June 14, 2012

By DOUG FERGUSON | Associated Press

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Beaten down at Augusta, now the man to beat at the U.S. Open.

The expectations that have followed Tiger Woods this year are a lot like the fairways at The Olympic Club — up, down, often sideways.

He couldn’t close out tournaments the way he once did. He lost his putting stroke. His left Achilles tendon might be more of a problem than he was letting on. He had his worst finish ever at the Masters. He missed a cut.

And in the midst of such a gloomy outlook, Woods won by five shots at Bay Hill and delivered an uppercut fist pump at Memorial when he chipped in for birdie to complete a stunning rally for his second win of the year.

So when the question came up Tuesday at the U.S. Open — whether Woods had to win a major to end such prognosticating — he all but rolled his eyes.

“I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, ‘You’re not to 18 yet’ or ‘When will you get to 19?’ It’s always something with you guys,” Woods said. “I’ve dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf. It hasn't changed.”

Even so, this U.S. Open figures to go a long way toward figuring out how close he is to returning to the top of golf.

Woods couldn’t stop talking about how the U.S. Open presents the toughest test players face all year — so tough that he probably won’t be talking to Phil Mickelson, his longtime rival who will be playing with him in the opening two rounds.

“This is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it's so difficult,” he said.

Woods looks as equipped as ever.

Two weeks ago, he played so well at Muirfield Village that he was ranked in the middle-of-the-pack in putting and still rallied from four shots behind to win. He has talked about playing well in spurts, and conceded after that win — the 73rd of his PGA Tour career — that he hit the ball great all four rounds.

Just like that, he became the betting favorite at Olympic Club to get his 15th major — and first since the 2008 U.S. Open — and resume his pursuit of the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

Then again, his win at Bay Hill made him the pre-tournament rage at the Masters, and he tied for 40th.

“I guess lately, we don’t know what to expect from him,” Steve Stricker said. “When he wins, we’re all eager to look ahead and think that he’s going to be back to where he was in the early 2000s or whenever he was at the top of his game. I think that just shows you the ability that he has, and what people see in the type of player that he is, and the type of shots that he’s been able to hit over the years, and the uncanny ability to just get it done and win golf tournaments.

“So when he does win one, I think that’s why we’re all quick to hop on his bandwagon.”

Woods sees a different trend from the first major of the year. He managed his game at Bay Hill, in part because of a sloppy start by Graeme McDowell that gave Woods a cushion and allowed him to play the shots he needed to win the tournament.

“When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up,” Woods said. “And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But that’s what made playing Muirfield so nice. I had those shots, and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.”

Olympic is all about hitting it in the fairway, and the right spots on the green.

The golf course is longer than when Woods tied for 18th in 1998, though that isn't the biggest change. The greens have been resurfaced, and they roll so fast that it's difficult to get the ball close. Plus, the USGA has shaved some areas off the green to form large collection areas. A slight miss could send the ball some 30 yards away.

Woods told of the par-3 13th during a practice round in which he hit the green, and the ball rolled down a slope and just inside a hazard.

“I think this probably tests the player more than any other championship,” Woods said. “We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialed in.”

The difference for this U.S. Open is the variety that USGA executive ­director Mike Davis brings to the toughest test in golf. Instead of mangled rough around the greens, he has created areas of tightly mown grass that sends errant shots down the slope and gives players options of putting, chipping, flop shots, anything to get it close.

The tees can change. The 16th measures 670 yards, though there is an option to play it 100 yards shorter.

“He throws wrinkles at you,” Woods said. “But overall, I think this is just the most demanding test that there is in golf.”

Another wrinkle was putting Woods and Mickelson together, along with Masters champion Bubba Watson, for the opening rounds. Together, they have won 113 and 18 majors, with Woods doing most of that damage.

Woods and Mickelson last played together at Pebble Beach, where Mickelson dusted him and rallied to win in February. In the majors, Mickelson topped him in the final round of the 2009 Masters (won by Angel Cabrera), though Woods beat him soundly at Torrey Pines on his way to winning the U.S. Open.

“I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot,” Woods said. “This is a major championship. We’ve got work to do.”

Mickelson seems to have embraced the grouping. His only concern is feeling “mentally lethargic” on Thursday and Friday of PGA Tour events, though he promises that won't be the case at the U.S. Open, where he has finished second a record five times.

Playing with Woods should cure whatever ails him.

“I get excited to play with Tiger. I love it,” he said. “I think we all do. He gets the best out of me. I think when it's time to tee off on Thursday I’ll be ready to play. ... The one player I’m most concerned about, if I play my best golf that may have a chance to beat me, is Tiger.”

This is far from a two-man show at Olympic, and it goes beyond the other guy in their group with a pink driver and a green jacket — Watson.

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion and got a shot of confidence from the St. Jude Classic last week, despite a double bogey from the water on the last hole that cost him a chance at winning. Giving his recent run of three missed cuts, McIlroy was happy to be playing Sunday, much less contending.

Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world and knows he will be taken more seriously if he can finally add a major. Ditto for Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world, who has given himself more chances than Donald in the majors and still hasn’t won one.

But it starts with Woods, as it has since he won the first of his 14 majors as a 21-year-old at Augusta.

“It’s going to be a wonderful test,” he said.

 

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June 14, 2012

By MICHELLE RINDELS | Associated Press

 

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A judge in Las Vegas said she’ll decide later this week whether to ease jail conditions for Floyd Mayweather Jr., after his lawyers argued that the undefeated champion is getting out of shape in solitary confinement and may never fight again.

Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa made no immediate ruling Tuesday on an emergency motion asking the court to move Mayweather into the general jail population — something that jail officials had avoided out of fear for the celebrity's safety — or put him in house arrest for the rest of his three-month sentence.

Mayweather lawyer Richard Wright said he'd be willing to have the boxer serve the sentence in an apartment or somewhere less luxurious than Mayweather’s posh Las Vegas-area home.

“I’m not looking for special treatment for Floyd Mayweather,” Wright said. “I’m looking for fair treatment.”

But prosecutor Lisa Luzaich said softening the sentence would be just another accommodation, similar to when Mayweather’s jail surrender date was postponed for months after sentencing so he could fight Miguel Cotto in May.

“They keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away,” Luzaich said.

Mayweather pleaded guilty in December to misdemeanor domestic battery and no contest to two harassment charges that stemmed from an attack on his ex-girlfriend while two of their children watched. He was sentenced to three months and entered the jail June 1.

Mayweather’s jail stay will be capped at 87 days because the judge gave him credit for three days previously served. It could be reduced by several weeks for good behavior.

In the motion, which was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, lawyers say Mayweather’s personal physician, Dr. Robert Voy, visited the jail Friday and was concerned the 35-year-old fighter appeared to have lost muscle tone.

Voy estimated the boxer was consuming fewer than 800 calories a day — a drop from his usual 3,000 or 4,000 calories — and wasn’t drinking enough because he isn’t allowed bottled water and doesn’t usually drink tap water.

Mayweather has been getting a little more than 30 minutes twice a day in a couple of barren recreation areas in the administrative segregation unit. His cell, no larger than 7-by-12 feet, has barely enough floor space for pushups and situps.

But prosecutors argued he’s “deconditioning” by choice, and declining much of his food.

“He has the ability to exercise, he just chooses not to,” Luzaich said. “It’s jail. Where did he think he was going? The Four Seasons?”

Voy and Wright also pointed to Mayweather’s declining emotional state.

“I am concerned about Floyd withdrawing, developing anger he cannot dissipate through the usual means of dedicated exercise and training,” Voy wrote in an affidavit. “Boxing has been Mr. Mayweather’s life since he was a young man and we need champions of this type to continue to their natural retirement and hopefully their contributions to society thereafter.”

 

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 June 14, 2012

By ANDREW SELIGMAN | Associated Press 

 

 

 

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears opened minicamp, and one key piece remained missing — Matt Forte.

 

The Pro Bowl running back was absent Tuesday as expected, with his franchise-player tender remaining unsigned. So the staredown with management continues, and coach Lovie Smith seems to be staying out of it.

 

Asked if the situation bothered him, he said, "It's not an issue for me and it can't be."

 

"During the course of the year you have guys who aren't here for whatever reason," Smith continued. "You coach the guys who can go, who can practice. We've been spending all our time with that. I know Matt Forte. I'm sure he's getting ready to go. But in the meantime, the best thing we can do for the Chicago Bears is just keep this train going, which we've done."

 

Forte hasn't signed his $7.74 million tender, and he has a July 16 deadline to agree to a multiyear deal with more guaranteed money. He is not required to attend minicamp because he's not under contract, and Smith insisted he's "having a blast" coaching the players who are. He wouldn't say if he expected Forte's situation to be resolved by now or in time for training camp next month.

 

Either way, it's a big issue for a team with high expectations.

 

The Bears believe they have the talent to compete for an NFC championship after a big shakeup following a disappointing 8-8 finish. They fired general manager Jerry Angelo and replaced him with Phil Emery. They shook up their coaching staff, promoting Mike Tice from line coach to offensive coordinator to replace the departed Mike Martz. And they made several big roster moves, none bigger than the trade for Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall with Miami.

 

It would help if they had Forte in the mix.

 

"We'd love to have him," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "Hopefully we get him for training camp but if we don't, we've got to move on. It's part of the business. I don't think anyone is worried about Matt coming in and not being able to learn the offense or being out of shape. I think he picks things up really quickly. He's a smart guy. He's going to come in in shape. So it's just a matter of time if and when we get the guy."

 

Forte sought an extension last year, but negotiations went nowhere. He wound up making the Pro Bowl for the first time, finishing with 1,487 yards from scrimmage and 997 rushing, but his season ended with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in a loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4. By then, the Bears had lost Cutler to a broken thumb and were in the middle of a freefall that knocked them out of playoff contention.

 

They're deeper now, and they believe they have a potentially explosive offense. Cutler, Marshall and new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates were part of one in Denver, and they believe they can be even better this time around.

 

"The communication across the board has been fantastic," Tice said. "Among the players, and between the coaches and the players, you see a good rapport, and that's always important. At the end of the day, we're all in it together and we're all trying to do one thing, and that's win the championship. We need them, they need us, and if we work together toward that goal, we'll be successful."

 

A big part of that is Forte.

 

The Bears believe they can get by if he holds out after bringing in Michael Bush, but they envision the two anchoring a deep running game.

 

"I think you need to have two good backs, and we have two good backs," Tice said. "Of course, we love Matt, and we're excited about having Mike, and we like (Armando Allen), too. We're excited about our blend back there. We think that they all complement each other, and I think they're all going to be able to find their niche and make big plays for us."

 

NOTES: LB Brian Urlacher (left knee) and WR Alshon Jeffery (lower leg injury) sat out on Tuesday. Urlacher was injured in the final regular-season game and has not practiced during the offseason. "He's not ready to go yet," Smith said. "He's on pace. Our plan was to take it slow with him. " He said Urlacher should "be good to go for training camp." As for Jeffery, Smith said, "Hopefully he'll be able to do something before this minicamp is over." ... The Bears waived CB Donovan Warren.

 

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June 14, 2012

By STEVEN WINE | Associated Press

 

MIAMI (AP) — Out of work and not ready to retire, Chad Ochocinco found a job back in his hometown.

The former Pro Bowl receiver signed with the Miami Dolphins on Monday, four days after being released by the New England Patriots.

The signing came after Ochocinco had a tryout with the Dolphins, who are thin at the position and dropping a lot of passes in offseason drills. He’s likely to join the team for this week’s OTAs, which continue through Wednesday.

“Congrats to Chad,” tweeted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. “It’s nice to come home.”

The 34-year-old Ochocinco, a Miami native, made the Pro Bowl six times, most recently in 2009. He had only a minor role in his lone season with the Patriots, catching 15 passes for 276 yards.

The Dolphins traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears in March for two third-round draft picks, and didn’t draft a receiver until the sixth round. Following a practice Monday, coach Joe Philbin conceded there has been room for improvement in the pass-catching during offseason workouts.

“You would like to have some players make it easy and distinguish themselves, maybe make the picture a little bit clearer,” Philbin said. “We have to catch the ball more consistently at every position on offense, because it is not quite where it needs to be.”

Marshall’s off-field issues wore on the Dolphins, and Ochocinco can be high-maintenance, too. His antics have sometimes annoyed his teammates and coaches, and his touchdown celebrations led to an NFL crackdown.

In his career, Ochocinco has caught 766 passes for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. All of the Dolphins' returning receivers have less than a dozen career TDs.

 

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June 14, 2012

By MARK LONG | Associated Press

 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — One day after the Jacksonville Jaguars took a strong stance on Maurice Jones-Drew's contract situation, the star running back made his feelings equally clear.

And he did it without saying a word.

Jones-Drew skipped the opening day of a mandatory minicamp Tuesday, showing just how disgruntled he is about his current deal, and has no plans to join the Jaguars for any part of the three-day practice session.

Coach Mike Mularkey can fine Jones-Drew up to $60,000 if he misses the entire camp.

"Obviously I would have liked to have had him here a long time ago," said Mularkey, who declined to say whether he will levy a fine. "It's not like all of a sudden something's new. It's been the same case. I'm trying to focus on the guys that are here, similar in talking about the guys that do it right on the weekends. Basically the same thing.

"The guys who show up here have gotten a lot done for us in all phases. Those are the guys I want to talk about. Write a good story about good things for them that are happening."

Jones-Drew, who led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,606 yards, has two years remaining on a five-year contract worth $31 million. He is scheduled to make $4.45 million this season and $4.95 million in 2013.

Coming off a career year, Jones-Drew wants to be one of the league's highest-paid backs. His contract currently ranks eighth among NFL backs, behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Houston's Arian Foster, St. Louis' Steven Jackson, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.

But Jaguars general manager Gene Smith made it clear Monday that the team has no plans to renegotiate with Jones-Drew, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy holdout.

"He has expressed that he would like to renegotiate and we have expressed again that we feel he has a contract with two years left that we expect him to fulfill those obligations," Smith said.

Both sides have valid arguments.

Jones-Drew signed his deal in 2009, before rushing for at least 1,300 yards in three consecutive seasons. Not only has he seemingly outperformed his contract, MJD is the face of the franchise and probably the only player on the roster known outside small-market Jacksonville.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, paid him based on the expectation that he would flourish as a starter after spending the first three years of his career splitting carries with Fred Taylor. And they don't want to set a precedent of renegotiating with players who have two years remaining on lucrative deals that included big signing bonuses.

Jacksonville also might not be enamored with paying a running back into his 30s, especially one who takes as many pounding hits as Jones-Drew does.

"Guys are going to try and posture themselves to have an advantage because this career is short, especially for running backs — their shelf life is seen as short — so there's points that can be made on both sides and they're both perfectly valid," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "He's the face of the franchise, no doubt. But the NFL is a business.

"Just like coaches got to make tough decisions, GMs got to make tough decisions and players have to make tough decisions. It's tough for him to make that decision that I'm not going to be show up here and be with my teammates and be out here working and learning this new system. That's a tough thing to do. ... We want everything to end up being resolved."

The Jaguars have missed the playoffs each of the last four years, but with new ownership, a revamped coaching staff and added playmakers on the NFL's worst offense, they feel they are close to turning things around.

And Jones-Drew is a key to getting it done.

"The unfortunate thing is that he's not here," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We know he's getting his work in. We know he's working hard, but to be with the team is the main thing. Whenever he gets here, we will greet him with open arms."

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