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Unsigned Nurse, injured Sekera absent as Oilers hit the ice

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli says he has a Plan B if contract talks remain at a stalemate with defenceman Darnell Nurse.

Chiarelli addressed that and other issues — ranging from Connor McDavid questions to the Erik Karlsson trade — as the team hit the ice for the first time Friday at training camp.

"We obviously couldn't come to an agreement, but we hope we can get him in camp at some point here shortly," Chiarelli said, referencing Nurse.

Chiarelli declined to go into specifics on Plan B: "We'll cross that bridge when (we) come to it."

The two sides are negotiating a bridge contract coming out of Nurse's entry-level deal.

Nurse's absence, and the off-season torn Achilles tendon to Andrej Sekera, their top puck-moving defender, has left the Oilers thin on the blue line.

Chiarelli said help may be coming from farmhands Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones along with top draft pick Evan Bouchard, who is considered so close to being ready for prime time that another year of junior would almost be a waste.

Edmonton also signed free agent Jakub Jerabek, late of the Washington Capitals, after learning of Sekera's injury.

"He moves the puck well," Chiarelli said of Jerabek.

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) makes the save on Keegan Lowe (47) as the team gathered for training camp on Friday. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

"He's a very cerebral player, economical player … He's going to get a shot here, too."

The top defensive pairing is Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, followed by Kris Russell and Matt Benning.

The Oilers are looking for answers as they try to rebound from a disappointing non-playoff campaign, the second in the last three despite having two-time NHL scoring champion McDavid.

There has been criticism of late that having McDavid, the brightest light in the game, absent from the post-season is a disservice not only to the franchise but to the sport.

Chiarelli admitted there is added pressure.

"You want to maximize what you can do when Connor is here and when he's performing at the level we all expect," he said.

"We have to meet those expectations, as does the rest of the team."

The pressure got more intense this week when division rival San Jose traded for top defenceman Karlsson from Ottawa.

Chiarelli said Edmonton was not on Karlsson's negotiation list and therefore didn't have a chance to get him, but said the trade stings nonetheless.

"I won't lie, when he came to our division there was a little bit of an expletive coming out of my mouth," he said.

"That's a heck of a D over there now."

Chiarelli has also been questioned for signing backup goalie Mikko Koskinen from the KHL for one year at US$2.5 million to back up Cam Talbot. Chiarelli said the asking price for Koskinen was high because there were other bidders, adding that Koskinen's backup status is not set in stone.

"We felt we wanted a competition at goaltending," he said.

"He's going to get a chance and we hope that he pushes Cam and vice versa."

The first scrimmage of camp saw Ty Rattie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins skating on McDavid's wings. That trio finished strong last season and they're getting a shot to keep the success going this season.

Rattie, a career journeyman with far more minutes logged on the farm than in the bigs, said he worked harder on conditioning in the off-season to make the most of the opportunity.

"I've got to be a shooter. I've got to get in the dirty areas and get that puck back for those guys," said Rattie.

"I have a pretty good understanding of what my role is on that line. Now it's just a matter of getting it done."

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Tiger Woods on brink of breaking title drought at Tour Championship

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Tiger Woods finishes the 18th hole maintaining the lead at 12 under par during the third round of the Tour Championship golf tournament Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Atlanta.

John Amis/The Associated Press

Tiger Woods stood on the brink of his first victory in more than five years after opening a three-shot lead over Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy in the third round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Saturday.

Woods exuded a sense of calm as he contemplated his chances of what, given his 42 years and surgical history, would be perhaps his greatest triumph, at least outside of his 14 major titles.

And he had every reason to fancy his chances given his history as a front-runner of the highest order.

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He has enjoyed the sole lead 44 times entering the final round, and has converted all but twice. And he has never coughed up a lead of three shots or more.

“Simple math says that if I play a clean card the guys behind me have to shoot 67, so that helps,” Woods told reporters after a five-under-par 65 at East Lake.

“I don’t have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help. That’s a big difference. This is a spot I’d much rather be in than four or five back.

“I feel good about it. I’ve been playing well throughout the entire summer, just piecing it together, building, building and building.

“Finally I’ve come to a point where I’ve got control of the lead.”

A victory on Sunday would be his 80th on tour – two short of Sam Snead’s record – and his first since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, 2013.

Woods has not been the closer of old in his return this year from a spinal fusion, most notably at the British Open at Carnoustie where he charged into the lead halfway through the final round before faltering.

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But he said he had felt comfortable on that occasion, even if he did not hoist the Claret Jug.

“When I grabbed the lead at the Open Championship (it) didn’t really feel abnormal, even though it’s been years since I’ve been in those spots,” he said.

“Today was the same. I got off to just an ideal start … and the next thing you know I’m off and running.”

Indeed he was, a blistering start reminiscent of his halcyon days as he notched six birdies in the first seven holes after starting the day tied for the halfway lead with world number one Rose.

“I felt hot early for sure,” Woods said. “I was hitting it absolutely dead flush, the putts I was hitting were going in and from there I just tried to hang in there.”

He cooled off on the back nine en route to a 12-under 198 total, while Englishman Rose recovered from a bogey, bogey start to card a 68. Woods led by five strokes late on, but showed a hint of fragility by fluffing a pitch shot at the par-four 16th, where he failed to carry his ball up the slope.

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But with a double-bogey looming, he regrouped to hit his next delicate shot stone dead for a tap-in bogey, before Rose sank an eight-foot birdie to cut the gap to three.

McIlroy, meanwhile, birdied the 16th and 18th holes to join the fray, setting up the prospect of a Sunday to remember.

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Mr. September Tellez powers Blue Jays past Rays

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The final month of the Blue Jays season is turning into the Rowdy Tellez show, as the burly rookie shows off his extra-base power for the baseball world.

On Saturday, in a 5-2 Jays victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, Tellez crushed a two-run homer in the fourth inning against starter Tyler Glasnow to give the Jays their first lead. He added a two-base hit and a single, giving him nine doubles and three homers among his 19 hits with a .404 average. The double was an important part of his audition for the future, coming against tough left-hander Jose Alvarado.

Blue Jay Rowdy Tellez trots home past Rays catcher Jesus Sucre after his two-run homer in the fourth inning of Saturday’s win.  (Tom Szczerbowski / GETTY IMAGES)

“It’s huge and we got another run out of it, put a little cushion for (closer Ken) Giles,” Tellez said. “But it shows something. I’ve been struggling a tad bit against lefties. I’ve been putting (in) good at-bats against them, so confidence isn’t diminished against them. But definitely it’s a good feeling to be able to put a good swing on it and be able to do something for the team.”

Jays rookie left-hander Thomas Pannone made his fifth start in his 11th major-league appearance, going 62/3 innings and allowing a pair of home runs — to Tommy Pham and Jesus Sucre — while walking three and striking out five. It was his third quality start in a row and third straight win, running his record to 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA. What’s impressive about those three starts is that they came against the Indians, Yankees and Rays — all contenders.

“It definitely gives me the confidence that I know my stuff can play here facing good lineups, good hitters, and I’m turning them over pretty well,” the 24-year-old said. “I just want to continue doing that.”

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In the third inning, Pannone allowed a two-out homer then three straight walks, but after a visit from pitching coach Pete Walker he escaped and managed to be effective through 108 pitches with just one more run.

“After that home run and I walked the next three, I just really needed to slow the game back down,” Pannone admitted. “It kind of sped up and just lost a little bit of feel. Once Pete came out, I kind of took a deep breath and went right back to it, stayed focused on (catcher Reese McGuire’s) mitt and got back to it.”

The Jays have won two of three games in this series. They have struggled against Tampa Bay over the past few years, but perhaps this group of young Jays playing in September has no experience with that history. The Jays are 6-2 in their last eight, and 16-15 in their last 31 contests.

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Tiger Woods is 18 holes away from historic win at Tour Championship

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ATLANTA — Eighteen holes rest between Tiger Woods and one of the crowning achievements of his storied career.

Eighteen holes from a comeback for the ages.

Eighteen holes from his first PGA Tour title in more than five years.

On a bright, hot Saturday at East Lake Golf Club, Woods turned golf on its axis and turned a masterful start reminiscent of his best days of yesteryear into a three-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round of The Tour Championship, the FedExCup finale.

Yes, this could happen. Yes, he could win again 17 months after his spine was fused. Yes, he’s back to being a major contender.

With every part of his game on point, Woods, who shared the 36-hole lead with world No. 1 Justin Rose, made birdie on six of his first seven holes, the lone exception coming at the par-3 second. He didn’t miss a fairway nor a green and his iron play was impeccable. As was his putting stroke as the golf ball found the bottom of the cup after traveling 23 feet on the first, 8 feet on the third, 22 on the fourth, and then from 7, 6 and 5 feet on the next three holes.

More: What has to happen for Tiger Woods to win the FedExCup?

Tiger Tracker: Follow Tiger’s third round hole by hole at Tour Championship

The last birdie came after he rifled a 9-iron from a bunker 160 yards from the seventh green to 5 feet.

During those seven holes, it was vintage 2000 again, or 2001, or 2005 or 2006 or 2007 or 2008, the years he was an intimidating force who ruled over the game. In those seven holes, he reminded all of us how good he was and how good he can be again. In those seven holes, he was scary good, and the massive crowds were roaring their approval.

“Yeah, I got off to a nice start there,” Woods said with a big grin. “I made some nice putts. Good Lord. Other than No. 3, every putt was uphill, so it was nice. I felt like I could free-wheel it, and they went in.”

While Tiger tailed off the rest of the round compared to the start, he finished with a 5-under-par 65 — the low round of the day. He has worked himself into his first 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which was his last victory. He is 53-4 when he has at least a share of the lead after 54 holes. And the last time he squandered a lead after three rounds was the 2009 PGA Championship when Y.E. Yang toppled him.

With rounds of 65-68-65, Woods is at 12 under, three shots clear of Rory McIlroy (66) and Rose (68). It’s another three shots back to Kyle Stanley (67) and Jon Rahm (68). McIlroy will be paired with Woods in the final group Sunday.

“I dreamed as a little kid playing in the final group with Tiger in a big tournament,” McIlroy said. “He was the best in the world, of all time, and you dream of beating the best.

“But all I can do is worry about myself. It doesn’t matter who it is I’m playing with. It’s obviously exciting for the golf tournament. It’s exciting for golf in general that he’s up there. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without looking at other people. I have to go out there, take care of my business, and hopefully that’s good enough.”

Woods has gone through a lot of trial and error this year to get his game in shape to be good enough to win his 80th PGA Tour title. After fusion surgery to his spine 17 months ago, Woods worked his body back into shape and then started on his golf game.

After missing the cut in the Genesis Open in February, he realized he was healthy enough to add tournaments instead of subtracting them. At that moment, he knew he could put together a swing that would work against the best players in the world – and 22 of the top 25 are here this week.

He’s fiddled with equipment all year looking to match it up with his swing. A key moment came before the first FedExCup Playoffs event when he added loft and changed the shaft in his driver. Since then, it’s become a weapon again.

“I’ve gone through a lot this year to get myself to this point, and understanding and fighting my way through it, I’m certainly more equipped than I was in March because of what I’ve gone through,” Woods said. “It feels great to have worked my way into this spot. This has been a difficult setup. It’s a golf course that’s very easy to make bogeys, and it’s difficult to make birdies. My game plan throughout the week has been very conservative.

“And occasionally I’ll get hot for a couple holes and try and take advantage of it. It hasn’t been real complicated.”

All week there’s been something different about Woods. There’s been a look about him, one screaming confidence, that he’s the Alpha Male once again. On a ball-strikers course that fits his game – he won here in 2007 and finished second in 2009 – he feels right at home. And he was in form, having finished in a tie for fourth in the BMW Championship, the third of four events in the playoffs.

And there’s something different about his position on the leaderboard after three rounds than at any time this year. He’s the one being chased.

In his previous six top-6 finishes, Woods, with the exception of the Valspar Championship, has had too much ground to make up in the final 18 holes. He was five back at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and while he got within one stroke of the lead after 69 holes, he fell into a tie for fifth.

He was six back in the Quicken Loans National and tied for fourth. He was four back in the British Open and tied for sixth after taking the outright lead on the back nine. He was four back at the PGA Championship before rallying to finish second. He was five back at the BMW Championship.

“Simple math says that if I play a clean card, the guys behind me have to shoot 67 to force it into extra (holes),” Woods said. “That helps. I don’t have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help. That’s a big difference.

“This is a spot I’d much rather be in than certainly four or five back.”

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