as anyone out there.

And then...there's the putting. This is where Spieth shines the most, as he did in 2015 when he was able to tie Tiger's tournament record of 19-under par.

If you're so inclined, throw a few bucks on Spieth this week. You might just get a return on your investment.

At #2, it's the player everyone believes has the best chance to win in 2017 -- Dustin Johnson.

And why not, right? He's won three times since late February, and is coming off back-to-back wins in Mexico City and at the Match Play Championship.

D.J. can reach all four of the par 5 holes at Augusta with ease. I realize it's easy to say "he's three under par before the round starts" because of his ability to chew up the par 5's, but he really IS 3-under par before every round.

Rarely would I say, "it's his tournament to lose" on Wednesday of tournament week, but it does feel that way this week with regard to D.J.'s chances of winning. It feels a little bit like Tiger Woods circa 2001, when everyone just knew Tiger was winning before the first tee shot was hit on Thursday morning.

I obviously am picking someone else to win this week (you'll see who that is tomorrow -- and I've purposely left him out of my six-man fantasy team below to prolong the agony), but make no mistake about it: I wouldn't be at all shocked to see Dustin Johnson polish off the field with ease and post something in the 16-under par range to win the event.

His one weakness is his wedge work around the greens, but when you hit it as far and straight as he does, getting your ball on the green from the fairway isn't all that difficult. And, as we've seen recently in his two wins in March, Johnson's putter is cooperating these days.

Here's a quality fantasy golf line-up for your use this week: Jordan Spieth ($11,500), Justin Rose ($9,200), Paul Casey ($7,800), Matthew Fitzpatrick ($7,400), J.B. Holmes ($7,100) and Adam Hadwin ($6,900).

If you wind up winning a million bucks with my lineup, donate some of it to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Baltimore Catholic Charities.

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April 4
r logo#DMDfacebook logoVolume XXXIII
Issue 4
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can't win 'em all if you don't win
the first one, right?

I know the Orioles aren't going 162-0, but winning the opener is a lot better than losing the opener.

We might not go 162-0, but one thing for sure: we're not going 0-162.

I'm bummed I wasn't there for yesterday's season opener at Camden Yards, but Augusta National and the Masters were on the calendar yesterday, and today, and that's a trip I simply can't pass up.

My friends Brian Hubbard, David Kelly and the gang from Kelly Benefits and Payroll are here in Augusta with me, so we spent most of the afternoon "watching" the game by following it on Twitter and other forms of social media.

Needless to say, there was quite a roar in the lobby of our hotel when Mark Trumbo homered in the 11th inning to give the Birds their opening day win.

I saw Zach Britton come in to pitch in a 2-2 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. If you didn't laugh at that when it happened, I'm not sure you have a sense of humor.

Kevin Gausman's numbers weren't great by any means, but he apparently wiggled his way out of a couple of jams and even got Jose Bautista to make a fool of himself once or twice, which is always a bonus.

Steve Pearce had three hits for Toronto? That's about 10% of his season total to come, I suspect. He'll be on the DL by April 21.

All in all, it was a good day for Buck Showalter and the boys. You can't really put much stock in winning the opener, but it really IS better than losing the opener. That's about the simplest way to look at it.

My crew of 20 will be heading to Augusta National today for the Tuesday practice round. If you're a golfer and you've never been to the Masters, all I can tell you is that it's a "must-do" at some point in your lifetime.

Whether you get down there with my #DMD trip next April or do the trip on your own, you have to see Augusta National in person at some point -- if you truly love golf.

As I tell anyone who asks: "You'll never watch the Masters the same once you see the golf course and see for yourself how hard it is."

There's just no way someone shoots -16 for four days at Augusta National -- yet, someone does nearly every year.

As the saying goes — "these guys are good". They're actually better than good. They're phenomenal. And the guy who wins the Masters will have conquered one of America's greatest, most difficult layouts.

It's been quite a start to the week for me.

The Flyers were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday.

The Orioles won their season opener on Monday.

And today, I'm at Augusta National for the 7th time with some great friends and corporate partners, many of whom have never seen the course. I can't wait to lead them on the guided tour of the back nine just after 8:00 am when we arrive at the course on Tuesday.

It's pretty hard to beat those three consecutive days.

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among the mistakes made in lpga ruling, someone's was the biggest

The Lexi Thompson fiasco on Sunday in the LPGA tournament was, indeed, a colossal cluster-eff.

I love golf, of course, but I'll readily admit I don't pay much attention to the LPGA these days. It just doesn't interest me.

In fact, I wasn't even watching Sunday's final round and had to be alerted to the rules situation by my buddy John Bykowski, who sent me a text and asked what I thought of it all.

"Not watching," I replied. "But I'll check it out."

Once I got over to the Golf Channel to see what all the fuss was about, the story was dominating the telecast. Thompson was on the 18th green with a chance to win, but the announcers were rambling far more about the rules issue than the 12-foot eagle putt Thompson was facing.

She would leave that putt short, a cardinal sin if ever there was one, and then lose in a playoff 20 minutes later. It obviously just wasn't meant to be for the American, who went from leading by two to trailing by two once rules officials informed her of the rules infraction and the punishment as she left the 12th green, some 90 minutes before her potential winning putt stopped two rolls shy of finding the bottom of the cup.

Let's start with the basics as we dissect what happened and who fouled up. It's not nearly as simple and easy as everyone has made it out to be over the last 48 hours.

The video below shows the rules infraction Thompson committed on the 17th hole of Saturday's third round.


The good news? There's no arguing about the actual infraction. Thompson, as you clearly see in the video, did not replace her ball to its original spot. That's not an opinion – it's a fact.

Now . . . why didn't she replace it to its original spot? That, I don't know. Thompson was quick to point out that she didn't intentionally fail to re-mark her ball correctly.

I think I believe her on that claim.

But I'm not 100% sure of it. Anyone who has played golf knows that moving your ball one inch from left to right or right to left can dramatically change the intended path to the hole. Your ball can come to rest directly behind two pitch marks, even ones repaired correctly, and no matter what you do yourself to try and smooth the putting surface over, the fact of the matter is a ball rolling over two pitch marks has the potential for being knocked off line.

Move your ball one inch—sometimes even just a half inch—and you could easily avoid those two pitch marks.

I have no way of knowing what the path of Thompson's putt looked like and whether or not there were imperfections in the green that she would have otherwise preferred to avoid.

But I do know this: If Thompson faced such a situation, a nudge to the right or the left—something most people would never see—might have given her a much cleaner route to the hole.

The women are playing for a lot of money. Every stroke counts. Again, I'm not saying that Lexi Thompson intentionally moved her ball to a more advantageous spot on the green -- but what I am saying is that doing so could absolutely impact the roll of the ball.

So, was there intent on her part to replace the ball in a spot other than its original location? Only she knows the answer to that. I'll trust her when she says, "I didn't do it on purpose", but that still doesn't address the crux of the issue: She was definitely guilty of mis-marking her ball.

What, then, should the LPGA have done about it?

I saw the outrage on Twitter in the aftermath of Sunday's decision to dock her a four-stroke penalty. Player after player, mostly from the PGA Tour, expressed their dismay at the ruling, mainly due to the fact that it came the day AFTER the violation had actually occurred.

I get it. It stinks to have to enforce a violation that took place 25 hours earlier.

You know what else would have stunk? Lexi Thompson winning the event by three shots on Sunday afternoon after the LPGA found about the rules infraction and didn't do anything about it.

That, too, would have been awful.

I think we'll all agree that people calling in an infraction (or, in this case, e-mailing it in) is bogus. I don't like it. But because golf is a game played in an arena where there aren't on-site referees with every player or every group, watching every move, sometimes it takes slow-motion replay and a discerning eye, albeit from a couch somewhere, to pick up a violation.

Golf isn't like football or basketball or baseball, where there are hundreds of cameras with varying angles and replay potentials, all aiding in getting the call right (even though in football, they're about 50-50). Those sports are built for in-the-moment rules inquiries and decisions. Golf isn't built like that.

I think the easy solution is this: Once a round of golf is completed, there should be a two-hour (or four, or six — pick one) window where any rules situations can be addressed by the players or the tournament committee. Think of it like horse racing, where jockeys and trainers and track stewards have a brief amount of time after a race is complete to file an inquiry.

The simple answer in golf is to come up with a rule that says, "Once the final putt is holed, there's a two-hour period for all claims to come in. Once that two-hour window is up, the scores are official and that's it.

As I said, that's the simple answer. And one I'd sign off on, despite the fact that someone could potentially break the rules (intentionally or not) and not get the proper punishment for it.

However, and this is important to note: That option was not present for the LPGA on Sunday.

They had to deal with their present rules scenario, which calls for a review of the inquiry, a confirmation that a penalty had, in fact, occurred, and then they have to hand out the punishment. What they did on Sunday, by the rules, was the right thing to do.

PGA Tour players and anyone else can beef about it all they want, but the reality is the LPGA had no real option other than to turn a blind eye to it. And there's no way at all that was the fair and just thing to do under the current rules format on their Tour.

Lexi Thompson broke a rule on Saturday. She might not have known about it, but she broke it nonetheless.

There's a legendary story from the 1991 Ryder Cup in which Paul Azinger and Chip Beck played the wrong ball in an alternate-shot match against Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. On the green, Azinger took umbrage with the way Seve was handling it and said to the Spaniard, "Look here, Seve, if you think we're trying to cheat, you're out of your mind. We'd never cheat."

Ballesteros patted Azinger on the shoulder. "No, no, my friend, I don't think you're cheating. Not at all. Cheating and not knowing the rules are two totally different things."

Lexi Thompson might not have realized she mis-marked her golf ball. I think I believe that. There's also a chance, slight as it might be, that she nudged her ball to the left a half inch or so to gain an imperceptible advantage in her putting line.

Either way, she's guilty of not replacing her ball to its original location.

And that, by the rules, incurs a penalty.

That Thompson didn't call it on herself isn't the LPGA's fault.

Tiger Woods took an illegal drop several years ago at the Masters. Woods, as you heard on the TV camera crowd-mic, knew he was moving back a couple of yards from the general area where the drop should have taken place because he wanted a longer distance to the hole for the sand wedge he was using.

In that case, I believe Woods didn't know the rule. I don't think he was cheating. I think he didn't realize he couldn't drop the ball two yards behind the spot where he originally hit the shot from . . . and he wanted an advantage with the next shot.

It's still a penalty. It wasn't Augusta National's fault that Tiger didn't know the rules. And, on that occasion, I thought Woods should have been DQ'ed from the event, not given a two-stroke penalty the next morning.

What happened on Sunday to Lexi Thompson was unfortunate.

Yes, there should be a better way of handling it, particularly when the whole issue isn't addressed until the day following the infraction.

But one thing I know for sure: Not addressing it would have been wrong, too.

Here's the other thing I know: The person ultimately to blame is Lexi Thompson. She mis-marked her golf ball. That she didn't catch it herself isn't anyone else's fault.

That the LPGA waited a day to enforce the infraction can be blamed on their archaic rules and the person who called it in a day later, but had Thompson simply marked her ball correctly, none of that would have mattered.

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this weekend in
english soccer

Contributed by #DMD's English Premier League Reporter

Matchday 31

Just over forty-eight hours after the conclusion of the weekend fixtures, Matchday 31 of the English Premier League kicks off and guess what? We have a title race! Catch all of the mid-week action live on the NBC family of networks or, if you are stuck at the office, online at NBC Live Extra.

Tuesday (all times EDT)

3:00 pm – Everton @ Manchester United – Old Trafford, NBC Sports Network

Any hopes that Everton had of continuing their charge for a spot in the top four were put to rest when cross town rivals Liverpool opened the scoring and, despite briefly pulling level, got a goal on either side of the halftime whistle to ease to a 3-1 victory over their neighbors. While their faint hopes for a spot in next seasons Champions League may have come and gone, the Toffees still find themselves fighting for fifth place and Europa League qualification when they visit Old Trafford and Manchester United, who sit three points ahead in that fifth place slot following their 0-0 stalemate with West Brom.

While the draw kept United unbeaten since October, sharing the points for the ninth time over their league leading nineteen game run has kept them on the outside of the top four looking in. With a game in hand and a Manchester Derby still to play, they have not given up hopes of Champions League qualification, eager to narrow the five point gap their cross-town rivals currently enjoy in fourth place and fending off an Everton side they have taken three of the last four from across all competitions (D1) and all three points in eight of their last ten top flight meetings at Old Trafford (L1 D1).


2:45 pm – Middlesbrough vs. Hull City – KCOM Stadium, NBC Live Extra

Left for dead on more than one occasion this season, Hull City just keeps hanging around as they won for the second time in their last three league games (L1) and the fourth time in their last five at home (D1) when they overturned an early one goal deficit and steal all three points against West Ham with an 85th minute header from January loan signee Andrea Ranocchia. They will welcome Middlesbrough to the KCOM Stadium for a huge relegation showdown as both sides continue their fight to guarantee a spot in England’s top flight for another year less than twelve months after earning promotion.

Middlesbrough were able to salvage a point at the weekend with Swansea City, but they missed a golden opportunity to take their first three points of the New Year when Rudy Gestede’s unmarked injury time header went narrowly wide. They will need three points against the Tigers who continue their improbable climb up the table and on the cusp of safety, taking fourteen points from the ten games since manager Marco Silva arrived in January to eclipse in just three months their total point haul from the seasons opening five months to give the Tigers the upper hand ahead of the relegation clash.

3:00 pm – Manchester City @ Chelsea – Stamford Bridge, NBC Sports Network

After conceding in the opening five minutes, two goals in a ninety second span sent shockwaves through the league and threatened to reignite a title race that seemed almost done and dusted only days ago as relegation candidates Crystal Palace dealt Chelsea only their second loss at Stamford Bridge this season, and the first since way back in September, in a 2-1 triumph. The Blues will need to regroup quickly when they welcome Pep Guardiola and Manchester City to the capital for a massive mid-week showdown if they hope to snuff out the growing talk of a late season title capitulation.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Conte and Chelsea will try to avoid a late-season title capitulation when they welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge for a massive mid-week clash.

Unlike Tottenham, who got past Burnley 2-0 for their fourth straight win to narrow the gap with the league leaders to seven points, Manchester City missed their chance to keep the pressure on Chelsea ahead of their crunch match, unable to hold a one goal advantage on two occasions to draw for the third week running with Arsenal 2-2. With only one loss in their last five meetings (W2 D2), City may have trouble catching the Blues, but they could certainly make things interesting for Spurs and even Liverpool if they are able to find all three points as we head down the campaigns home stretch.

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masters preview:
drew's top 12 for 2017

You know spring is officially on the way when you start seeing ads for the Masters during CBS's coverage of March Madness. The music, the yellow Masters flag, the voice of Jim Nantz. It's like therapy, only better.

They'll be teeing it up starting next Thursday, April 6, in the year's first major golf championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Dustin Johnson will enter the tournament as the favorite after his sizzling February and March, but there are others who should be considered as well.

Through April 5, I'll be offering my Masters Top 12, ending on Wednesday the 5th with my predicted winner and a 6-player "fantasy team".

The top 12 thus far consists of Bill Haas (12), Matthew Fitzpatrick (11), Matt Kuchar (10), Louis Oosthuizen (9), Lee Westwood (8), Rory McIlroy (7), Paul Casey (6) and Justin Thomas (5).

At #4 is a guy who has didn't have a great track record at Augusta until he played the place a bunch of times and now, Justin Rose has finished in the Top 10 three of the last four years and is primed to contend again this April.

In fact, Rose hasn't finished outside the Top 25 at Augusta National in the last six years.

He's due.

Despite battling back problems over the last 18 months, Rose appears in good form heading into the season's first major championship. His game is always ready for prime-time, and his length off the tee and towering iron shots are a perfect recipe for success at Augusta National.

I don't know that watching Danny Willett win last April aggravated him, per se, but Rose is a proud guy who likely can't stand the fact that the unheralded Willett won at Augusta before he did.

Like Rory McIlroy, Rose goes through hot-and-cold periods with the putter, but when he's on, the birdies come in bunches. And with the experience he's gained at Augusta National over the last decade, the only thing he needs now is a good tee-time draw and some favorable weather and the world is his oyster.

If an Englishman wins again at Augusta National this year, expect it to be Justin Rose.

April 3
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Issue 3
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there's just something about baseball...

Maybe it's because there's a game nearly every single day for the better part of six months.

You wind up running the marathon with the team, if you're an ardent supporter.

It could be that baseball rekindles childhood memories. And if you're fortunate enough to have kids of your own later in life, baseball keeps you engaged with them in the same way you stay connected to your parents and family members "back in the good old days".

There's also the magic of watching and listening, and enjoying the differences in the two. Even though every game is on TV these days, I find myself occasionally going old-school and listening to the radio broadcast because the open screen door in the kitchen just makes it all sound more like home.

It probably has a lot to do with the warm weather, too, and the change of seasons. Baseball ushers us through three different seasons here in Baltimore. We start the campaign in a pullover and long pants, migrate to shorts and a tee-shirt by mid-June, then, if we're one of the lucky ones to have post-September baseball, we're back to sweatshirts and the occasional winter hat in the playoffs.

Today is opening day in Baltimore.

Everyone starts the season at 0-0, and even though some teams already know they won't be playing in October, hope really does spring eternal on their opening day. If you dream a little, you can picture your stadium, filled, in October, and you enjoying it all with two tickets in your hand as you walk up to the ballpark on a crisp Fall night.

There's just something about baseball...

I started going to games at Memorial Stadium when I was four years old. I don't remember that first trip to the ballpark, of course, but my Dad told me I went to a game in the summer of 1967 when the Orioles played the Indians and Sam McDowell pitched for Cleveland.

By the time I was 16, the guys in my close-knit-group-of-friends were piling into someone's car in Glen Burnie and we'd drive to the park-n-ride near what was then called South Baltimore Hospital and catch the bus to stadium at 33rd Street.

We'd fill milk jugs up with beer (we didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the legal drinking age (18) back then and, yes, you could take your own beer in) and take a bunch of chips, pretzels and snacks with us and off we'd go. We'd score upper deck tickets for $3.00 with our Student ID and that was the backdrop for roughly 40 or more games a year from about 1978 through 1984.

I think Camden Yards is a terrific baseball facility, but my fondest sports memories always somehow trickle back to that stadium on 33rd Street. Be it football or baseball, I remember more games, more wins and more losses there than I do at the current stadium in downtown Baltimore.

Change is good, and inevitable, but as they prove each year in Boston, a grand old ballpark is still a warm, welcoming host if you give her the opportunity -- and the occasional facelift.

I miss 33rd Street.

But today, and for the next six months, we'll be able to enjoy baseball at one of the sport's best facilities anywhere. I'm not one to argue much about which stadium in the country is best. Frankly, I think Chavez Ravine is the best stadium in the country for watching a baseball game, but that's neither here nor there. Our stadium in Baltimore is pretty daggone good, and that's all that matters.

Here's the funny thing, though: Baseball is beautiful no matter where it's played. Whether you're in Milwaukee, San Diego, Philadelphia or Cincinnati, you'll still walk into that ballpark this week and stop for a second, look around, and say, quietly, "Wow..."

My life has evolved now to the point where I'm taking my own son to the ballpark. He loves it, of course, and last year we also went to Fenway Park together for a 3-game Orioles/Red Sox series in June. Baseball is on in our house every night, naturally, and if Ethan doesn't last the whole game before nodding off, the very first thing he'll ask me the next morning when he wakes up is, "Did the Orioles win, Dad?"

We go to Camden Yards a lot every year. He's old enough now where the game on the field is almost as important as the radar gun challenge or the batting cage in the concourse behind the first base line.

We eat, drink and talk baseball, just like my Dad and I did back in the 1970's.

Some nights, he'll have the game on the radio in his room when I go upstairs to go to bed and I have to pause for a second as I realize how much he resembles me. His room, adorned with various sports-themed posters, stickers and pictures, looks just like mine did when I was growing up in Glen Burnie. The game is on a small desktop radio that has seen its better years but is still plenty useful for what he's using it for -- listening to baseball games. It's 2017, but it might as well be 1973.

Starting today, you and your buddies will have something topical to review every morning until September or October. You can rehash last night's 4-3 win where Adam Jones made a diving 8th inning catch to preserve a one-run lead or you can bemoan the fact that Jones continues to swing at every first pitch in the dirt while hitting .210 on this homestand.

You know what's going on because you're watching or listening every day, and checking the internet on a regular basis to keep updated with statistics and analysis.

I hope you make #DMD a regular stop during the baseball season as we bring you honest, consistent coverage of the Orioles and the rest of Major League Baseball. When I was on the air for 12 years, I was proud of the fact that I was never a homer. When the team stunk, I said they stunk. When the team was good, I said they were good. The same went for the players. As Charley Eckman used to say, "I call 'em like I see 'em."

That doesn't mean we'll always see the same thing when we're watching the games and the players. Half the teams in the league probably wouldn't have Ryan Flaherty on their team, for example, but Buck Showalter sees something in Flaherty that others don't. That's the beauty of all sports. No two people see the game or the participants in exactly the same way.

So, we'll bring you the best coverage of the Orioles we can and you'll have your own opportunity to add insight and opinion in the "Comments" section below. This is a community of people who not only follow the team, but can articulate their thoughts well and create meaningful dialogue amongst themselves.

I hope we enjoy a successful Orioles season together in 2017.

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one dream starts, another ends -- and it's a glorious ending

Bells rung and angels sprouted wings last night around 10:00 pm when the final horn sounded at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Rangers did God's work yesterday with a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers that officially eliminated the Flyers from post-season play.

This is what it looks like when your season ends and the playoffs won't include your team.

The best part? The Flyers trailed 4-1 late in the 3rd period and miraculously scored twice late in the game to climb back within a goal with 1:15 to play. They were on the cusp of a comeback that might have kept their season alive.

Except...they lost. So close and yet, so far. And just like that, the game ended and so, too, did the Flyers' season.

There aren't many better days in the sports year, my friends. The Steelers getting ousted from the playoffs or missing out? That's a great day. Duke losing in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament to South Carolina? Pretty freakin' funny.

But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, beats knowing the Flyers will not be playing hockey this spring. That means, of course, there will no Stanley Cup parade in Philadelphia in June. No joy. Nothing but shame for the Flyers, who couldn't even finish in the top 8 of the Eastern Conference this season.

It's likely there won't be a Stanley Cup parade in Washington in June either, because, well, there's never been one, for starters, and the Caps are particularly adept at figuring out a way to fritter away golden post-season favor.

But the Capitals, who have the most points in hockey (again) this season, will at least be playing in April and, potentially, into May and June.

The Flyers will be playing golf in May and June. Poorly, I hope.

who is on the mount rushmore of coaching?

I started thinking about this over the weekend in the aftermath of UConn's historic loss in the Women's Final Four on Friday night.

Where does Geno Auriemma rank among today's coaches in the United States? Further, if we created a mythical "Mount Rushmore of Coaches" -- active ones -- would Auriemma be among those distinguished four?

Who are the four best coaches in America right now?

What current active coaches would adorn your own Mount Rushmore of college/pro coaches?

If we were doing a lifetime assessment and honoring the four that way, I'm sure Wooden and Lombardi would be on the list, for sure. Tom Landry, perhaps? Red Auerbach?

But let's not worry about the past. Let's talk about now. Who are the four best current coaches, today, that would comprise our Mount Rushmore if we built one in 2017?

I'm asking you, specifically, to come up with four.

I have my own four, I think. I actually have five that I'm sure are Rushmore-worthy. I just have to figure out who doesn't get the call.

My four are probably different than your four. I'm going to reveal mine tomorrow here at #DMD. In the meantime, let us know your four in the "Comments" section below.

It's a heckuva water-cooler topic for sports enthusiasts. College sports, pro sports and over 300 or more different people from which to choose.

The easiest thing to do would be to just look at the dominant teams in various sports and go with their coach. After all, they must know what they're doing if their team is constantly winning, right? There's definitely some truth to that. Would Rex Ryan win a Super Bowl in New England if he replaced Bill Belichick? I doubt it. Would Alabama football go the National Championship game every year if Randy Edsall coached there instead of Nick Saban? Of course not.

Those two -- Belichick and Saban -- don't win by accident. They win because they, in part, are better than everyone else.

But are they part of today's Mount Rushmore of Coaches?

And if they aren't, who are the four that are better?

I look forward to seeing what you all think.

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masters preview: drew's top 12 for 2017

You know spring is officially on the way when you start seeing ads for the Masters during CBS's coverage of March Madness. The music, the yellow Masters flag, the voice of Jim Nantz. It's like therapy, only better.

They'll be teeing it up starting next Thursday, April 6, in the year's first major golf championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Dustin Johnson will enter the tournament as the favorite after his sizzling February and March, but there are others who should be considered as well.

Through April 5, I'll be offering my Masters Top 12, ending on Wednesday the 5th with my predicted winner and a 6-player "fantasy team".

A 3-time winner in 2016-2017, Justin Thomas has limited experience at Augusta, but plenty of experience in big-game moments in his young career.

The top 12 thus far consists of Bill Haas (12), Matthew Fitzpatrick (11), Matt Kuchar (10), Louis Oosthuizen (9), Lee Westwood (8), Rory McIlroy (7) and Paul Casey (6).

Let's move into the Top Five today, where we find Justin Thomas at #5.

Thomas hasn't done much since his early season winning spree in Hawaii, but don't let that fool you into thinking he can't win at Augusta. He most certainly can.

His track record aside (8 cuts in 11 events, 3 wins, 6 top 25's) in 2016-2017, Thomas can compete at Augusta National because he hits the ball far and high, two notable prerequisites for competing and winning the Masters. When his putter is hot, like it was in Hawaii in January, he can beat anyone.

There are lots of young players just coming out on TOUR making a name for themselves but few of them have won or been involved in winning as much as Thomas has over the last seven years. He won two significant amateur tournaments in 2010, the Terra Cotta and the Jones Invitational, then played on three successful national teams; Eisenhower Trophy, Palmer Cup and Walker Cup, the latter being amateur golf's equivalent to the Ryder Cup in professional golf.

Thomas was an outstanding college player at Alabama, winning six individual crowns and the 2013 National Championship with the Crimson Tide.

He earned his Web.Com tour card through qualifying school in 2013, then won on the Web.Com Tour in 2014.

Get the picture?

All this kid has done since he started playing serious competitive golf in 2010 is -- win.

And he's winning now on the PGA Tour, with three victories already this season and a great chance to capture a major championship in 2017.

Don't be surprised if it comes at Augusta National this Sunday.

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April 2
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Issue 2
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dodgers, astros will face off for baseball crown in october

Baseball season begins today, at 1 pm, when the Yankees host the Tampa Bay Rays in New York.

They all count, beginning this afternoon.

Let's first give thanks for the mild winter we experienced here in Baltimore. It was indeed a treat to not have to deal with four or five snowstorms and the associated headaches that accompany them. I know the folks at the local ski resorts wouldn't agree -- but I'm not a ski enthusiast.

We already know he's the best pitcher in baseball, but can Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers finally reach the World Series?

So...let's talk baseball!

Late last week I presented my opinion on the Orioles and their chances for a successful 2017 season. In short, I see the O's taking a step back and finishing 79-83. It's sort of like picking Duke in your NCAA March Madness bracket. You hope you're wrong, but if you aren't, at least you were right. I know...that's a weird way to look at things.

Here, now, are my fearless predictions for the 2017 Major League Baseball season. I'd suggest that you clip this out and place it on your refrigerator to keep it handy for easy reference, but this being the internet and all, we can always just go back in the archives and dig it up later. That is, if I'm right.

I certainly hope I'm wrong on the Orioles, but I don't see them having enough quality starting pitching to get the job done in 2017. I don't think they'll be terrible, not with that offense and bullpen at their disposal, but a return to the playoffs isn't in the cards for Buck Showalter's team. I'd love to miss the mark on that one, though. There's nothing better in sports than October baseball (except the Flyers getting eliminated from the playoffs, which might happen in the next two or three days).

So -- here we go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST -- Yes, I'm going with 99% of the rest of the predicting-world and taking the Red Sox to win the East, but I think the Yankees are moving in quickly and wouldn't be at all surprised to see those two teams battle it out in late September. If the Bronx Bombers get starting pitching above their expectations, they could really be dangerous. I think Toronto and the O's battle it out for 3rd place and Tampa Bay will be improved because they always are, but they don't have the goods to contend. Boston wins the division at 94-68.

CENTRAL -- It's really hard to pick against the Indians, so, I won't. Detroit and Kansas City are good, but nothing more than that. Chicago is a couple of years away from cashing in on all of those prospects they've been stocking up on -- and Minnesota stinks. Indians win the Central at 96-66.

WEST -- I'm buying gobs of stock in the Houston Astros, but it's a shaky purchase given their biggest unknown; starting pitching. We know the Astros have talent and we know they'll score a bunch of runs and play good defense. What we don't know is whether or not Dallas Keuchel and the staff can keep them in it. I say they will, with Houston nipping the Mariners for the division crown in the final week of the regular season and finishing 92-70. Texas and the Angels scratch and claw to finish .500 and the A's might as well move to Vegas. They're an afterthought out West.

I'll go with the Yankees and Mariners as the two A.L. Wild Card teams.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST -- Watch, this is the first year in a while I haven't picked the Nationals to go to the World Series and this will be the year they finally do it. There's nothing to dislike about the Nationals, other than a trip to the World Series for them would mean Washington gets to a World Series and Baltimore doesn't. That might be hard for some folks to stomach. The Mets will sniff around because they have really good starting pitching and the rest of the division stinks, but in the end, the Nats can curl up and read a nice book in September as they run away with the East at 95-67.

CENTRAL -- No one in their right mind will pick against the Cubs in the N.L. Central so ----- I won't pick against them. They're just too talented, too strong on the mound, and now that they've won, they might really take the bit and go hard for a few years. But, as you'll see, I'm not taking them to go back to the World Series. Why? Because those repeat trips just don't happen all that often (noting, of course, that K.C. did it just a few years ago). The Cardinals will give the Cubs some push because they always do, but no one else in the Central has the goods to make a run in this division. Chicago finishes 94-68 and wins the Central.

WEST -- The Dodgers, like the Nationals, are one of those sexy teams that everyone picks to go to the World Series and then something happens in the post-season and the Dodgers come up short. I'll roll the dice on them one more time, though, because they're pitching is just too daggone good. The Giants and Rockies both might make it interesting in September, but Los Angeles gets it done at 95-67 to win the West.

I'll take the Mets and Cardinals to claim the two N.L. Wild Card spots.

American League Championship Series -- Astros over the Indians, 4 games to 2.

National League Championship Series -- Dodgers over the Nationals, 4 games to 3.

World Series -- Dodgers over the Astros, 4 games to 2.

American League Cy Young Award -- Masihiro Tanaka, Yankees

American League MVP -- Mookie Betts, Boston

National League Cy Young Award -- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

National League MVP -- Nolan Arenado, Colorado

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caps rolling, but face showdown in columbus tonight

Surprise, surprise. The league-leading Washington Capitals can’t stop winning games. Yes, they dropped a sloppy one on Friday night in Arizona, but Barry Trotz's team put together an outstanding run in March, winning six in a row late in the month to establish a lead over Columbus and Pittsburgh heading into the final ten games of the season.

Washington (110 points) now leads the Metropolitan Division (and the Eastern Conference) by four points over Columbus (106) and Pittsburgh (105). All three teams have played 77 of 82 regular season games to date.

Do the Caps have enough in the tank to hold off Columbus in the Eastern Conference? A lot will depend on the play of Braden Holtby over the last five games of the regular season.

The Caps have raised their game across the board over the last three weeks. During that winning streak they outscored their opponents 25-14 (4.16-2.3) without dominant shot totals or possession numbers. They are simply wearing teams down with their physicality on both ends of the ice, which is leading to golden scoring chances and power play opportunities.

Speaking of the power play, it seems “Shattdueces” Kevin Shattenkirk has found his footing, no? The trade deadline acquisition has been spectacular after his rough first week in town – over the winning streak he has posted 7 assists (4 of them on the powerplay).

He fits into the team like a John Carlson/Mike Green hybrid, a steady defender who has turned into a monster on the rush and at the point. He has taken over the role as the team’s PP entry guy, and has wowed with stretch and no look passes alike. With the extra man the Caps are humming at a crazy 47.4% (9/19!!) clip and have looked excellent doing so – the majority of these goals have been the result of pretty passing plays, which screams “chemistry” and bodes well for future success. Shattenkirk might only be a Cap for the short term, but he's making his presence felt.

Over the last three weeks, the Caps have faced teams on both ends of the spectrum. Colorado (legitimately one of the worst teams in recent history), Arizona, and Tampa Bay aren’t the most imposing threats, but the guys in red have dispatched them just as they have Calgary (who are as hot as their nickname) Minnesota (twice in two weeks) and Columbus (arguably the biggest win of the year).

They’ve been winning with excellent defense and special teams, wearing opponents down by reducing quality chances and relying on their rock in goal – last year’s Vezina winner Braden Holtby. The defense and goaltending – Philipp Grubauer has backed up Holtby well – have been strong all year, which is a good sign for the playoffs (knock on all pieces of wood around you) as their high defensive floor gives them something to rely on if pucks aren’t finding their way to the net.

Here’s the most predictable reason for the recent run of success – HEALTH. Andre Burakovsky’s first game back in the lineup was against Tampa, and the Caps have only lost one time since his return. Frankly, the lines are just so deep when every Cap is healthy – there is an argument to be made that their third line (Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Burakovsky) could function as a solid second line on many other squads. Staying healthy is quite simply a major function of this teams’ regular season and – hopefully – playoff success.

The Capitals have five games to go until the playoffs, and they can’t let up now. Every game is important for seeding purposes, and they want to be firing on all cylinders when the postseason hits. This evening's 6:00 PM tilt with the Blue Jackets is a bona-fide must win game. A victory will put Washington in a commanding position in the Metro (depending on what Pittsburgh does) with only four games remaining. So pedal to the metal, boys, all the way to the finish line.

This piece on the Washington Capitals was provided to #DMD by John Vaghi.

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masters preview: drew's top 12 for 2017

You know spring is officially on the way when you start seeing ads for the Masters during CBS's coverage of March Madness. The music, the yellow Masters flag, the voice of Jim Nantz. It's like therapy, only better.

They'll be teeing it up starting next Thursday, April 6, in the year's first major golf championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Dustin Johnson will enter the tournament as the favorite after his sizzling February and March, but there are others who should be considered as well.

Through April 5, I'll be offering my Masters Top 12, ending on Wednesday the 5th with my predicted winner and a 6-player "fantasy team".

Back-to-back top 10 finishes at the Masters from Paul Casey should give him plenty of confidence heading into the first major golf championship of the season this week at Augusta National.

The top 12 thus far consists of Bill Haas (12), Matthew Fitzpatrick (11), Matt Kuchar (10), Louis Oosthuizen (9), Lee Westwood (8) and Rory McIlroy (7).

Today, at #6, is Englishman Paul Casey.

It's hard to believe Casey has exactly ONE win on the PGA Tour in his distinguished career, but that's true. He has, of course, played mostly on the European Tour throughout his 17 years of professional golf, but Casey's much better than his win/loss record in the States would indicate.

And Augusta, it seems, is a good fit for him.

After not playing the Masters in 2013 and 2014 due to injury, Casey rebounded nicely to post consecutive Top 10 finishes, posting a T6 in 2015 and a T4 in 2016. Last year was a banner campaign for Casey as he entered the TOUR Championship with a chance to win the Fed Ex Cup. No one realized it -- but Casey had a whale of a 2015-2016 run on the PGA Tour.

He's been lost in the shadow of other terrific European players over the last decade and hasn't claimed nearly the fanfare of guys like McIlroy, Westwood, Garcia, Poulter and even Luke Donald. But Paul Casey is every bit of the player that Poulter and Donald are, if not better, and at age 39, he still has some years left to shine.

And, like Westwood and Garcia, he strikes me as a player who has at least one major title in him at some point in his career. He clearly fancies Augusta National. To wit, he's made the cut at Augusta National seven times in thirteen appearances, and has five Top-15 finishes along the way.

The British Open would also naturally be favorable for a Casey selection, but I like his chances this coming week at the Masters. He's good enough to win a major title.

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April 1
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Issue 1
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auriemma, uconn lose like the champions they've become

Thanks a lot for ruining April Fools Day, UConn and Geno Auriemma.

I had already written an entire piece on the broken right tibia Adam Jones suffered last night in the Orioles pre-season 3-3 tie with Norfolk and how Jones' season-ending injury likely wrecked the team's chances for a return to the playoffs in 2017.

I had quotes, photoshopped tweets and a "this link has been removed" screenshot from MLB.TV to back up my story.

It probably wasn't going to match the 2003 April Fools Day joke my old radio pal Terry Ford and I pulled off that actually made its way to the national wire services and the "crawl" on ESPN, but this Jones-broken-leg effort was going to be more than noble, I assure you.

Then, UConn's women's basketball team up and lost last night, just before midnight, in the NCAA Semi-Finals, ending their amazing 111-game winning streak in the process.

No, no, no. I know exactly what you're thinking. "Sure, Drew, you're going to lure us into another April Fools Joke by failing to publish the original one you intended to use".

Clever, I agree. But that's not the case here. UConn's women's basketball team did, in fact, lose to Mississippi State last night. It's not a joke.

But I shelved my Adam Jones story because there's no way I could put that up here and front and center at #DMD and act like a made-up-tale about a baseball player was anywhere close to as important as what happened last night in the aftermath of UConn's stunning loss.

For the first time in 112 games, Geno Auriemma had to talk about his team losing last night. And he was a true champion in doing so.

It might have been the single-greatest handling of a defeat I've ever seen from players and a coach. And I mean -- ever.

In an almost spiritual way, it made me proud to be a coach. I don't know Geno Auriemma from the man-on-the-moon, but he did the coaching profession -- at any level, anywhere -- proud last night after his team's 66-64 buzzer-beater loss.

Prior to our Calvert Hall golf matches, the team prayer that we all recite as a group includes this: And Father, we ask that you grant us the ability today to deal with victory or defeat with equal degrees of humility..."

I stress to my team, as often as possible, that winning and losing are part of life. And while no one likes to lose, it's learning from defeat and improving from it that will make you better. We went 4-8 last year and missed the playoffs in the MIAA's A-Conference. We're off to a 2-0 start this season, thanks to some outstanding play from my players.

We learned a lot by losing last season. It might have been a blessing in the long run, who knows?

Geno Auriemma and UConn lost with humility last night.

They showed up for the press conference 15 minutes after the final shot found the back of the net and their season had ended. The girls had red eyes and were clearly emotionally distraught, but they answered every question, including some tough ones about whether or not they took their opponent lightly.

It was remarkable to see their poise and grace in what was one of the worst sports moments of their young lives. There wasn't any finger pointing, criticisms or snarky answers. They lost, they owned it, and they represented their coach, school and program with flawless dignity.

They got those traits from their coach.

Auriemma spoke to the courtside reporter after the game and lauded the play of Mississippi State. He carefully explained how his team's performance wasn't up-to-par, but gave Mississippi State credit for making it happen that way, rather than saying, "We stunk...we'd beat them 19 out of 20 times, but tonight we were terrible".

In the post-game press conference, Auriemma was again the star. No outrage, no bitterness, no "we're better than everyone else and you all know it -- this was a fluke".

"Honestly, I felt like we dodged a bullet all season," Auriemma explained. "We played way above our years, in terms of experience. At some point, someone was probably going to come along and knock us off. I wished it didn't happen tonight, but it did. I'm not saying I expected it. But I'm not all that surprised by it, honestly."

Auriemma then talked about how hard programs work, many of them putting in overtime hours on the court and in the video room just to be able to compete with UConn. "I don't like to lose, but I do great satisfaction from seeing other programs rise up and meet a challenge or a goal they had set for themselves. I'm not dumb, I know we have a target on our back every night. And for the most part this year, we did a great job of holding people off. But everyone's working extra hard to try and beat us and tonight, they did."

He spoke about some on-court issues that hurt his team, but did so in a way that it never once came across as a direct criticism of any one player in particular. "We played out of our rhythm tonight," the coach explained. "A lot of that comes from being down by 13 points in the second quarter, which was rare for us to experience. Instead of slowing the game down and trying to do the things we normally do, we panicked a little and tried too much to win the game as individuals and not as a team."

Auriemma never once looked at his watch or shifted anxiously in his seat to tip off the folks in the room that he was done answering questions.

"Is that it?" he asked. "Nothing else?" When no other questions came his way, Auriemma smiled and got up slowly from the chair. It was almost like he might of thought he was getting off easy.

Or, perhaps, he realized at that moment how proud he was of his team, not only for going 36-0 prior to last night's loss, but for the way they conducted themselves afterwards.

Coaches everywhere -- including this one, for sure -- will make Auriemma's press conference a topic with their team in the coming weeks. It was glorious to witness first-hand.

No matter what the record says from 2016-2017, the UConn Lady Huskies are champions. Champions in victory and champions in defeat.

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pga tour announces
“elite sponsor exemption”
for ryder/president's cups teams

United Press International. 4/1/17. Far Hills, NJ. — Faced with the sobering reality that the most popular American professional golfers, who earn multiple millions of dollars annually as representatives of sporting equipment and other products, are less frequently qualifying for Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, the Tour yesterday announced the creation of the “Elite Sponsor Exemption.”

The terms of this exemption allow the Tour, in its sole discretion, to place high-visibility endorsers who have not performed well in the year’s golf tournaments onto post-season American national teams. The number of players that the Tour may award the exemption to will initially be limited to four in any one year. This limit will be analyzed for effectiveness each subsequent year, and adjusted upward if necessary.

Many players, their agents, and virtually all major sponsors praised the Tour for recognizing the evolving trend in the public perception of popularity. Since the catastrophic disappearance of Tiger Woods’ name from leaderboards, a succession of lesser lights have briefly held the spotlight, but none has had anywhere near the mesmerizing effect on the public imagination that Woods had.

Tour spokeswoman Heather Deacon-Jones explained, “It’s disheartening to have a favorite player who, after a win or two, then goes into a protracted tailspin where he struggles to make the Top Ten and often fails to make the cut. The psychological result of this is that the public then shifts its allegiance to players who are seen regularly on TV advertising their sponsors’ products. It is these latter players that the U. S. public now wants on its national teams.”

The foremost example of this phenomena is Rickie Fowler. Although he has shown two or three flashes of brilliance in his ten-year career, his overall results have been less than remarkable. Nevertheless, he has parlayed his youthful good looks, charming personality, attention-seeking attire, and shark-like business acumen into the position of earning tens of millions of dollars in endorsements annually.

He is by far the most televised golfer today, appearing on television screens for far more time each week than the golfers actually in contention. His time on television commercials representing a dozen major sponsors, the First Tee program, and the Tour itself, far exceeds the coverage time of the tournament winner each week.

This popularity propelled Fowler into a spot on the 2016 Ryder Cup team as a Captain's Pick, despite the better records of half a dozen more qualified golfers. A Tour player who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “At least they’re being honest now. Before, they had to invent stuff like ‘he’s a great partner’ and ‘he’s good in the locker room’ — whatever that meant. Now they’ve come out and actually stated a preference for popularity over performance, so at least it’s out in the open.”

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Several analysts have already predicted that, in addition to Fowler, an early recipient of an Elite Sponsor Exemption will be Bryson DeChambeau, who parlayed a stellar amateur career, distinctive headwear, a real college education, and equal-length clubs into mega-million dollar deals with Bridgestone, Puma, and several other companies. DeChambeau’s record on Tour this year has been unremarkable save for a Top Ten finish in Puerto Rico in an opposite-week event. Nevertheless, his branding, headlined by the brilliant tagline, “Greatness Has a New Name,” has captured the imagination and adoration of fans and propelled sales of same-length irons into the stratosphere.

"He's earned a spot on the Presidents Cup team," DeChambeau's agent Rodney Serling explained. "The public's adoration of him proves that beyond doubt."

Another PGA Tour official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Actually, we’re hoping in just a few years to expand the list of eligible recipients of the Exemption beyond card-carrying Tour members. The PGA Tour is all about ratings, and just imagine the size of the audience we’d have if, for example, we were to extend an Exemption to President Trump.”

Colin Montgomery was asked to comment on the PGA Tour's rule change. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. "America!" he said. "Do tell me, please: How is it that you people rule the world?"

The 2017 Presidents Cup competition between the United States and the International Team runs from September 28 to October 1 at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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masters preview: drew's top 12 for 2017

You know spring is officially on the way when you start seeing ads for the Masters during CBS's coverage of March Madness. The music, the yellow Masters flag, the voice of Jim Nantz. It's like therapy, only better.

They'll be teeing it up starting next Thursday, April 6, in the year's first major golf championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Dustin Johnson will enter the tournament as the favorite after his sizzling February and March, but there are others who should be considered as well.

Through April 5, I'll be offering my Masters Top 12, ending on Wednesday the 5th with my predicted winner and a 6-player "fantasy team".

With two PGA titles, one U.S. Open and one British Open, all Rory McIlroy needs now is a Masters victory to cap off the career grand slam. He just might get it this year at Augusta National.

I kicked off the series on Monday of this week with Bill Haas at #12 on the list, followed by Matthew Fitzpatrick at #11 on Tuesday, Matt Kuchar at #10 on Wednesday, Louis Oosthuizen at #9 on Thursday and Lee Westwood at #8 yesterday.

Today, at #7, we'll go with the guy who already has four major titles and needs just a Masters green jacket to complete the career grand slam: Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy is as much a slam-dunk to win a Masters title at some point in his career as anyone that's come along over the last 20 years. In fact, he should win in Augusta multiple times. That's how much the course suits itself to his game, and his play over the last six years supports that statement.

There's the much-discussed 2011 back-nine collapse where he frittered away a 4-shot lead and eventually fell all the way to 15th place, then five consecutive cuts made and three straight top 10 finishes, including last year's T10 at Augusta National.

If anyone is truly "due" at Augusta -- besides Greg Norman -- it's McIlroy, who drives the ball so far that even the best course-lengthening-efforts haven't changed the way he plays the property.

For McIlroy, it's always about one thing. Well, two things, really, but only one that we can see: It's always about putting. And, from that putting, his confidence either soars or it shatters. Two players in golf have indeliby etched "struts" on the course. You can tell just by looking at the way McIlroy "bops up and down" whether he's playing well or not. The same goes for Dustin Johnson, whom Paul Azinger likened to a panther when he moves around the course.

McIlroy's walk and confidence is always tied into his putting. He's a great player, but not a great putter. On the weeks he putts better than most, he's going to contend for the title. If he could putt great every week, like Johnson has been doing over the last two months, he'd be a threat to win every tournament.

His towering ball flight with his irons is just what the doctor ordered at Augusta National. His work around the greens is good enough, but clearly not "world-class" like that of Mickelson, Spieth or Tiger in his heyday. But with the driver -- and his irons -- there aren't many better in the world.

At age 27, McIlroy is truly entering what should be the prime of his golfing career. He won't catch Tiger's 14 major championships, obviously, but Rory could easily capture eight or more majors. He needs that first Masters green jacket to erase the bad memory of 2011 and be the only current active player to have won all four of golf's major titles.

He's a great bet to win this year.

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